Doug Whitmore of Omaha, Nebraska, holds a “Bernie Imagine” sign showing his political agenda. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO
Two national political committee directors set up shop at Broad Street and Pattison Avenue last week, but only one survived the Democratic National Convention with his leadership position still in tact — and it wasn’t U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The fallout of a hacked email scandal prompted Wasserman Schultz to resign as DNC chair on July 25, hours before the first gavel had been sounded inside the Wells Fargo Center. For Bustleton resident and political activist Billy Taylor, the upheaval reinforced what he’s been fighting more than a year to expose. He thinks the political system is rigged and that it’s time for voters to reclaim the process.
That’s why the 31-year-old and a group of like-minded Bernie Sanders supporters organized “Philly.fyi” leading up to the DNC and why they became the de facto management team overseeing most of the dedicated demonstration areas at FDR Park, across Broad Street from the convention venue. Of six demonstration zones in the park, Taylor initially held the permits for four zones on behalf of Philly.fyi. He later transferred one of the permits to the Jill Stein for President campaign. Stein is the Green Party nominee. Taylor also held the permit for the March for Bernie on Sunday before the convention. He says 11,000 people took part in the march from City Hall to FDR Park.
“There were two things I wanted to do. I wanted the city to feel the Bern and I wanted to stop the Hillary supporters. I wanted to make sure the city was filled with Bernie supporters and nothing else,” Taylor said. “The reason I got so involved is because I’m kind of disgusted with the political process.”
Taylor, a single father who runs a landscaping business called Mr. Do It All, describes himself as a longtime online political activist with relatively little experience in organizing real-world functions. As the presidential primary races began heating up late last year, he was spending much of his spare time on message boards and social media trying to raise awareness about corruption in the nominating process.
“I was kind of piggybacking on Bernie and spreading knowledge. I was going after corrupt politicians,” he said. “I would go to the Bernie groups and would mass-post. I would pick corrupt superdelegates and post their email addresses, their office numbers, any information I would have. I would make sure people were re-posting it.”
As the Sanders campaign built momentum, his posts drew much wider audiences and his network of contacts grew. With the DNC coming to town, he decided to organize a meetup. He created a Facebook event and set out to get a permit to use a public space. He contacted the National Park Service, which manages Independence Mall and other federal sites, and learned that the Sanders campaign had already been there, requesting any available space. Taylor thought to approach the city with the same request. Luckily, he was the first one to ask.
“That was the light bulb. I immediately went around reserving all the permits,” he said.
The real work was just beginning. His team sought to create a free space where issue-specific groups could come, intermingle, promote their causes and just hang out.
“We actually reached out to the other organizations,” Taylor said. “We signed up a number of other organizations onto the permit. The only thing we asked is that they signed our peaceful pledge. We wanted to make sure it’s peaceful and nonviolent.”
Philly.fyi had nothing to do with the protestors who allegedly climbed over a perimeter fence outside the Wells Fargo Center on the convention’s second night, or those who forced their way through a perimeter gate and clashed with police on the third night, according to Taylor.
“What happened up there did get a little rough,” he said. “There is a lot of pain in people’s hearts and fire in their bellies right now. So what (FDR Park) was, it was a safe zone.”
Hillary Clinton, Monsanto, GMOs, corporate greed, closed primaries, drug companies, student debt, banks, Wall Street, climate change and income inequality were some of the topics on displays around the park. Everyone seemed to intermingle with no defined territories. One end of the park featured the Bernieville tent city, while another end featured a performance stage with a sound system and several giant video screens. A group of Amish camped in one corner of the park, Taylor said.
With a grassy knoll, Broad Street, several fences and large parking lots separating the park from the convention venue, the demonstrators were kept largely out of sight. But their visibility to conventioneers was not a high priority.
“Is there any place where you can really see onto the (convention) site?” Taylor asked rhetorically. “There isn’t. They’ve got it blocked off that much. And what’s the point in standing at a gate and yelling at cops? … So this is a place where people can come together, give one another hugs, cope with the times and talk about what’s next. That’s what’s important. This is a movement, not a moment.” ••
Heating up: Philly.fyi volunteers distribute water to demonstrators as temperatures soared well into the 90s at FDR Park. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO
Taking a stand: Billy Taylor, of Bustleton, helped organize Philly.fyi leading up to the DNC and oversaw demonstration areas at FDR Park. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO