By Adam Kelnhofer for WisPolitics.com
Founder of the #BernieOrVest campaign Eric Kestner is organizing Bernie Sanders supporters to protest this week’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, handing out yellow vests so they stand out amongst a crowd of various protest groups.
Kestner, who drove in from Issaquah, Wash., said Joe Biden will most likely be the nominee. But that isn’t going to stop his group from trying to push the Democratic Party to support Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, defunding and demilitarizing police, eliminating the for-profit prison system, Black Lives Matter and a $15-per-hour minimum wage increase.
He bemoaned that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congresswoman from New York who broadly supports all of these policy changes, is getting less speaking time than John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000 and 2016.
“We’re essentially protesting Republicans at the Democratic National Committee,” Kestner said in an interview with WisPolitics.com. “I mean they’ve got Republicans speaking at the Democratic National [Convention]. They gave AOC 60-seconds of pre-recorded time, yet Kasich gets … five minutes longer.”
The #BernieOrVest campaign started handing out high-visibility vests at Washington Park to those who pledged to protest at the convention while wearing them. Kestner said the idea for brightly colored vests came from Sanders supporting delegates during the 2016 Dem National Convention and is meant to make the size of the group more obvious. Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont, won the Wisconsin primary in 2016 but lost in 2020, withdrawing soon after.
Even though other convention protesters may have different views, Kestner said he thinks they and #BernieOrVest protesters will all get along because they have all been abandoned by the Democratic Party. Kestner is hoping for a peaceful protest from his group, but he wants them to make a lot of noise to make their voices heard outside the Wisconsin Center.
“What we’re hoping is that a whole lot of people show up and then we can somehow leverage the DNC into adopting policies that the people want and stop acting like Republicans,” Kestner said. “They’re serving their corporate donors before they take care of our needs.”
While concerns about the coronavirus pandemic are making it difficult for Kestner to organize a sizable number of protestors, he hopes at least 1,000 of the over-12,000 members of the #BernieOrVest Facebook page will turn out to protest. While WisPolitics.com was in attendance for a half-hour, about three people procured vests to support the cause.
One day before Kestner began handing out vests, a group called the #WalkAway Foundation held an event for people who felt betrayed by the current state of the Democratic Party. However, the #WalkAway group is pushing supporters to endorse and vote for Donald Trump rather than Bernie Sanders. See coverage here.
Kestner hinted at the idea of voting for Biden, but said he plans to push his group’s policy ideals even without Sanders being the nominee.
Aside from the DNC-related protests in Milwaukee, Sam Ahmed, co-founder of the Black is Beautiful bike ride event, said the group’s 12-mile route around the south side over the weekend was aimed at creating awareness about the Black community in the city.
“Today is just about love and solidarity and kind of reminding Milwaukee that we’re still very much so out here trying to make an impact by any means necessary,” said Ahmed, who is also known as WebsterX. “Today is super important because it’s gonna be the largest protest people have seen in Milwaukee in at least like the last 30 days, which I hope kind of reinspires people to get back out here and just keep making their voices heard.”