Former VT Delegate Who Joined Sanders at Roll Call: "How Do We Move Forward Without Compromise?"

July 27, 2016
Web Exclusive


Shyla Nelson

former national delegate for Bernie Sanders from Vermont and co-founder of Election Justice.

Former Vermont delegate for Bernie Sanders, Shyla Nelson, joins us to describe what it was like to be with Sanders during Tuesday’s roll call vote when he moved to give Hillary Clinton the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination by acclamation, and to discuss what the next steps are for Sanders supporters. Nelson is the co-founder of Election Justice.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Hillary Clinton has secured the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but the nominating process was marked by dissent on the convention floor. In a sign of party unity, Bernie Sanders joined the Vermont delegation during the roll call vote and then moved to give Clinton the party’s presidential nomination by acclamation. But hundreds of Sanders supporters walked off the convention floor in protest.

AMY GOODMAN: The Sanders delegates later held a sit-in inside the nearby media tent. Many taped their mouths shut with the word "silenced" written in marker over the tape.

For more, we’re joined by Shyla Nelson, former national delegate for Bernie Sanders from Vermont, co-founder of Election Justice.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Shyla, you’ve just come from a breakfast after this unusual nomination last night. And if you could explain to us exactly what happened, for people who aren’t familiar with convention rules and how Bernie Sanders played a key role in the nomination of Hillary Clinton, and then tell us about the breakfast this morning.

SHYLA NELSON: It’s great to be with you both. The process last night involved an alphabetical roll call, which read the votes of each of the delegates from each delegation. Vermont, when it came to our place in the alphabetical order, passed, moved to pass, so that we would be the last delegation. And then, as is a custom within the Democratic Party, the move—the motion was for Bernie to then essentially release his delegates and move to nominate Hillary Clinton by an acclamation. And that was the process in which we found ourselves last night.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you feel? I mean, this is an historic moment, to see—and it surprised watched many thousands of people, and, of course, millions, I’m sure, who watched on TV—all of a sudden, at the Bernie—at the Vermont station, with the sign that says "Vermont," sitting quietly right behind it, at the moment of this moment of acclamation, Bernie Sanders stands up, and there’s a roar in the crowd. Well, you were a part of this. You were all standing there. You had Senator Leahy, who had always endorsed Hillary Clinton. You had Peter Welch, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter. Governor Shumlin is a Hillary Clinton supporter. How did you feel?

SHYLA NELSON: Well, I would say it was an intensely mixed moment, combined with a sense of deep pride in what this movement has created, in what Bernie has accomplished. I think it’s fair to say this is the most successful insurgency candidate in the history of the United States against the most powerful political machine ever assembled. Not too shabby, given what has been accomplished, 13 million votes later and the extraordinary precedents that have been set, that set against the backdrop of participating in a process which, as you say, many feel has been rigged—I think we now have an increasing body of evidence to suggest that—the complexity emotionally, I think, for all of Bernie’s supporters, but particularly those of us in the Vermont delegation, which, as you know, came out 86 percent in Vermont for Bernie, which rendered both the other presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, nonviable. We’re the only state where Bernie was the only viable presidential candidate. And we end up being the ones to pivot the nomination. I think it will take some time for us to absorb the shock of all of that and to really reflect on what that actually means, not only for this process going into November, but, certainly, how do we, as a movement now—how do we pivot, and how do we effectively move forward, without—without compromise, in the sense that the platform positions and the positions of this movement are absolutely viable and critical to a sustainable future for this country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m wondering, because obviously a walkout like this doesn’t happen spontaneously—there had to be some kind of organization or planning behind it. Did you—how did that happen? And also, was there an attempt by Bernie Sanders or those close around him to dissuade you against it?

SHYLA NELSON: I think what happened yesterday, it was extraordinary, actually, to watch, because there were, I think, as many as four separate actions that happened simultaneously and somewhat spontaneously. I don’t know how much pre-planning went into all of that. I know that there had been discussion about the possibility that people would stage some sort of walkout. Then there were people suggesting, well, if we walk out, nobody’s really going to notice; they’ll fill our seats. So, there was a lot of conversation that I was sort of tuned into with the question. And in the end, there were as many as four distinct actions that all happened and converged at the same time.

