PHILADELPHIA ― The betrayal was almost too much for Nate Reedy to bear.
“When [Bernie] Sanders asked to suspend parliamentary procedure and give all the delegates to [Hillary Clinton], it was heartbreaking,” the artist and bartender from Omaha, Nebraska recalled, methodically rolling a joint as a “FEEL THE BERN” flag fluttered overhead. “When Elizabeth Warren started walking around with Hillary, I unfriended her on Facebook right away.”
The small orange and yellow blaze emanating from Nate’s J notwithstanding, the Bern’s fire has been all but snuffed out. Its last embers didn’t flicker out in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where the Vermont senator endorsed Clinton earlier this month; or inside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, where he addressed the Democratic National Convention on Monday; or in the DNC’s press tents, where his most diehard supporters lay down in silent protest Tuesday night.
The Bern fizzled out beside a camper van in Clarksboro, New Jersey.
Reedy was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of Sanders supporters to descend upon campgrounds in the rural outskirts of Philadelphia this week, where they set up a base of operations in RVs, tents and all manner of makeshift lean-tos. These gatherings became jokingly known as “Camp Bernie.” One Facebook page for a campground features a cartoon illustration of Sanders driving a bunch of hippies ― one of whom holds a “HILLARY SUCKS” sign ― in a Volkswagen van.
But the enthusiasm evident in the Facebook invitation was mostly absent on Wednesday, with the reality of Sanders’ defeat sinking in. In conversations at Camp Bernie and around the convention, many Sanders supporters seemed to be processing all five stages of the Kubler-Ross grief model at the same time: expressing denial, anger, sadness, acceptance and even a little bargaining.
“As the [leaked DNC] emails show, it’s been rigged since day one,” Larry Kellar, a delegate from Florida, said Tuesday evening on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center.
“I donated over $1,000 to [Sanders’] campaign,” lamented Kara, a nurse from Cedar Rapids, Iowa and a Camp Bernie resident. “Plus all that time and work.”
“The whole thing is still rigged and it doesn’t matter,” she added. “I’m not even scared of Donald Trump, I think [Clinton] has this whole thing in her pocket.”
Still, Kara held out hope that something would happen between now and November that would hand Sanders the Democratic nomination, though she didn’t elaborate on what that might be.
“I still think Bernie is going to end up with it,” said Charles Brave, a delegate from Charleston, South Carolina, said on the convention floor. “I can’t look at it no other way.”
Nevertheless, many Sanders supporters expressed optimism about the durability of Sanders’ message, if not the campaign apparatus that has dramatically scaled down with the Vermont senator’s endorsement of Clinton.
“It’s definitely still moving forward, it’s changed the landscape of our politics where everybody is aiming for a better good now,” said Kara.
“If there’s one thing that is going to come out of this moment [that Sanders] has done, it’s that he’s activated millions of Americans who see local politics as the only politics,” observed Reedy. “We can’t affect presidential campaigns, but we can affect every one of those superdelegates.”
The words “Bernie Sanders campground” might elicit images of drum circles, peyote tents and barter markets where people named Bluewynd exchange handmade dream catchers for poems. But, minus the flair adorning Nate and Kara’s van and a few stray signs calling for Wall Street reform, the campgrounds were mostly a sterile waste of RVs and collapsible camp chairs. Though things were far livelier at protests in downtown Philadelphia, the camps seemed to more closely embody the mood of the Bernie-or-bust crowd.
Midway through Nate and Kara’s interview, they were joined by a rather dejected-looking man named Lou Braatz, a Sanders activist and stay-at-home dad from Lincoln, Nebraska. Braatz had a towel draped over his head to dry off after a shower ― but given his posture and tone of voice, the towel seemed to act as a kind of blackout curtain.
“I got to talk about the positivity,” Braatz said, launching into a rambling diatribe about the work he and his fellow volunteers had done throughout the campaign. But the disappointment evident in his voice somewhat betrayed his upbeat message.
Camp Bernie’s denizens, it should be said, remained unflappingly courteous, offering water and shade and exhibiting little of the rancor and hostility on display by the various hecklers who interrupted the DNC’s proceedings on numerous occasions.
“The city of Philadelphia has been great,” Reedy said. “The police have been great.”
However, such graciousness does not extend to the Clinton campaign. Don’t expect any illustrations of VW busses teaming with supportive hippies in Clinton’s future.
“I have not trusted [Clinton] since she was first lady,” Kara said. “I just know that this is not my kind of person.”
Asked if he would lend his support to the Democratic ticket, Kellar, the Florida delegate, shook his head.
“It’s very doubtful,” he said, “but I’m trying to keep an open mind through the end of the convention.”