Susan Britton-Seyler saw the problem before it happened. Before there were delegate walk-outs, mile-long marches and leaked emails, Britton-Seyler saw the Bernie Sanders movement taking a negative turn. In an effort to calm the storm, she created the Bernie Sanders Peacekeepers.
As a Quaker from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Britton-Seyler said she believes in nonviolent, peaceful protests, but as the election cycle started to turn against the Vermont senator and toward former sectary of state, now democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, she saw the stubborn tenacity of Sanders supporters turn bitter, even hateful.
“Under the circumstances there’s enough people that have that frame of mind and we don’t want (it to affect) Bernie’s legacy,” she said.
In preparation for the unrest, Britton-Seyler archived her architectural design website and set up berniesanderspeacekeepers.com as its replacement. She created a Facebook page and spread the word on other Bernie Sanders social media groups.
First grade teacher Teri Basinait of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, has 500 Facebook friends dedicated to the Democratic candidate. She saw Britton-Seyler’s message on her Bernie or Bust page.
“I think it’s important to be a good example,” Basinait said. “I’ve seen first hand in the classroom that a good example can be infectious.”
Every week for the past month Basinait left her two kids, ages 9 and 12, at home whiles she drives to Philadelphia and meets with Britton-Seyler and other peacekeepers to organize.
She lamented 400 peacekeeper signs with the message that reads, “Standing up together for Bernie’s platform. I support his progressive ideas and ethics in a peaceful and positive way. Absolutely.” For each sign Basinait individually highlighted the sentences “#BeLikeBernie” and “I do NOT support violence of any kind.”
Almost all of the signs have been given out to volunteers, there was only 50 left as of July 26 , Britton-Seyler said.
On Wednesday morning she took an Uber to deliver 500 peace sign buttons to Arch Street Methodist church in Philadelphia after her car battery went dead. In the pews around her sat four other peacekeepers in the making.
Part of Britton-Seyler’s plan was to properly train the Bernie Peacekeepers for crowd control at marches during the Democratic National Convention.
Less than 100 feet away from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which housed the DNC caucuses and advocacy tables, the fifth day of peace training was led by independent activist and peace trainer Dion Lerman.
Lerman, who does not align with either political party, has been a nonviolent advocate and peace trainer for over 40 years. His presentations advise participants on how to stay calm during trouble, how to link at the wrists and create a human fence during violence and how to effectively tell protesters to put out their joint, amongst other directions.
The presentation began with volunteers listing their fears. Topping the list was stampedes, terrorist attacks and police over-reactions.
“Rumors” was also written down.
Fortunately, stampedes, terrorist attacks and police over-reactions have not been an issue for the 100 plus peacekeepers trained this week. Rumors, however, have been.
The Bernie Peacekeepers have come under attack by militant and anarchist groups who tell Sanders supporters that the peacekeepers are actually working for the police. They have even gone as far as telling volunteers waiting outside the church that training was canceled and coerced them into joining their training instead.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Britton-Seyler said. “I’m just a Quaker woman from the suburbs.”
Lerman wasn’t surprised, though, he had seen this kind of distrust toward peacekeepers before during civil rights movements. However, he said the issue is more explicit this time around, in other examples he described the reference to police as a background issue.
“We’re not police,” he said. “We’re interested in the safety and integrity of the cause and the people who come out to support it.”
Every training session starts with Lerman asking the volunteers to close their eyes and imagine they’re a tree. He asks them to feel the wind blow through their branches, feel the water rush past their roots. He tells them to center themselves as a tree and be strong.
Britton-Seyler said she decided she was bamboo.
Strong and solid with long reaching roots. And, most importantly, bamboo grows back when its cut down.