When Bernie Sanders takes the stage on Monday night at the Democratic National Convention, the Vermont senator will face nearly 2,000 delegates who have heeded his call for a political revolution but remain divided over how to achieve it.
Some are eager to make a final stand on the convention floor to show their support for Sanders, while others see the event as an opportunity to unify the party around liberal ideas they believe will be key to defeating Republican nominee Donald Trump in the fall.
Matt Birong, a cafe owner from Vermont, wanted to see his “hometown boy” become the Democratic nominee but has already been trying to persuade his friends to support Hillary Clinton in November.
“You don’t always get to win,” said Birong, 39. “You have to balance the gravity of your situation with your emotions.”
But there are many like Jeanne Harris, a nurse from Los Angeles, who struggles with the idea of voting for Clinton in November and believes internal Democratic Party emails released last week confirm that the party was trying to block Sanders from the beginning.
“Will I be on the ‘ready for her’ bandwagon?” said Harris, 28. “Probably not.”
They’re both waiting for marching orders from Sanders, the insurgent candidate who gave voice to their progressive principles and their dissatisfaction with U.S. politics.
Birong wants “a clear path for how this movement continues, not just from now until the general election, but for years to come.”
Harris hopes Sanders “encourages us to keep going, to keep fighting to make the changes that we need.”
Sanders plans to make clear that Clinton is “by far superior” to Trump “on every major issue” and the “political revolution” will continue, according to his campaign.
“Together, we continue the fight to create a government which represents all of us, and not just the 1% – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice,” according to an excerpt from the speech Sanders will deliver Monday.
The beginning of the Democratic convention marks a complicated moment for Sanders delegates after a year of rallies, phone calls and donations in the $27 increments that became a rallying cry for the grass-roots nature of the campaign.
Some remain excited to participate, hoping for a chance to network with like-minded activists and lay the groundwork for future progressive campaigns. Others fear aligning with a political establishment they spent the past year trying to circumvent. And some will arrive frustrated, knowing they would have preferred Sanders be the nominee.
“People feel very heavy, and they feel like the system is rigged,” said Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who helped campaign for Sanders.
Many delegates want a roll call allowing them to vote for Sanders as the nominee, even though they know it will lose. Some Republicans made a similar stand at their party’s convention in Cleveland, hoping to block Trump’s nomination.
Some Sanders delegates noted that voters in their states sent them to the convention to support him, and they’re determined to follow through.
“Until I hear otherwise from Bernie Sanders, I plan on casting my ballot for Bernie Sanders,” said Keisha Sexton, 32, a delegate from Los Angeles’ Mid-Wilshire section.
Whether a roll call will be taken to nominate Clinton has been a topic of negotiations between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns. Eight years ago, after the last contentious Democratic primary, the vote was theatrically interrupted by Clinton, asking for unanimous support of then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Sanders backers are wary of attempts to prevent them from voicing their support for their chosen candidate.
“If they skip it, I imagine there’s going to be ... a lot of anger,” Harris said.
Some still want to make changes to the party’s platform, which was finalized this month. They’ll likely be disappointed – the Sanders campaign did not attempt a parliamentary maneuver that would allow further amendments.
Nonetheless, delegates gathering in Philadelphia should use the convention to lay the groundwork for efforts to push liberal policies in Washington, suggested Arshad Hasan, a 35-year-old delegate from Burlington, Vt., where Sanders once served as mayor.
“It’s a huge opportunity to connect and grow and learn, regardless of what’s happening on stage,” he said. “I hope to use this as a springboard to build progressive power into November, and hopefully well past November.”
Some delegates have come around to the idea, however reluctantly, that Clinton is now the best option for progressive changes. After watching the chaotic scene at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, they’re hoping for a show of unity among Democrats.
The Sanders campaign “was a battle, and we have a much bigger war to win,” said Martha Allen, a Sanders delegate and the president of a teachers union in Vermont. “The only way to advance his progressive movement is to support the Democratic nominee. The other choice would set us back so many years; we’d have far more work to do.”
Allen, 62, was also a delegate during the 2012 convention, when Obama was running for reelection. She said Sanders supporters can still stick to their principles while supporting Clinton.
“Bernie delegates are taking this personally,” she said. “And I think a lot of them need to start to think on a more national scale about some of the consequences.”
Not everyone is ready to support Clinton, though, including Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United, one of the most prominent organizations to back Sanders.
She said they’re not planning protests at the convention itself because Sanders has endorsed Clinton.
“We’re taking the lead from Sen. Sanders,” she said. “It would be not honoring Sen. Sanders’ decision.”
When asked about the general election, though, Burger sighed and said she’s not sure how she’ll vote.
“I can’t even guess at this point,” she said.