I had been asked by a group of delegates to be the spokeswoman for an action which we called No Voice, No Unity, which was a silent action. Bernie was very concerned, and rightly so, about the booing and jeering that has happened. I completely understand people’s frustration, and I completely understand Bernie’s nobility, extraordinary nobility, as a statesman, not wanting to have booing happen. It’s, I think, inevitable, given the level of frustration among our delegates and among the constituents they represent, that some people—it was just they had to do something. Our action, No Voice, No Unity, was a silent action to bring attention then to the media—I was the one voice that actually spoke—to bring awareness to the fact that unity at the expense of any marginalized voice is not unity at all.

AMY GOODMAN: You met with Bernie Sanders this morning for breakfast, among the delegations, Vermont and Maine. What did he tell you?

SHYLA NELSON: Bernie was characteristically on his stump, as always, on point, on mission, talking about the urgency of approving a $15 minimum wage, single-payer healthcare—just on it. He was clear and quick to point out that he believes Obama is wrong in supporting TPP and doing—that we need to do everything we can. That was met with a enormous standing ovation in the room.

AMY GOODMAN: He got a call from President Obama last night?

SHYLA NELSON: He did. He did. And they had, I think, a very meaningful conversation. And it was, I think, some effort to acknowledge this extraordinary gesture on his part.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And where does the movement go from here? I mean, obviously, there are going to be different perspectives and viewpoints from state to state, but your sense of what has to happen now, between now and November, where the focus of the political revolution that Bernie began to spark and has spread so widely, where it goes?

SHYLA NELSON: I think Bernie’s movement is quick to point out how absolutely critical it is that we support—I don’t like the phrase "down ballot," but that’s the phrase that we’re using to talk about congressional races, races for Senate, statehouse races, that at every level of the political process, we need to continue to empower and encourage candidates who really are committed to this agenda, and to continue to see that work grow from here. I think we’re going to see a tremendous infusion of energy from the progressive movement in those races. I think many are feeling conflicted, at the least, about the role that Hillary Clinton now plays in all of this. And I think we’ll start to see an increasing emphasis on those down-ballot races.

AMY GOODMAN: Your slogan, No Voice, No Unity—now, "unity" was the buzzword on the convention floor. So explain exactly what you mean.

SHYLA NELSON: The call for unity, while on one hand is a noble call, many of our delegates and many of our constituents are concerned that unity is—has been sent on the terms of the Clinton campaign primarily, that there are marginalized, disenfranchised and silenced voices, who are—who are concerned that this idea of unity really doesn’t take into account their concerns, their needs and their voices. And we feel a moral responsibility to be their voices in this process and to take a stand here at this convention for them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the perspective of the Clinton supporters, who say, well, Clinton did make enormous changes in her—the platform of the program, in the agreement on the removal of about two-thirds of the superdelegates for future nominating conventions, and the sense they feel, I guess, that they’ve gone a long way in terms of trying to build that unity? Your response?

SHYLA NELSON: I think the Clinton camp has a credibility problem, and I think they have their work cut out for them to persuade 13 million voters, for whom Bernie Sanders has set the gold standard for honesty, accountability and transparency in government, to try to convince Sanders supporters that Hillary Clinton truly means what she has said on the campaign trail. I think that our nation is weary of empty campaign promises. There are many who are concerned about the degree to which the platform, as a symbolic gesture, actually would translate into commitments that are like funded mandates for actual policy changes. The issues around the Rules Committee, nearly every proposal that the Sanders campaign brought to the rules process—incidentally, the Clinton campaign didn’t bring any proposals; it was all a Sanders agenda—every single one was shot down, with the exception of the one where we actually had enough votes to clear a minority report. In the end, they shot that down in favor of a progress commission. And I have yet to do the research myself; I’m looking forward to doing my homework. What role do commissions play in actually implementing changes at the party level? I have yet to learn—

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is—why do you want a minority report?

