PHILADELPHIA — The revolution won’t be improvised.
For nearly three hours Sunday night, inside a church a block north of Philadelphia’s city hall, protest organizers from Democracy Spring taught what amounted to an undergraduate seminar in nonviolent civil disobedience.
Their preparations will be put to the test on Monday afternoon, as protesters hit the streets — and likely come face-to-face with police — during a choreographed demonstration aimed at pressuring the Democratic party into reforms that would seek to bulk up voting rights protections, immediately abolish superdelegates, and begin the move toward publicly-funded elections.
Organizers now estimate a couple of hundred people could be arrested during the planned “direct action” sit-in outside Marconi Plaza, where convention traffic can exit I-76 for South Broad Street on its way to the Wells Fargo Center and the DNC’s opening day festivities.
Less than 24 hours earlier, more than 100 activists sat in the pews of the Arch Street United Methodist Church for protest training that included mock arrests and de-escalation role-playing. Early in the evening, lead trainer Kim Huynh asked her pupils to pull each other aside and discuss why they had come here and what they hoped to accomplish.
Their plans included ending closed primaries, banning nuclear weapons, and getting big money out of politics.
“The training that Democracy Spring is providing is completely integral to the process of keeping things nonviolent,” organizer Andrew Barbato told CNN on Sunday.
“We had a huge sit-in in DC where over 1,500 people were arrested, and I was one of them, and it was completely peaceful. This is a different situation because things in the country right now are heated. But that’s why we have to come together to acknowledge there is a history of nonviolent civil disobedience in this country and throughout the world.”
Lina Blount, one of the three women to lead the training, said she wanted protesters to face arrest or detention with a feeling of purpose and power. She and her colleagues spent much of the evening discussing with protesters how to manage anxiety, stay physically comfortable (“Lean on each other to save your backs”) and what to expect in the event they were jailed (Toilets? Don’t bet on it.).
“That’s a lot of what nonviolent direct action is,” she said, “Convincing people that their actions have power — and that’s not what our system trains us to believe. And so in these types of training we really try to get the group thinking themselves, reflecting back on the exercise themselves as much as we can. So as trainers we want to created exercises that help that emerge.”
A tumultuous 24 hours for the Democratic party, which saw its chairwoman resign after emails leaked showing DNC staffers seeming to discuss tactics for undermining Bernie Sanders’ campaign, has emboldened the dozens of protest groups who had already made their way into the city for four days of marches, rallies and demonstrations downtown and on the heavily securitized streets outside the convention.
Jocelyn Macurdy Keatts, a writer and activist, said she was attracted to Democracy Spring by its “very coherent” set of demands.
“There seems to be legislative leverage here,” she told CNN before the training began inside the church. “The Democrats are already moving further to the left to accommodate Bernie supporters.”
On Saturday night, delegates from the Sanders and Clinton camps agreed on a plan that would create a “unity commission” with the purpose of reforming the party’s superdelegate system — a step toward one of the group’s core demands.
“We welcome this concession — as well as Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s decision to step down as party chair — but it is not enough to justify relenting in the struggle to win fundamental democracy reform both within and outside the Party,” Democracy Spring director Kai Newkirk said in an email on Sunday. “We will begin mass civil disobedience to bring our demand into the streets and the halls of the convention (on Monday).”