Philadelphia (CNN)The revolution will not be improvised.
More than 50 protesters were detained by police on Monday following a tightly choreographed demonstration at an access point to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where the Democratic National Convention has been consumed by a series of roiling plot twists and turns.
Police did not make any formal arrests, saying those taken into custody were only issued citations for disorderly conduct, as activists from Democracy Spring first attempted to block a convention entrance on Broad Street with a planned sit-in, then in a very orderly process began climbing over barricades toward the arena and into the arms of waiting officers.
At one point in the early evening, delegates and attendees, many in formal attire, came within feet of sweat-soaked protesters being led away from the scene in plastic restraints. Organizers posted feet from the scene kept track of potential arrests using a private WhatsApp messaging forum.
Hours earlier, the group gathered a little less than a mile north in Marconi Plaza, where protesters willing to risk arrest were asked to fill out paperwork and speakers rallied the crowd of about 150 people to with chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “I believe that we will win.” One protest leader reminded the crowd to follow instructions from organizers in blue armbands, called “tactical leads,” as they arrived at the protest site.
A little before 4 p.m. ET, as temperatures neared 100 degrees and the heat index soared higher, they began their march toward the convention hub, blaring a slate of demands that includes the immediate abolition of the superdelegate system and a series of campaign finance reforms. The group’s director, Kai Newkirk, had said on Sunday that the “unity commission” agreed on Saturday by the Clinton and Sanders camps fell short of their 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,” Newkirk said in an email to CNN.
On the eve of the convention, Democracy Spring took the unique step of gathering protesters at a church a block north of Philadelphia’s city hall for what amounted to a seminar in nonviolent civil disobedience.
More than 100 activists sat in the pews of the Arch Street United Methodist Church for training that included mock arrests and de-escalation role-playing. 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, getting big money out of politics — and seeing Rosario Dawson. (She has protested with the group before, but was not involved on Monday.)
“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 D.C. where over 1,500 people were arrested, and I was one of them, and it was completely peaceful,” he said. “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 run the workshop, 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.”
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