SHYLA NELSON: The minority report would have enabled us to bring the question of the superdelegate reapportionment to the floor of the convention.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, hasn’t this been decided, that—on the question of the superdelegates, that currently it’s something like 750 superdelegates, and it will go down to 200?

SHYLA NELSON: That is our understanding, and we sincerely look forward to seeing how the actual rules are rewritten, at this point, in the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws. We will be staying on top of that to make sure that that happens.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the devil is always in the details on how it’s actually formulated.

SHYLA NELSON: Precisely, precisely. And I think, if anything, there’s a fierce commitment to holding the Clinton campaign and the DNC to a much higher level of accountability, perhaps than ever before.

AMY GOODMAN: Politico just did an interview with the Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe, who’s very close to the Clintons and said that Hillary Clinton, of course, would support the TPP. The dominant sign throughout the convention, hundreds of people holding that "Ban TPP" sign. What does this mean to you?

SHYLA NELSON: There is no question: The TPP is one of the most devastating, potentially inalterably harmful trade agreements that could ever be conceived. And I am very, very proud of the delegates who have stood with us on the floor with "No TPP" signs. I think we can expect that very much to continue, especially as we know that Hillary Clinton’s running mate was supportive of the fast-track process. That is a deep concern to the progressive wing of this party and others. I think that this—the differentiation between campaign promises and what actually happens, I think we’ve seen, particularly among—within the Clinton camp, that there’s a credibility gap here, that I don’t know how one could possibly close that gap while we’re in campaign mode. And that’s a significant risk for this party right now. They have an incredibly vulnerable, polarizing candidate, and matched against a demagogue who has a bigotry platform.

And I spoke to many leaders in the DNC and asked them to just step back from the Clinton brand and really look at where we are, with the stakes so high, putting forth a candidate who has four federal investigations pending, still lots coming out about the degree to which the DNC fundamentally rigged this against Bernie Sanders—and he’s been exceptionally gracious in response to this, as these revelations have come out—all of this, and more to come—we don’t know, between now and November, what more might yet be revealed—that this party continue to stand behind a brand, if you will, an established brand within the party, in light of this, is deeply troubling. And the TPP issue, I think, will be a focal point for that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And on the TPP issue, Bernie, in his speech, especially warned against the attempt, in a lame-duck session of the Congress, of the Obama administration joining with Republicans and some Democrats to get TPP passed. Is your movement gearing up for that possibility post-election, when everyone is going to be more concentrating on, well, who are the Cabinet appointees and what’s the transition going to look like for whoever wins the election in November, that Congress may try to sneak TPP through, and the Obama administration, at the end of the year?

SHYLA NELSON: I think that’s a very real concern. And we have to stay on top of that. We have to make sure that we let our representatives know that in no way do the people of this country support the idea of a lame-duck process for this trade agreement. Too much is at stake on the planetary level for us to somehow short-circuit a process and advance this effort. And I think—I’m moved and I’m gratified to see the numbers of alliances that are being formed to work together to ensure—it’s, you know, from labor unions to those who are working on the environmental—this is a place where the intersectionality of all of these issues comes together in a very powerful way, and we have to work together to stop this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, would you be voting for Hillary Clinton?

SHYLA NELSON: I am not prepared to support Secretary Clinton at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: What would it take? And where are you headed?

SHYLA NELSON: I’m not sure what it would take at this point, because we are now in a campaign season, and we’re going to hear a lot of promises from the Clinton campaign, and I don’t know how it is—what litmus test of veracity we’re going to be able to establish between now and November that would suggest, oh, yes—because we have a very well-established and well-understood track record of her flip-flopping on votes, flip-flopping on decisions. It’s devastating to me to watch the video where she talks about affirming that marriage is to be, you know, between a man and a woman, and then this very recent switch to supporting marriage equality. I don’t know exactly what it would take at this point for me to be persuaded. And with the planet at stake, that’s a very serious decision.

