Six activists from Reclaim Philadelphia were arrested inside the lobby room (1900 Market Street) of the DNC Head Committee (“PHL 2016” is it’s corporate name), a nonprofit charged with fundraising for the Philly DNC. Reclaim Philly, a former Bernie Sanders group in Philly that re-shifted gears in the post-primary election period, launched a campaign against PHL 2016 by calling on the three members of the committee to resign due to the fact that the committee members refused to release the financial records of the $60 million raised for the DNC. In the spring a reporter from the Declaration, Dustin Slaughter, filed a Right-to-Know request, demanding PHL 2016 to release its financial reports. The state’s Office of Open Records ruled in the Declaration’s favor on June 14, and ordered the city to release the financial records of PHL 2016 “within 30 days.” That meant PHL 2016 had until July 14 to release the financial records. PHL 2016 apparently ignored the state’s ruling and announced it wouldn’t release the financial records until 60 days after the DNC, sometime in September.
The three members of PHL 2016 included former mayor and governor Ed Rendell; Daniel Hilferty, the “Republican” CEO of Independence Blue Cross; and David Cohen, executive Vice President of Comcast. A letter by Reclaim from June 22 stated about these three members: “The three figures are multimillionaire lobbyists and high-profile supporters of political positions that most Democrats abhor…Granting lobbyists privileged access to elected officials reveals the Party leadership’s hypocrisy.” Reclaim’s letter demanded a response by July 1, or else they “intend to take direct action to follow up with each of the three host committee members.” This was followed by an action on July 6, when 30 Reclaim Philly members (including myself) invaded the lobby room of Comcast. We also protested outside Ballard Spahr LLP and Independence Blue Cross. At each building a 3-person delegation delivered a letter demanding the release of the committee’s financial records. Then on July 13, Reclaim hosted its second direct action by protesting outside the homes of the three committee members. The third and final action of Reclaim was set for July 20.
On Sunday, July 17, at the Reclaim meeting, eight of us vowed to risk arrest inside the lobby on Wednesday, July 20. We gathered on Tuesday to speak logistics and we were educated about the arrest process by someone from Up Against the Law, who videotaped the arrests the next day inside the lobby. On Wednesday, July 20, nearly a hundred persons gathered inside the court yard at City Hall for the Rally & March for DNC Transparency. One Reclaim member dressed up in a Sherlock Holmes outfit and held a huge magnifying glass in a theatrical fashion to shine light on the missing public financial records. Right before the crowd began marching toward 1900 Market Street, the eight of us who risked arrest went on ahead so as to enter the lobby without drawing attention to ourselves.
Eight of us entered the lobby and requested to see the committee members. When the security guard said they were unable to meet with us, Reclaim members began chanting to release the public records. We ignored security’s pleas to leave, but within a few minutes two of our members were roughly pushed out of the building by older white men, one of whom was apparently the building manager. After witnessing the deep anger of the older white men, the remaining six of us began our sit-down in front of the second set of doors.
We performed the sit-down for an hour before we were arrested. Within that hour we were harassed and ridiculed by a group of older white men, who were never identified, but were dressed in polo shirts and were present inside the building from the moment we walked in and left only five minutes prior to our arrests. The ridicule by these people including telling us to get showers, get jobs, telling us that our parents were ashamed of us, saying we would never make it to Hollywood over this, and even ridiculed one woman’s weight and told her not to leave the home until she bought a treadmill. Several of us were even physically attacked by these brutes. All six of us held hands when we began out sit-down, and at one point the building manager kicked my arm as he stepped over me. After a while we stood up but continued to hold hands. So the building manager came up from behind and slammed his fist down against my hand and the girl’s hand that I was holding, and he then shoved me full force so that I hit the guy next to me, who fell into the wall. This childish behavior was met by strong songs of encouragement by the six of us, who ignored our attackers and focused on the reason we were there: to restore democracy by making public the financial records of the DNC committee.
Over a hundred demonstrators stood outside the exit door throughout the incident. Police placed the six of us in handcuffs and began walking us toward a back exit, in order to avoid walking us through the large crowd outside. But as police took us to the second exit, demonstrators on the outside quickly moved to the second exit, preventing police again from exiting the building. This happened at a third exit as well, but police quickly took the six of us back to the second exit and loaded us into the paddy wagon without incident.
The three males and three females were transferred in separate wagons to the 9th District Philly Police Station. The six of us remained there for about half an hour to 45 minutes, and the men made small talk with several officers about sports, until the officers admitted to disliking Trump and said they were not thrilled about Clinton. We were released with citations, but no price was set to pay, and we await to challenge the citations in court. Reclaim Philly is now trying to slowly separate itself from the image of being Bernie Sanders activists, wanting instead to be seen as a grassroots money-out-of-politics organization located in Philly. Yet the Metro’s July 21 article was titled, “Bernie supporters arrested at DNC HQ.” Politico released the article “6 Protestors arrested at Democratic convention HQ in Philadelphia,” on July 20, and quoted host committee communications director Anna Adams-Sarthou saying the protesters’ actions “are perpetuating a negative narrative that does not exist.”
The donor list sit-in arrests set the bar of radicalism for the Philly DNC the following week. The solemn photo of me being arrested in Philly.com was a call for activists across the nation to risk arrest in the name of democracy and justice. At the DNC numerous people came up to shake my hand, recognizing me from the photo. Most were pleased that I wore the American bandanna around my neck to appeal to the masses who typically viewed demonstrators as being anti-American. The call for action following the arrests was made clear by The Progressive Standard on July 22, which was titled: “23 Protesters Arrested During Entire RNC. Six Arrested Before DNC Even Begins.” Newsworks wrote about the arrests and the emergency court hearing on Thursday, July 21, where the DNC host committee refused to hand over the financial records until September.