Fueled by the resignation of the party’s chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and outrage that the Democratic National Committee sought to influence the primary in favor of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders supporters overshadowed the start of the party’s convention in Philadelphia on Monday.
The unrest came despite a plea for unity by Sanders and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, a Clinton supporter who presented the convention’s rules report on Monday.
“The primaries brought together some issues we need to address as a Democratic Party, and that is exactly what we should do,” Webb addressed a raucous audience.
“Our diversity has made us strong. ...” Webb continued. “Let’s all cheer for Bernie when he takes the stage, and let’s also cheer for Hillary when she takes the stage on Thursday.”
Sanders was scheduled to speak Monday evening.
The progressive candidate – who led a “political revolution” – asked his delegates to show respect for Clinton and her supporters, cautioning that “our credibility as a movement will be damaged” if delegates protest.
“It’s of utmost importance you explain this to your delegations,” Sanders wrote in a separate text message to delegates.
But the message was lost on many of his supporters in the audience, who repeatedly shouted “Bernie” over those speaking in favor of Clinton, while “booing” Clinton.
Some even chanted, “lock her up,” a familiar message used by Republicans who believe Clinton should go to prison for using a private email server while secretary of state.
The Democratic divide was inflamed over the weekend following leaked emails that highlighted an effort by the DNC to tilt the primary in favor of Clinton. The party is expected to remain neutral during the nominating process.
Wasserman Schultz resigned in the aftermath. On Monday, the DNC announced that she would not preside over the convention this week, after she was heckled at the Florida delegation breakfast, with some yelling “Shame!”
Her ousting served as a monumental and symbolic moment for Sanders supporters who have lamented for months about unfair treatment.
The divide from the Democratic convention resembled unrest seen by Republicans last week at their convention. Colorado Republicans overwhelmingly declined to support Trump, instead backing Ted Cruz, while attempting a coup against Trump. Cruz refused to endorse Trump.
Democratic delegates shrugged off the message being sent by protests from their side.
“I support the expression of opinion,” said Root Routledge, a national delegate from Durango, representing Sanders for the 3rd Congressional District. “This is what democracy looks like.”
Sal Pace, a 3rd Congressional District delegate for Clinton, said the rift was not as prolific as it might have seemed.
“A great deal was struck on the rules. This reform commission is ground breaking and a sign of cooperation,” Pace, a Pueblo County commissioner, said. “A lot of healing is happening. When Bernie speaks, he asks his supporters to vote Hillary. That’s a stark contrast to the second-place finisher in the GOP, Ted Cruz, who refuses to endorse Trump.
“Not sure how it looks on TV, but in person it’s very cordial here.”