"Bernie Sanders" by Nick Solari
It was last Friday night in Dubuque, Iowa—just three days before the Iowa Caucus—and a crowd of around 1,300 had assembled to see Bernie Sanders at the Grand River Event Center, which as the name suggests, is right on the banks of the Mississippi River. Hillary Clinton had been in town just a few hours and the buzz was that she drew an audience of about a third this size.
It's hard to pigeon hole this bunch. They ranged from college students to seniors, veterans to vegans, straight-laced to disheveled—slightly more men than women. People started lining up two hours before the doors opened.
As people entered, the Bernie campaign handed out something truly counter-culture: Small 3x5 inch American flags on wooden sticks. In no time at all, everyone was waving them.
Cornell West came out and got the crowd in a frenzy. "Are you ready to make history in America on Monday?" he asked the crowd. "Are you ready for the re-birth of American DEM-OC-RA-CEEE?!? How sweet it is to build on the grand legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dorothy Day... all of those who in past have said to the one percent, 'enough is enough'!"
West was a hard act to follow, but Sanders didn't disappoint.
As usual, his focus wasn't on his opponent, Hillary Clinton—in fact he didn't mention her at at all. He focused on what the crowd knew to be self-evident, "In this wealthy country, we've got to change our national priorities and create a economy that works for all people, not just the people on top."
He said that many of his ideas are being met as too far-fetched, but asked the crowd to keep in mind that when Iowa become one of the first states to adopt public schools, adopt gay marriage, and elect an African-American president, that was considered far-fetched at the time as well. "Obama came to this state as a presidential candidate and people were saying, 'America is really not ready for an African-American to be president.' Obama came to the state of Iowa, virtually an all-white state, and he won here. You helped make American history!"
"What Iowa showed the world is that the people of this state were prepared to elect a candidate based on his ideas and not his race."
He asked Iowans to guide the rest of the nation on the right path once again, "Are the people of Iowa prepared to lead this country in a new direction? Are the people of Iowa prepared to say we are going to end the rigged economy and a corrupt campaign finance system and a broken criminal justice system? I hope very much that you will send a signal to people all over this country that enough is enough."
As soon as Sanders finished, David Bowie's Starman, entered: "There's a starman waiting in the sky... He's told us not to blow it... Cause he knows it's all worthwhile." The crowd jumped to their feet and began chanting, "Berrrrneeee.... Berrrneeee.... Berrrrrneeee!"
After the event, I spoke to several people, all of them adamantly for Sanders.
"He's honest, he's for people like me," said Michelle Tayor, a woman in her 30s from nearby Bellevue. "I don't trust Clinton. My husband and I are small business owners, he's a veteran, we have a son with autism. The other candidates don't know what any of that is about."
Shirley Ford-Lehman, a sixty-something, said, "I like his realism about what this country needs, like higher paying jobs. Working class people are the backbone of this nation and if this nation is going to survive, those people have to have a better life." Asked how she felt about Bernie's opposition she said, "I don't even consider Hillary in my book. She's just another politician."
Zach Meyer, a college student, had brought his Republican mother to the event. He said for him the choice for Bernie was clear. "I can't support a candidate that takes money from corporations and big banks. I can't support a candidate that's bought." As for Mom, she said that she's still undecided, but willing to give a Bernie a chance: "I'm not too thrilled about the Republicans of today."
35 year-old Howard Hueven repeated the emerging theme. "He's not taking gigantic money from banks, businesses, that kind of stuff. Political campaigns are pretty awful right now for dudes like me that don't have thousands of dollars that they can just throw around."
Bennett Cook, a 52 year old, said, "I like that he's trying to get money out of politics. And I like how he's standing up for common persons' concerns."
Carrie McCabe, a woman in her fifties described herself as a "one issue voter. I am a pacifist and I am against war."
Gary Jones, a recently retired man said, "I'm starting to see an overwhelming idealism with him. Whether its practical or not, I don't care. There's just something inspiring about it."
Jud Lounsbury is a political writer and frequent contributor to The Progressive.