Interview conducted on May 6th, 2018, by Jeff Epstein
Before meeting Billy Taylor in the summer of 2016, both Billy and I dedicated much of our lives to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Billy came to the Pemberton, New Jersey campaign office where I was based, and formed an organization called Philly.FYI. He asked me and others to join. Philly.FYI’s mission was to organize protests and events around the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) and particularly across the street from the DNC venue at JFK Park, where hundreds of Bernie Sanders supporters from around the country stayed the entire week, including overnight. Billy held most of the critical permits around the DNC venue, which was the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia, where the NBA’s 76ers in the NHL’s Flyers play. As a member of Philly.FYI, I attended meetings with officials at the highest levels of Philadelphia government, and also prominent members of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
(As a delegate for Bernie Sanders during the DNC, I covered much of the experience.)
After Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination, the Russia narrative began. Billy and I both believe that it was, and is still used to distract people from scrutinizing the Democratic Party. I also believe strongly that it is being used in preparation for labeling those who do not choose the Democratic Party’s chosen candidate in the 2020 presidential campaign, which starts in just about one year.
Billy is extremely upset at Bernie Sanders for perpetuating the Russia narrative, calling Bernie a “sheepdog,” meaning someone who pretends to be an outsider but actually works at the behest of the Democratic Party. Billy has also called Bernie “a liar,” “a puppet of the establishment,” and someone who is “peddling the Russia narrative.”
Regarding the Russia narrative, I agree that Bernie Sanders has said some concerning things, especially to the effect of “I believe that Russia has tried to turn people against Hillary Clinton” during the general election. I do not, however, believe that he has said these things at anywhere near the frequency of so many others. Billy says that even once is unacceptable.
This is a two-part interview. The first was recorded on May 3, 2018, the day before Bernie headlined a rally in Philadelphia in support of John Fetterman’s candidacy for Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor. Billy prominently announced in a Facebook post that he was protesting Bernie at this event.
I’m tired, pissed, frustrated and will no longer sit idle on this subject because of those that views this flawed individual almost as god like. People say bernie’s the best we got. I say it’s shows you how screwed our political system is.
At the very least he owes Justice for his supporters that fought so vigorously for him. It should be mandatory and expected that he fights for justice for them.
I WILL SEEK JUSTICE AND WILL DEMAND IT!
From Billy’s Facebook post
The audio of the rally in the middle of this interview (credit to Meg Hana, from her Facebook Livestream) is during the time of Billy’s protest. If you listen closely, you can hear his muted megaphone and screams after the megaphone is taken away.
Two days after the protest, on May 6, we recorded the second part of our interview.
Regarding the specifics and logistics of his protest:
Billy purchased fifteen feet of a thin chain-link, at the cost of twenty-four cents a foot, and a padlock. He says that the thickness did not matter since bolt cutters will cut through it regardless. The chain was tightly fastened to his waist so it could not to be pulled up off either up or down. The chain was entirely in his pocket, with only the open stem of the padlock sticking out. He also had his megaphone.
A couple hours before the event, Billy scoped out the area, which took place at Thomas Paine plaza, just across from City Hall. When the event began, Billy said the police noticed him immediately and stayed within five feet behind him at all times. Billy also says that he stared down Bernie and one of his staffers before the start of the event.
Finally, Billy jumped on stage, only feet away from John Fetterman, and immediately chained himself to the protective gate at the back of the stage. In the video, you can see the chain hanging from his hip. Billy also pulled the chain out of his pocket to give him some extra slack.
Fetterman, who is a large gentlemen, stood up and turned around to face Billy, but again sat down. About ten seconds later, positioned directly behind Bernie, Billy started shouting into his megaphone. Only seconds later, the police approached and immediately took the megaphone. Bernie continued his speech as if he did not notice Billy was there. You can see Bernie’s sign language interpreter look back concerned, but she continued interpreting when it was clear that Bernie did not lose his stride. Billy says that he spoke about Russia in general, and did not directly address or discuss Bernie.
The struggle on stage was obvious. Approximately four officers approached Billy but did not realize at first that a bolt cutter was necessary. (According to Billy, the police said, “What, is he chained? He’s chained, goddammit.”) A minute later, people started front of the struggle with set them in campaign signs. Delete was finally taken off the stage in handcuffs within another minute. Billy said that the police were considering taking him into custody, but once they realized Bernie Sanders had left the area, they released him after only paying a $50 fine. Billy acknowledged that, had a minority done what he did, the consequences may have been more severe.
There were a lot of technical issues during part two of our interview, many of which have been edited out of the audio. Billy says that this is not unexpected, as he believes he is a target of active suppression on social media, significantly due to the Russia narrative. Being a more aggressive activist, he is among the first of whom suffers the consequences related to this.
Only hours before part two of our conversation, Billy was a guest on the Jimmy Dore show (at the one hour, 13 minute, 30 second mark). Dore featured Billy after doing a segment (at the 32 minute mark) on a McClatchy article that strongly pushed the Russian narrative in the context of the Tim Canova Florida Congressional campaign against the Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The article also strongly implied that anyone who protests fossil fuel pipelines in the state are more influenced by Russia and then actually believing pipelines to be unjust.
According to Billy, he believes that a full half of Bernie Sanders supporters from 2016 are now not just no longer with him, but are choosing to actively work against him. Billy said that I was the only 2016 Bernie Sanders “super volunteer” that he knows who still stands with Bernie. I believe 50% to be a dramatic over estimation. I also hope that the teenagers who were inspired by the horrors in Parkland, Florida may at least significantly make up for this deficit. However, Billy believes that the success of the women’s march and the anti-gun march led by the Parkland teenagers were only successful because they were backed by “big money.”
Finally, Billy addressed the rumors that he “swung a chain at Bernie Sanders” in effort to try and injure him. The video clearly shows that this is not the case. According to comments by viewers watching our interview, while they acknowledged that Billy did nothing to harm anybody, they also felt that the shock of seeing someone run on stage so easily and so close to the leader of this progressive movement, to be very concerning.
Billy also expressed disappointment that the police intercepted him so quickly, and especially that he did not get to display a large banner that he was hiding in another pocket. He said that, we’re he to have the chance to do it over again, he would have unfurled the banner, which likely would have led to very different photographic coverage. But regardless of what happened during the actual protest, Billy has clearly gotten a lot of attention and started a conversation.
Other links and resources mentioned during our conversation:
- Various news coverage of th. protest: Billy Penn, Delaware Online, Philly.com, MSN.
- Links to our original Facebook Live interviews: part one, part two (first and second half)
- Livestream of Bernie’s rally during Billy’s protest (credit Meg Hana)
- Facebook interview-event with many links and resources
- Black Lives Matter activists interrupted a Bernie Sanders rally early in the 2016 Presidential campaign (one, two)