At the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

photo: Christopher Reeve
Now that Hillary Clinton officially broke the proverbial glass ceiling in Philadelphia, the Democratic Party is facing another challenge: “DemExit.” DemExit, a wordplay on the U.K.’s Brexit from the E.U., is a movement that sees disenchanted Democrats, mostly Bernie Sanders supporters, leave their party out of disdain for what they consider to be a corrupt organization that oversaw a rigged primary process. With Sanders having shaken the establishment with his success as a presidential candidate, DemExit is also a response to proof that there is another path, one that rejects the money-driven, hawkish status quo that characterizes the U.S.’s political duopoly.

“I am most assuredly leaving the party,” says Paula Iaesella, a small business owner from New Hampshire who has voted Democrat for 42 years.

Paula Iaesella at the DNC.
photo: Christopher Reeve

Iaesella, 61, traveled to Philadelphia to march with fellow DemExiters in protest of the Democratic National Convention. “The corruption was just way too bad. The things that we found out about Washington are just unforgivable.”

Days before the DNC’s kickoff, Wikileaks released a batch of emails that confirmed what Sanders supporters had long suspected: that the Democratic Party was biased during the primary process, and sought to facilitate a Clinton victory. An email sent by Brad Marshall, the party’s CFO, to communications officers in May suggested portraying Sanders as an atheist to make the socialist candidate undesirable to voters. The now-public email reads, “It might may [sic] no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God.”

Further, the word “someone” in the email is damning evidence that arguably substantiates the prominent accusation among Trump supporters that the Democrats were scheming with the media.

photo: Christopher Reeve

When Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democrats’ party chair, resigned over the emails, she was immediately hired by the Clinton campaign, a move that to many served as conclusive proof that the two women had been working for Clinton’s eventual nomination all along.    

During the primary voting season, irregularities included illegal pro-Clinton campaigning in Philadelphia, and 126,000 New Yorkers purged from official rolls. Some New York Democrats arrived at polling places to learn that their party affiliation had been changed to independent in the state’s closed primary.

“With all of the marching, the phone banking, and the donating, we all thought this was an even playing field,” Rachel, who asked that her surname not be used, says. “Silly me for thinking that way.”

She is also leaving the Democratic Party. “It has shown itself to be equally as corrupt as any other party could be. It’s run by corporations and corporate interests, and not by the will of the people,” says the 31-year-old Brooklynite who works in entertainment.

If the modern United States will ever have a fair shot at a viable third-party option, DemExit may be it. 

Three months ago, Chris Bleiman, 47, a proud gun owner from Southern California, started working with the New Progressive Party, one of several new parties trying to build momentum. “I’m just a middle-class man who’s fed up and has a lot of time,” Bleiman, who helps run the year-old party’s 3000-plus member Facebook group, says. “The middle class is no longer a class. It’s a movement.”

Bleiman calls the political shift of which he is a part a non-violent revolution.

Chris Bleiman
photo: Christopher Reeve

The former construction worker who is now on disability admits that the movement’s first struggle will be to unite the many disenfranchised voters across both major parties. “Hopefully, people drop their petty squabbles and knock off with the three great dividers of us all — race, religion, and political affiliation—and we all join together as middle-class brothers and sisters.”

Bleiman stands behind a protest stage where the lead singer of The Strumms, a Tennessee band, just finished repeating their song’s hook, “We’re all just slaves to the dollar.” Sanders is the leader the revolution needs, Bleiman says. If Sanders were to execute a White House bid as a third-party candidate, he says, that party would have a chance at viability and longevity. “He’s got all that momentum coming in.”

With Sanders out of the presidential race, Bleiman is leaning towards voting for the Green Party’s Jill Stein. That vote would be symbolic, Bleiman says, like his primary ballot. “I changed to Democrat way early and they still had me as an independent. I hear they shredded my vote — the provisional ballots.”

In Philadelphia, the Green Party, founded in 1984, took advantage of DemExiters’ disdain for establishment politics. Protesters, many wearing “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts, gathered outside the Wells Fargo Center, where the DNC was held, at the Green Party’s tent.

photo: Christopher Reeve

There they heard about alternatives to a Clinton vote — to stop Trump from winning — in November. “I am scared of Donald Trump, but I am scared of Hillary Clinton too,” said prominent anti-war activist Madea Benjamin to cheers in a scene reminiscent of an outdoor Southern Baptist revival. “We want real feminism, not faux feminism!”

