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Story highlights

Thousands of progressives gathered in Chicago

Anger at the Democratic party and its chairwoman are palpable

Chicago CNN —  

Hillary Clinton may be the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the fight to unify the party and its traditional allies in the wake of an unexpectedly long and contentious primary is poised to go on much longer.

The more than 3,000 Bernie Sanders supporters and progressive activists gathered here at the “People’s Summit” have engaged in little open talk about Clinton, preferring instead to plot a path forward in the wake of the Vermont senator’s defeat – and questioning the motivations of the Democratic Party and the legitimacy of its nominating contest.

“There is massive corruption in the machinery of the Democratic Party,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United, the powwow’s principal organizer, who had endorsed Sanders. “The only way that we can overcome that corruption and manipulation is for all of us not to work in isolation.”

DeMoro lamented the party’s push to gather endorsements and support from Sanders’ backers, calling it “a very negative dialogue.”

Its message, she said, is that “if you’re not with Clinton, then you’re pro-Trump.”

RELATED: Activists gather to seize on Sanders ‘moment’

The summit itself is a testament to the current divide between the party establishment and its emboldened left. Speakers here offer Sanders’ primary success as clear evidence that 1990s-era liberals – with Clinton at the front of the pack – have fundamentally betrayed the working class, the poor and minorities and the schism could have big implications for the 2016 race.

The question of turning over Sanders’ massive email list – and its sizable collection of small dollar donors – to Clinton or the DNC was met with opposition by panelists at a discussion on Friday night, with DeMoro saying she did not believe Sanders planned to make the offer.

But on Saturday, former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a top Sanders surrogate, suggested the issue was being blown out of proportion.

“Whether or not the list goes over, there is no guarantee the people are going to do what the senator is asking them to do,” she told reporters. “Many of them gave to him because they believed in him and his mission and cause.”

Marrying the Sanders agenda with the establishment’s has been another source of discord among the respective leadership groups.

DeMoro described her part in the discussions between party moderates and the “Berniecrats,” including Dr. Cornel West and Rep. Keith Ellison, as being “extremely contentious,” and accused players on the Democratic party’s platform drafting committee of “trying to box me into saying that the Affordable Care Act is essentially good enough. And that we ‘really can’t get to single payer.’”

When you make a compromise in health care,” she added, “you’re basically issuing a death sentence because what you’re saying is that lives don’t matter.”

“Let’s not be afraid to admit that we come here wounded and that we also come here in pain,” the progressive author and journalist Naomi Klein said. “And that pain feels very close to the surface. We are grieving political losses. Dreams tantalizingly tasted but ultimately unrealized.”

The closest the panelists came to an overt condemnation of Clinton, though, came in their discussion of “neo-liberalism,” a less labor-friendly strain of the traditional ideology – and one often seen to be embodied by the Clinton wing of the party.

“Neoliberalism lost the argument,” Klein declared. “They lost the argument to the extent that Bernie was out there, calling himself a socialist, not apologizing for it.”

Most of the frustration and anger here has been directed at the Democratic Party and, in particular, its chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Actor and outspoken Sanders supporter Rosario Dawson warned attendees that even her ouster – which has been talked about in Democratic circles – would be little more than cosmetic.

“When it looks like there’s something, like maybe they’ve fallen out, don’t get it twisted: Debbie Wasserman Schultz is going to be hooked up somewhere, somehow,” she said.

Dawson came closest to voicing support for a third option in November, saying she doesn’t “like this idea of just picking between two people for president. I want more choices.”

With Sanders seeming to wind down his campaign, one live choice for the left is the Green Party’s Dr. Jill Stein.

But her campaign said she was not invited and that her overtures to speak here were rejected.

The People’s Summit “looks a lot like a Democratic Party-connected event and an attempt to keep enthusiastic Sanders supporters in the party,” Stein campaign co-chair Gloria Mattera told CNN late Friday night in an email.

“Perhaps there was concern that a real independent voice for a political revolution, Dr. Stein, would derail their plan.”