Pro-Sanders MetWest students say they felt unwelcome at Clinton’s rally on their campus
on May 12, 2016
After Hillary Clinton’s Oakland rally, Kayla, 17, had tears running down her cheeks.
She was upset.
Kayla, an 11th grader at MetWest High School, had walked to the rally site Friday with some classmates and at least one teacher. It wasn’t far: The event was held nearby in their campus gym.
Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential contender, addressed the crowd of several hundred people, who chanted, “HILL-UH-REE! HILL-UH-REE!”
Kayla and her friends—and a few others in the crowd—chanted “BER-NEE! BER-NEE!” in support of Clinton’s rival, Senator Bernie Sanders.
But once they had chanted, Kayla said she and her friends were subjected to obscenities and verbal abuse. She said people tore signs out of their hands. They were asked to be quiet or leave by well-dressed people, who they presumed were operatives with the Clinton campaign.
Kayla said she was stunned: She was, after all, at her own school, and, ostensibly, among allies.
It was not an encouraging lesson in participatory democracy and civil discourse.
“It’s really hurtful,” she said, holding back tears, “when we share so many of the same views.”
Kayla and her classmates said they weren’t being disruptive or disrespectful, that they weren’t trying to interrupt or shout down Clinton.
Indeed, the 25-minute speech went well, with Clinton hitting applause lines and the crowd feeding on the rhetoric.
The chants of Kayla and her friends were audible only a couple of times, as were a couple incoherent heckles. Clinton wasn’t fazed, if she was even aware. She continued easily through her own applause, as well as the occasionally audible dissenting notes.
However, there were some people in the crowd, presumably Clinton volunteers or staffers, who prowled for dissent, for any anomaly. Their eyes scanned the faces, their ears were perked. This team moved quickly to confront people cheering the wrong things at the wrong times.
The team included a tall woman dressed in yellow. If she wasn’t the team’s leader, she certainly was the most visible, given her height and clothing.
When a man on his phone yelled out “What about NAFTA?” to Clinton, the woman in yellow approached him and spoke to him. She began to lead him toward the exit, and he began to follow. He soon thought better of it, U-turned, and returned to his spot. He didn’t yell any more after that.
After the event, the woman refused to identify herself to Oakland North’s reporter.
Along with the woman in yellow, there were two men and a woman dressed in suits. Some wore lapel pins with “S” on them, causing some attendees to assume they were Secret Service. At different times all these operatives confronted dissenting voices.
After the rally, Alondra, 15, another MetWest student, said she, her classmates and at least one teacher came to rally because they all wanted to hear Hillary Clinton speak. “We wanted to make people know that there are Bernie supporters here, too. No matter what, we’re going to be here to support him,” she said.
The MetWest students were in the heart of the crowd, about four rows from the front. Once they were identified as Sanders supporters, they began to be harassed, students and a teacher said.
A woman with a banner criticizing Clinton on climate policies said she was told: “You have to leave. We rented this space, and you’re trespassing.” This woman, Carolyn North, said she assumed the Secret Service were speaking to her. It is not clear who confronted North during the rally, but after the rally, North was seen in discussion with the woman in the yellow jacket and her colleagues.
In the end, neither North nor the MetWest students were ejected from the rally. But there were attempts to get them to leave, according to several students, North, and a teacher.
During the speech, MetWest special education teacher Kate Dunn was standing near the students. She said the trouble began when some in the crowd heard that the students were chanting “BER-NEE!” not “HILL-UH-REE!”
“People around the crowd were telling them to shhhh,” Dunn said. “And then the campaign organizers, the woman in the yellow sweater, and some other white dude, were telling them, students of color, to be quiet and stop chanting.”
“They said we were being really disrespectful,” said Elizabeth,15, a freshman at MetWest, “and that we can’t be holding up signs, and we should be quiet. We were like ‘No, we have the right to talk.’”
Alondra said, “There were older people over here telling us bad words and everything. We were not disrespecting them.”
Dunn said the students didn’t appreciate being told to shush. “The opposite happened,” she said. “They got angrier.” In addition, attempting to silence the students created a disruption in itself, she said.
“I was right there,” Dunn said, “and it seemed to be that the shushing and the suppressing was more disruptive than the initial protest, which wasn’t even a protest. It was like, chanting ‘Bernie.’”
Dunn said she couldn’t tell if Clinton was aware of the disturbance.
“I didn’t quite gauge that,” she said. “Most of my focus was on protecting the students because a lot of the audience members were getting physical with them.”
After the rally, a small group of MetWest students remained behind, seemingly dazed by the experience. Their mood was sad, hurt, confused and defiant.
On the other side of the gym, Arielle Goren, a Bay Area spokesperson for the Clinton campaign, said that disruptive audience members must be “addressed.” She said disruption, in her view, is interrupting the speaker.
“Being at a rally, people are here to hear the secretary speak, to hear [Senator] Barbara Boxer introduce her, to hear the speakers,” Goren said. “So someone being disruptive is going to be removed.”
Goren said that at rallies, local police are responsible for determining who is disruptive and must be removed. “The police chief was actually stationed right back here,” she said.
Indeed, there was a uniformed police officer standing in the back of the room, leaning against the press area barricade. The officer looked on as a man with a pro-Bernie sign and Warriors hat was removed from the rally by a young man in a navy blue blazer, tan slacks and leather shoes.
When asked who the woman in yellow was and whether she was a local police officer, Goren said, “I didn’t see that. I can’t speak to that. I’m not sure who you’re referring to, because I was backstage, so I’m not sure.”
Upon having the woman in yellow pointed out to her, Goren said, “I honestly don’t know who she is. I’m seeing her for the first time today.”
Much later, the gym was nearly empty. A few members of the press lingered as workmen disassembled the stage and a woman with a broom swept up discarded “Hillary” signs. The woman in yellow re-entered the gym. She went on the stage, took down a sign. Then, she was on the floor of the gym, powwowing with a suited man and a bearded man.
A reporter approached, and asked the woman her name, and if she was with the Clinton campaign. She said she couldn’t talk, and left the area with her companions, refusing to answer questions.
Dunn, the special education teacher, said the campaign’s response to dissent “was super shocking to me.”
“They were quick to suppress and quick to eject,” she added. “Any time exclusion is the end goal for a political dialogue, I think that there’s some problems lurking in the campaign.”
A previous version of this story appeared in Capitol Weekly on May 9.
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