People of all ages from all over Rhode Island met Saturday at the Greenville Public Library to help elect Bernie Sanders president of the United States of America.
Sanders, a Vermont senator, declared his intent to announce his presidential candidacy on April 30th. He plans to officially enter the race on May 26, challenging former Secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former Rhode Island State Governor Lincoln Chafee for the Democratic Party nomination.
As a senator, Sanders was an independent, caucusing with the Democrats. He is expecting to run his campaign on a paltry $50 million, made up of small donations from people, as opposed to Clinton’s estimated $1 billion campaign made up of both small personal and large corporate donations.
Lauren Niedel, deputy state coordinator of the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, ran the meeting, starting with introductions of the more than 30 people who attended, then onto the planning of phone banking, canvassing and house parties. They have a lot of ground to cover.
Clinton has near universal name recognition. Sanders does not. Spreading the word on a populist candidate fighting for the little guy takes work and dedicated volunteers.
Smartly, Sanders has hired Revolution Messaging, the firm Obama hired to do his “online fundraising, social media and digital advertising.” This is a very smart move, as a grassroots campaign needs a strong social media presence, and Sanders will be relying on younger voters.
The people attending the meeting in the library – and the campaign as a whole – are not running from the fact that Sanders is a socialist. The caveat is that he’s a democratic socialist, not a state socialist. Far from a negative, this is seen as a positive to many. One Sanders supporter, a Rhode Island business owner, said that she sees socialism as an American value. “This is a socialist country,” she said, “and the more socialist we are the better we’ll be. We have to take care of people.”
Another supporter identified as a Christian Socialist, socialism derived from the teachings of Jesus. To her, economic and social justice are religious values.
Socialism isn’t the dirty word it was during the Red Scare of the 1950’s or the Reagan era. A Huffington Post piece summarized it nicely:
A Pew Research Center survey recently found that while only 31 percent of Americans had a positive reaction to the word “socialism,” barely 50 percent of Americans had a positive view of capitalism, and 40 percent had a negative response. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
“The Pew poll found that young Americans are about equally divided in their attitudes toward socialism and capitalism. Among 18-to-29 year olds, 49 percent had a positive view of socialism, while 47 percent had a positive view of capitalism. Similarly, only 43 percent had a negative view of socialism, compared with 47 percent who had a negative view of capitalism.”
Socialism aside, most of the people at this meeting were just happy to have found a candidate who could speak to their issues in a serious, populist way.
“I’m eager for our issues to be a part of the conversation,” said one supporter at the meeting. “Bernie Sanders is the only one who is saying anything I want to hear,” said another.
Niedel summed up the reasons for her support when she said that Sanders “represents the people. He does not represent the 1 percent. He does not represent the corporations.” Niedel presented the group with Sanders’ 12 point economic policy plan, which seemed to resonate well with those in attendance.
Can a 73-year-old socialist senator from Vermont really take the nomination away from Clinton, who has all but been anointed as the Democrat’s 2016 contender? His supporters see a potential change in direction for American politics. If Sanders pulls it off, it will be because of the dedicated support of tens of thousands of people across the country who are much like those who gathered in the Greenville Library meeting room on Saturday.
The Rhode Island Sanders contingent will be tabling at RI Pride on June 20th, doing outreach and collecting signatures to get Sanders on the ballot. You can find out more about the Sanders campaign here.