Anti-Corporate Protesters Drown Out Democratic Party Chair Tom Perez with Chants of “Liar!”

Fault lines in the party were on full display as the California Democratic convention got off to a dramatic start.

Winona Dimeo-Ediger

At the California Democratic Convention on May 19, protesters booed national party chair Tom Perez during his welcome speech. (Photo courtesy of the California Democratic Party)

The first night of the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­ven­tion got off to a dra­mat­ic start when Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee Chair Tom Perez’s speech was drowned out by boos and rau­cous protest.

"Corporate Democrats are in charge and we won’t stand for it. I’m fighting for the people. We do not have a left party." - Stefanie Hahn, 40, a nurse from Oakland

The com­mo­tion start­ed a few min­utes before 6p.m. on Fri­day, as Democ­rats from around the state gath­ered in the lob­by of the Sacra­men­to Con­ven­tion Cen­ter to await the Chairman’s Wel­come Recep­tion, head­lined by Perez.

Inside, del­e­gates sipped wine and min­gled near small buf­fet tables. Out­side, hun­dreds of pro­test­ers — many of whom were del­e­gates them­selves — marched on the plaza with­in view of the recep­tion area, wav­ing signs that read, Health­care is a human right,” Health­care not war­fare,” and Sin­gle pay­er NOW.” Chants of Hey, hey, ho, ho, cor­po­rate Dems have got to go!” echoed off the win­dows and could be heard clear­ly by del­e­gates gath­ered inside. 

The ral­ly, orga­nized by Cam­paign for A Healthy Cal­i­for­nia, a coali­tion work­ing with the Cal­i­for­nia Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion (CNA) to push for statewide sin­gle-pay­er health­care, spon­ta­neous­ly moved inside as cur­rent Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Chair John Bur­ton intro­duced Perez. Pro­test­ers lined the stair­well direct­ly above the stage and packed the bal­conies, unfurl­ing ban­ners in sup­port of envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and health­care for all. The DNC chair’s open­ing remarks were drowned out by boos and screams of Liar!” and Hot air!” Bur­ton stood to the side of the stage, clear­ly dis­tressed by the upheaval.

We are boo­ing because we feel Perez is part of the estab­lish­ment that keeps co-opt­ing the pro­gres­sive move­ment,” said Gilbert Feli­ciano, 36, a del­e­gate from North Hol­ly­wood who took part in the protest. The cor­po­ratists have an ally with Tom Perez. We felt like it was impor­tant to come and voice our discontent.”

I need you all to help us play defense,” Perez plead­ed with the crowd. This is the most dan­ger­ous time of our lifetime.”

The Con­ven­tion was expect­ed to be con­tentious, with a deep­en­ing divide in the par­ty nation­al­ly and a tight race for state chair that many Cal­i­for­nia Democ­rats see as a time­ly chance to move the par­ty to the left. Many of the pro­test­ers at the recep­tion voiced sup­port for Kim­ber­ly Ellis, an orga­niz­er backed by Our Rev­o­lu­tion (a pro­gres­sive move­ment sparked by Bernie Sanders’ cam­paign) and CNA. Ellis is run­ning against the party’s cur­rent vice chair, Eric Bau­man, who came under fire last year when it was revealed that his polit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm received more than $100,000 from the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try. Both can­di­dates’ plat­forms include sim­i­lar pro­gres­sive goals, but Ellis is wide­ly seen as a left­ist out­sider. Her sup­port­ers wore bright pink shirts embla­zoned with the phrase UNBOUGHT UNBOSSED,” in a nod to Shirley Chisholm’s land­mark 1972 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

I’m sup­port­ing Kim­ber­ly Ellis because she’s been work­ing with the orga­niz­ers and activists,” said Feli­ciano. It’s one thing to say it, but she’s clear­ly try­ing to make some amends.”

Ste­fanie Hahn, 40, a nurse from Oak­land, was one of the loud­est voic­es in the crowd dur­ing Perez’s speech. I think the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is a joke,” she tells In These Times. We’re mov­ing fur­ther to the right. Cor­po­rate Democ­rats are in charge and we won’t stand for it. I’m fight­ing for the peo­ple. We do not have a left par­ty. We do not believe in Tom Perez.”

Winona Dimeo-Edi­ger is a writer spe­cial­iz­ing in pol­i­tics, lifestyle and cul­ture. She’s based in Sacra­men­to, California.
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