Meet the Organizers Behind Planned DNC Protests

Laurie Cestnick, fourth from the left, holds a Boston 4 Bernie shirt during a recent phone bank. Cestnick started a Facebook page called Occupy DNC Convention that now has 25,000 followers.

One of the lead protest organizers for the Democratic National Convention in July is a neuroscientist from outside Boston.

Another is a landscaper from Northeast Philadelphia. There’s the Dallas native who has toured the country with a group called Black Men for Bernie. And a West Philadelphia mother helping to make parents with young children feel comfortable about coming to the DNC for rallies.

A loosely-based network of mostly young people, connected through social media pages, has formed with the mission of getting to Philadelphia -- and then demonstrating on city streets and outside the Wells Fargo Center in support of Bernie Sanders.

They are motivated by a frustration with the political system and what some like Laurie Cestnick, a Massachusetts brain doctor, believe is the system’s collusion with big media, lobbyists, and corporate wealth.

“When you’re on the internet a lot like young people are, you see the difference between reality and what’s being reported,” Cestnick said.

She started a Facebook rallying cry five weeks ago to help Sanders supporters figure out how to get to Philadelphia for the DNC. Five weeks later, she said, her group is nearly 25,000-strong.

“I got involved in going to the DNC and getting the super delegates to vote for Bernie,” Cestnick said.

She and fellow pro-Sanders protesters will face a tough week. Hillary Clinton this week became the presumptive nominee when virtually all major news outlets determined that she secured the number of delegates needed to secure the party’s approval at the convention.

And the Sanders campaign has had no official relationship with any of the groups that have applied for permits to march and demonstrate the DNC week of July 24-28, according to interviews with the permit applicants, including Cestnick and Philly community activist Billy Taylor.

Billy Taylor, left, at a pro-Sanders rally in Center City as Bruce Carter, of Black Men for Bernie, is interviewed.

“They have their reasons,” said Taylor, who described himself as president of a group called Movements for Bernie. “I can’t judge or say what their reasons were.”

He did say Sanders’ people had been in touch about using a portion of FDR Park that Taylor applied through the city of Philadelphia to have a rally on Sunday, July 24. He believes Sanders may speak to demonstrators that day.

“They do want a permit,” Taylor said of the campaign. A message left Tuesday for Sanders’ press office was not returned.

Taylor received approval from the city for 30,000 demonstrators at FDR Park the entire week. Cestnick is seeking approval for a march of 5,000-15,000 people on Monday, July 25, from City Hall in Center City to the convention at the sports complex in South Philadelphia.

She said the impression is that the permits don’t really matter.

“We can march on public streets,” she said “The real reason we’re applying for permits is that they make people feel better. It shows we’re all working together.”

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The Philadelphia Law Department released names of the individual applicants for demonstration permits after NBCPhiladelphia.com filed a right-to-know request. Three demonstrations applied for by Taylor have been approved, including the weeklong protests at FDR Park across from the Wells Fargo Center and two separate protests at Thomas Paine Plaza in front of the municipal building on Penn Square.

Two advocacy groups have been approved for protests, the Food & Water Watch and Global Zero.

A local group called Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign was denied a permit for a march on South Broad Street, but its leader said the march would go on without city permission.

A public art installation, a small pro-Sanders march, a Black Men for Bernie rally, and a rally for Green Party candidate Jill Stein round out the 11 city applications for demonstrations.

To accommodate the thousands of potential Sanders supporters coming into Philadelphia for a week, home sharing services like BernieBNB have popped up. Facebook groups across the country are filled with people trying to fill buses and share cars to make the trip.

Organizers are also working on designating parts of Philadelphia parkland as makeshift campgrounds for the week.

Despite the prospect of many Sanders supporters adding to a convention already expecting more than 4,400 delegates and hundreds more of Democratic Party officials from across the country, the city and Secret Service have told NBCPhiladelphia.com that the event is not like the papal weekend last September that effectively shut down all of Center City.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney last month compared the DNC to a Army-Navy football game played often in Philadelphia at the sports complex.

A Secret Service spokesman said last week that the agency, which manages the security for major national events, began planning for the DNC in October. It is designated as a National Special Security Event (NSSE) like Pope Francis’ visit was.

But, Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback said, “you can’t compare NSSE to NSSE.”

“From a geographic standpoint, the pope’s visit stretched from the Art Museum, down the Parkway, to Independence Hall. That’s why you had a big swath of Center City fall under the NSSE,” he said. “In this case, you’re talking about one site, one indoor site. So everything under this NSSE designation is under one roof.”

The Democratic National Convention is less than two month away. NBC10’s Rosemary Connors has more on how local businesses plan to accommodate the extra visitors. (Published Wednesday, June 1, 2016)

Sanders protesters don’t see it exactly that way.

If super delegates end up deciding the nomination for Clinton -- hundreds already have pledged their votes to the former secretary of state, which has contributed to her overall delegate lead -- protesters are vowing a public mass exodus from the Democratic Party.

“It’ll be a massive de-registration,” Taylor said of potential demonstrations following the convention.

Such a move would be a manifestation of the frustration already boiling over in liberal circles.

“No one anointed us to be Clinton superdelegates—a privilege that went to corporate lobbyists, rich people, and party hacks,” columnist Chris Hedges wrote Sunday on a website called Truthdig. “No one in the Democratic establishment gives a damn what we think.”