A Bernie Sanders rally on the steps of the State House drew more than 200 people – and focused not only on why Sanders is the best choice to be the next president, but also on how to keep the political revolution he launched alive long after election day.
“A lot has been made of the overwhelming support for Bernie among young people,” said Providence Rep. Aaron Regunberg. “And, as one of the youngest members of this General Assembly, I’ve found much of that discourse pretty condescending. You know, I hear ‘these kids, they don’t know how the real world works, they’re naive, when they grow up a little they’ll understand how pie-in-the-sky this Bernie guy is.’ And I don’t know about the young people here today but I am not taking that anymore.”
Regunberg, whose impassioned sermon electrified the crowd, continued:
“As I see it our generation is maybe the most realistic and the least naive of any I can think of. We’re the generation that has grown up with the crushing knowledge that our lives will be shaped in the coming decades by climate catastrophe.
“We’re the generation that graduated to an economy that offered fewer jobs and greater serfdom to our student loans. We’re the first generation that has seen, even under the first African American president, that our black and brown brothers and sisters continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, continued to be mowed down in the streets with their hands up. We’re the first generation that saw in almost 400 years just how much damage an unregulated Wall Street can cause, that has seen how appallingly false the credo that privatization and free trade and austerity are the answers to, rather than the causes of, our appalling levels of inequality.
“And I say this sadly as an elected democrat we’re the generation that ha watched as too often our party gives into and sometimes joins republicans in supporting this toxic agenda. So, no, we’re not naive. But we understand that this system, in many ways, is broken and we need bold change, we need systemic reform, we need – I’ll say it – a political revolution. That’s not unrealistic thinking, that’s our reality.”
North Kingstown state Senator Jim Sheehan, who previously endorsed Sanders, also touched on the topics of youth and revolution.
“You know, it’s been said that politicians look to the next election but statesmen look to the next generation,” Sheehan said. “Take a look around you right now. This is the next generation right here today. And Bernie Sanders represents you.”
Sheehan added, “You could say that Bernie is something of a unicorn in a cesspool of dishonesty. Bernie courageously speaks truth to power, particularly the power of the political and economic establishment. And he is there with us, the people, on important issues. The American dream is our birthright as Americans and if our government is no longer going to fight for the American dream for every American than it must change it’s way and we are going to change it’s leadership to Bernie Sanders.
His support, he said, proves Sanders is appealing to a diverse group of voters.
“I am not known in this building behind me as a progressive Democrat on all issues,” Sheehan said. “So what drew me here today? Well, it’s not a $225,000 speaking fee, I can tell you that right now. I am not getting paid to be here right now, this is a labor of love… My wife said ‘You gotta look past the label.’ People like to label in our country. ‘Democratic Socialist’, they said. ‘Don’t look at Bernie. Democratic Socialist!’ As if it were a four-letter word. Well, when you look past labels, you see the real people behind them. When you get to know them as a person and the issues that Bernie cares about deeply, you come to a quite different conclusion. Bernie is a great man, a good man, an honest man, and as I stand before the Independent Man, he is an independent-minded man.”
During his speech, Regunberg reminded everyone that Bernie Sanders’ political revolution must move forward, even if his candidacy doesn’t.
“The work that we are doing today,” Regunberg said, “the door knocking and canvassing leading up the leading up to the primary, the votes that we’ll be casting on April 26, that is all an important part of this movement but it can’t be the end of this movement. The presidency is an important position, but whoever has it with Washington the way it is right now if we want real change we need to put in the work to achieve it at the state and the local level. We need your voices in this building. I need your voices in this building.”
The rally featured teachers, Teamsters, feminists, environmentalists, queer and LGBT people – and all sorts of people that are being called to the populist upsurge in this country ignited by Sanders. The imperative after the primary, speakers said, is to implement the Sanders’ agenda.