Vermonters Picket Democratic Delegate Convention to Put Gaza on the Agenda

Palestinian liberation groups picketed the Vermont Democratic Party Convention Saturday morning at the Lake Champlain Hilton in Burlington. As President Joe Biden seeks a second term while continuing to support and fund Israel’s occupation and genocide in Gaza, activists in Vermont are demanding that delegates withhold support for the president at the national convention in August.

Members of the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation, which includes Vermonters for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace of Vermont-New Hampshire requested to be part of the convention, where they, along with other education, labor, environmental, and LGBTQIA groups, could table, hold education workshops, and provide information on the Palestinian liberation movement and the Apartheid-Free Communities campaign. They were denied.

“The rejection came with the excuse, ‘if we allow you, we have to allow other activists,’” said Wafic Faour of Vermonters for Justice in Palestine. With educators, workers, and LGBTQIA standing in solidarity with Palestine locally and across the country, Faour questioned why the coalition could not speak to them, as they are allies in the liberation struggle. “Why can we not speak to them to get our message [to them] from here in Vermont that our money shouldn’t be spent on a genocidal war that is killing Palestinian children and women at a number up over 35,000?”

In advance of the event, Vermont Democratic Party officials sent an email to delegates and registered guests of the convention telling them not to engage with protestors, and could avoid them at the hotel’s entrance by taking a back door in the parking garage. Despite that, multiple delegates spoke to organizers, and according to Faour, told them that the coalition ought to be inside the convention sharing flyers and information.

Vermonters holding a "No Delegates for Apartheid and Genocide" sign outside the Lake Champlain Hilton on Saturday.
Vermonters holding a “No Delegates for Apartheid and Genocide” sign outside the Lake Champlain Hilton on Saturday.

One supportive delegate, Pat Bakir, who confirmed receiving that warning email, said she was there to pressure those who will be sent to the national convention on the importance of the genocide in Gaza as a political issue and engage with people beyond those at various protests and rallies. “One has simply to pay attention to the issue and commit themselves to not rubber stamping everything the Democratic Party does,” Bakir said. 

Based on the results of Vermont’s presidential primary in March, Biden is currently in line to secure 16 of Vermont’s 24 pledged delegates. These 16 delegates include 11 who are pledged proportionally to presidential candidates based on the statewide primary. The remaining five who received training on Saturday are slotted to pledged party leaders and three at-large national convention delegates. The remaining eight delegates, commonly known as “superdelegates,” will go to the convention as “uncommitted” and be chosen on June 1 during a meeting in Montpelier. Vermont’s superdelegates include four Democratic National Committee members, along with the national congressional delegation of Senators Bernie Sanders (who is counted as a Democrat), Peter Welch, and Representative Becca Balint. Former Vermont governor and DNC Chair Howard Dean will act as a delegate under the “Distinguished Party Leader” label. Superdelegates are not bound to vote based on the outcome of the state’s primary but would not vote on the convention’s first ballot unless the ballot is contested. These rules were changed after the 2016 presidential election when superdelegates were an ever-present spoiler threat against Bernie Sanders in his primary contest against Hillary Clinton.

To earn a pledged delegate, a candidate must receive at least 15 percent of the votes in a state’s presidential primary to receive a proportional allotment of a state’s pledged delegates. Biden received nearly 83 percent of the 68,599 votes cast in the March Democratic presidential primary, with no other candidates meeting the delegate threshold. However, like in many states nationwide, a write-in category garnered the second-most votes in Vermont, totaling nearly five percent, as voters opposed to Biden’s support of Israel staged campaigns to write in “ceasefire” for president. This includes high-profile efforts in states like Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri, and Minnesota, where the “uncommitted” vote earned multiple pledged delegates. Other efforts in key election battleground states like Wisconsin earned nearly 50,000 uncommitted votes.

Vermont presidential election laws have no specific language regarding which candidate delegates are bound to, stating only “each major political party shall adopt rules relating to the manner in which the delegates elected in accordance with this section shall represent, at the national convention, the voters for whom the delegates were elected.”

Asked for comment via email on the state party’s delegate voting procedures and rules and why the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation’s request to be a part of the event was rejected, Vermont Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Dandeneau did not respond as of press time.

After an hour of demonstration outside, protesters peacefully entered the lobby of the Hilton, handing out Apartheid-Free Community flyers and speaking with delegates in line for registration. Multiple delegates expressed support for the movement to protest organizers. Eventually, the group was asked by hotel management and security to leave the premises, and the group complied and dispersed shortly after. 

Whether or not the picket successfully sways a delegate to change their vote at the convention, those who participated in the protest said it was important to demonstrate their presence there. 

The protest also serves as a reminder to superdelegates and pledged delegates that the Palestinian issue is a local one, too. Three Palestinian students were shot in Burlington in November. Millions of Vermont’s tax dollars continue to be voted on a bipartisan basis to underwrite Israel’s military at the same time that the state’s schools and towns are facing historic budget crunches, food insecurity, and a desperate housing shortage. For those delegates who are also elected office holders at the federal, state, and local level, those protesting genocide are not just activists, but their constituents.

“If you don’t want to listen to your base outside, what kind of business are you conducting inside?” said Faour. “If you don’t want to talk to 70 percent of your party who are calling for a ceasefire, how are you going to conduct the real business of representing people?”

Photo at top courtesy Damian Taylor

Support The Rake Vermont

Our journalism can't happen without your support.

Become a Patron!

Related Articles

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.