On Memorial Day, I took my kid to a Bernie Sanders rally. Below is what started as a letter to a former UC Berkeley professor who asked what it was like:
a visual recap of the day
You asked what it was like? The whole event, from lining up for hours outside, to wandering around inside, to talking to many, many people really reminded me of what makes this country so great.
Though I am somewhat involved in SF politics, it is very tidy and targeted and organized - so this chaos was kind of wonderful! There were protesters on every topic, people of all ages passing around OLD FASHIONED PRINTED PAMPHLETS, there were tons of families, people in BUSINESS SUITS right next to hippies and every possible skin color and at times, we were all cheering together! BUT the beauty was, at times, we were NOT cheering together, and that is something that is sometimes missing.
There were old people, kids, pregnant women, students and career groups, such as a huge contingent of nurses. There were people with genuine causes as well as people who seemed to be protesting randomly as an art form, and it ALL had a place. I LOVED the variety of opinions and I loved that it is OK to have them.
Yeah man, tell it!
We were there for HOURS before Bernie even spoke, and that gave us a real sense of community. We ran into MANY friends and at times were involved in group discussions, and at other times Ivy needed shade so we went off on our own and sat in the shade away from the masses and made up Political Mad Libs, but the whole while, we were still part of it all.
ALWAYS carry a notepad!
We also really enjoyed the music: they had several performers entertaining before the speech, and they did some covers, some funny political versions of popular songs, and closed with We Shall Overcome and I swear, I have chills again now just remembering. I sang along, as did much of the audience, but I think lots of the younger crowd didn't know the song or the history. I had to be brief but I told Ivy "this is the mother of all protest songs going back decades and if you listen you will hear optimism despite suffering" and I think it is 100% still relevant today.
Anyhow, at about 4:45pm (we got there at noon) we started to hear rumors that Bernie's car had been spotted arriving, so we tried to get in a place to see, but the park is actually above the level of the Oakland City Hall steps, so even though there was a small podium, it was not high enough for most of the 10-20,000 of us crammed onto the grass to see anything. (The "venue" was several blocks surrounding the park in front of City Hall, Frank Ogawa Plaza, that was blocked off for safety and they let in 20,000 and there was plenty of space - then we saw people lined up against all the fences, so many more wanted to attend. People climbed lamp-posts and trees and sat on shoulders, but I heard a little girl on top of her dad's shoulders say "Daddy, you're the tallest one here and even on your back I can't see anything!"
Can't see. Still glad to be here.
So once again, it was the energy and the community that moved us. However, when Bernie was announced, after some gracious and inspiring words from past Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport and actor Danny Glover (they were both great! And DID discuss the fact that Bernie is an old white guy who is relevant to people of color - calling Bernie "the man" and by that, meaning a compliment, not as in THE MAN!) people went WILD!!!
I hear that animal rights protesters disrupted the speech - we were listening, and had no idea what the long pause was. I read later that some protesters rushed the stage but nobody was hurt. Nobody seemed upset. It was just part of it.
The whole thing was pretty amazing. I know that in a short campaign speech, he can't lay out concrete plans for things, but his vision points really resonated with the crowd: raise the minimum wage, de-militarize the police, de-classify marijuana as a class 1 drug, respect for Native Americans, etc. I have friends who debate that he does not have the experience to make any of his plans work and that might be true, I grant that. But I am just thrilled that someone who is NOT part of the system and not working with a super pac and not backed by Wall Street could get this far (he spoke of a "rigged economy" which resonated with Oakland for SURE!)
In person, I think people really like someone who is not utterly polished - he said his suit cost $99, his hair is a mess, he gets horse, he has an accent, but seems genuine (saying $11 bucks an hour - just felt like someone you could be chatting with as opposed to a scripted "talking point".) and he relates very well to the "99%". I am one who believes that the political system is corrupt, so he speaks to me. In practice, Ms. Clinton might be the one who can actually make the system work, but what if we can change the system? It felt wonderful to know there is hope and Bernie is funny, smart and likeable. In all, I am just thrilled to have attended. I was also deeply proud that my 11-year-old daughter wanted to attend, and was interested and cares. If Bernie only inspires the next generation to be active and work to fight big business and Wall Street and all that it owns and represents, than he HAS won!
I was delighted to hear back from my professor that he enjoyed my letter, and this:
As Adlai Stevenson, democratic candidate for President before your time, once remarked to a fan who had assured him that all thinking people supported him against Eisenhower: "That won't be enough; I need a majority!"