Where I go from here is full support of the revolution that Bernie Sanders has started, full support of a progressive agenda, and doing everything I can both within Vermont and nationally to support those candidates who are moving it forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Does Bernie Sanders still head that movement? I mean, really, he didn’t create the movement; he is riding a movement of people deeply concerned, by like the Occupy movement, about inequality, banks, climate change, war and peace. Now he has—well, he acclaimed Hillary Clinton last night. Is it Bernie Sanders who leads this movement? Or who?

SHYLA NELSON: I think that’s one of the most important questions going forward. And if Bernie were here, I suspect he would say, "Not me. Us." Bernie has been clear all along that this is not a movement—a Bernie movement. You’re absolutely right, and he agrees, that this—he perhaps was the lightning rod that brought these collective movements, that have been fomenting for decades—people who are supporting Bernie have been working on these issues their whole lives with—together with Bernie. So, I think that where the movement goes from here, I think that Bernie is, in many ways, not the father, the grandfather—maybe he’s our Moses, you know, to take us as far as he can. And we’ll see where that goes from here. It’s clear he broke the sound barrier in the political process. And that, in itself—you know, I’ve used almost biblical analogies, because that’s about where we go with this. This is an epic victory for progressive causes in this country that we’ve made it this far.

AMY GOODMAN: So Tim Kaine speaks on Wednesday night, the running mate of Hillary Clinton. Your thoughts on him, and then what your plans are for these two days of the convention? You were the leader of this walkout, as you first stood with Bernie Sanders, acclaiming Hillary Clinton at that moment in the Vermont delegation, and then marching right off the floor.

SHYLA NELSON: Well, let me address that first and say there was actually no leader of that walkout. It was an entirely non-hierarchical, collective effort that was led by delegates of Bernie from all over the country. And this one silent effort, No Voice, No Unity, asked whether I would be willing to be the spokesperson for that action. And so, I was honored to serve in that capacity on behalf of my fellow delegates. So, in the—true to the spirit, we’re very much a non-hierarchical collective of individual leaders in their own right.

AMY GOODMAN: And your plans for these two days?

SHYLA NELSON: My plans are still very much in development. By virtue of the motion on the floor by Bernie himself, we have been released from our pledge as his delegates. So, the obligation and the promise that we came to fulfill has now been fulfilled. And it remains to be seen, in this very dynamic and fluctuating environment, where we all go from here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. It’s interesting you say "no voice, no unity," as a woman who has quite a voice. You are a great singer.

SHYLA NELSON: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you become an organizer, from singing?

SHYLA NELSON: I come from a line of organizers in my family. I think that that’s sort of encoded in the DNA. And I also have the tension of having grown up, in many ways, in the heart of the DNC—or the Democratic Party, I should say. My father was a Brookings fellow under the Ford and Carter administrations and served then-junior Senator Patrick Leahy. So I grew up in a—my life was a—as a childhood, was sort of a situation room every night, discussing politics. So, it’s sort of germane to who I am. I am absolutely committed to doing everything I can to fight for our planet’s future, and, as an opera singer and as an organizer of singers generally, founded One Earth. One Voice., which is an environmentally focused campaign in 75 countries worldwide, raising environmental awareness through music—a singing revolution, if you will, for the planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Has Senator Leahy tried to rein you in?


AMY GOODMAN: Has Senator Leahy—part of your family, I suppose, if your father worked with him—tried to rein you in?

SHYLA NELSON: Well, fortunately, he’s an opera fan. He’s been a great supporter, actually, both of my opera career and also of the One Earth. One Voice. campaign. He knows my passion for this movement, and he certainly knows my dedication to Bernie. One of the things that I will say about Vermont politics is that we do have a remarkable capacity to hold the tension of differing views and approaches, and to work respectfully and work together to address the needs of our time.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, Shyla Nelson, now former national delegate for Bernie Sanders from Vermont, as she has been released, as all delegates have, co-founder of Election Justice. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. This is "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." Thanks for joining us.

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