“The revolution has to be worked today — between now and the election,” Arn Menconi, Colorado’s Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate says. “You can go unafilliate; you can go independent; you can go Green Party. My advice to you is to leave the Democratic Party.” Amid the bustle of the courtyard of Philadelphia’s City Hall, the 57-year-old former snowboarding instructor continues, “This is a two-party system run by the inside party against the outside party. The outside, the 99%, has to stay resolved.”

Menconi was a Democrat when he held local office in Eagle County, Colorado. He DemExited before it was a thing. He says that conventional wisdom on representative democracy in the United States is misleading: “If you think that writing your congressman is going to change anything, I can tell you as a former elected official who was a Democrat, who’s been in Washington for 20 years, it ain't gonna happen.” 

While Sanders’ unexpected popularity has moved Clinton to the left, DemExiters have little faith in pushing through a progressive agenda as long as policy remains for sale to the highest bidder.

photo: Christopher Reeve

Although in 2008 President Obama banned major contributions to the DNC, the move was reversed and this year the money poured in. Industries like big oil and pharmaceuticals — those that Bleiman, of the New Progressive Party, says harm people and the environment to increase the bottom line — financially contributed to the convention.

With an increase in alternative media, registered Democrats who identify as progressive are sure to take note of such policies. And leaving the party is now a conceivable option.

“We know that a lot of people are migrating to the Green Party because we’ve been getting flooded with offers to volunteer for the party, especially since Bernie's endorsement of Hillary and the beginning of the DNC,” says Scott McLarty, the Green Party’s media coordinator. “Our Twitter followers jumped 20,000 in the past few days.”

Even Democrats with credentials granting access to the convention expressed their disdain for their party and the primary process. Sanders delegates continuously interrupted convention speakers with chants, like “Lock her up!” referencing Clinton’s recent email scandal, for which she was exonerated by the F.B.I. Some walked out of the convention in protest. Some, when outside , lifted their fists in solidarity with protesters, who chanted, “Only Bernie beats Trump!” from the opposite side of fences erected to stop the group from marching on Wells Fargo Center. Still other Sanders delegates joined and chatted with protesters at heavily policed FDR Park, adjacent the convention center.

Some Sanders supporters expressed feeling betrayed by the Vermont senator. After Clinton won the California primary in June, he called for action at a Los Angeles rally: “We take our fight for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania!” Some of his supporters heeded his call, only to see Sanders fall into party line at the convention.

photo: Christopher Reeve

Nina Turner, a prominent Sanders delegate and former Ohio state senator, entered the protest area on the second day of the DNC. Just hours before, she had learned that the Clinton campaign vetoed an earlier decision to have her speak at the convention. At the protest, a group of Sanders supporters approached Turner. Although she told the group that she was upset, she did not mention what had just transpired.

In a conversation that brought most of the group’s members to tears, two women expressed their disappointment and anguish at how things had turned out.

“This is the first inspiring thing my entire life,” one woman, in tears, told Turner in reference to Sanders’ presidential run. The Sanders supporter had been convicted of a drug charge at the age of 21. That conviction, the woman said, had contributed to a life of poverty and marginalization. “Every time I go to get a job, I have to say, ‘I’m a convicted felon,’” she told Turner. “Senator Sanders is the only person that talks about that. Without him, what’s going to happen to us?”

“Senator Sanders has not abandoned this movement. This revolution is about all of us. It’s not about him as an individual,” Turner told the group. “He lit the match. But it’s our job to keep the fire going. We need to make sure that we elect progressives all over this country so that we have real fighters for the people.”

Sanders won 43% of the Democratic primary votes that were both cast and counted. If Democratic Sanders supporters, in an effort to “keep the fire going,” begin to abandon their affiliation, the Democratic Party may find itself in a major conundrum that will make beating the G.O.P. all the more difficult.

A recent Los Angeles Times poll has Trump beating Clinton in November. It is likely that some DemExiters, especially those in swing states, will vote Clinton in November to prevent a Trump presidency. Recently, #ImWithHerNow was trending on Twitter. Nonetheless, the Democratic Party has every reason to take Demexit seriously.

“They think we’re just a fly that’s annoying them. But it’s a big fly,” says Iaesella, of New Hamphire, holding a placard with “DemExit” written under an outline of Sanders with his fist in the air. “I think they’re going to be surprised when they lose half of the Democrats. I really believe that this year is going to go down in history as creating a third, viable party.”

“This politics of fear is what we have to turn the page on. Otherwise, we’re just going to be shackled to the corporate-owned, two-party system. It’s a stranglehold,” Rachel from Brooklyn, holding her own “DemExit” sign, says. “If not now, when?”