About 40 of the estimated 100,000 people across the country at house parties for Bernie Sanders were crammed into the standing room only function room at Pinewood Pub and Pizza in Chepachet, Rhode Island last night in hopes of electing the independent Vermont senator, who identifies as a socialist, president of the United States.
This was Sanders’ largest organizing event in a grassroots campaign that has surprised pundits.
Lauren Niedel of the Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island, coordinated this event. She welcomed the crowd to what she called “the official launch of the Bernie Sanders Campaign.”
“RI is not the epicenter of Presidential politics,” said Niedel, “but New Hampshire is, and we’re not too far away.” She discussed Sanders’ 12 point plan, his strong stance on climate change and the environment, his call for a $15 minimum wage, and getting money out of politics by overturning Citizen’s United.
In answer to a concern about Sanders on guns and gun control, Niedel pointed out that Sanders has a D- rating from the NRA (National Rifle Association).
An Internet slowdown at the restaurant combined with overloaded servers made it difficult to start the livestream of Sanders’ talk. The room devolved into a couple dozen conversations when suddenly Sanders voice could be heard from the speakers saying, “We have to combat institutional racism in this country.”
That’s not a bad place to start the stream.
Sanders’ mantra in this speech was “enough is enough.” He called for a path to citizenship and comprehensive immigration reform. He called for Medicare for all – a single payer system. “The only way we can take on the billionaire class is when we put together a strong grass roots movement,” he said. “That’s what I mean by political revolution.”
Sanders’ simple message and blunt delivery resonated with those in the room. There was applause and cheers throughout.
“When we stand together there is nothing, nothing, nothing we cannot accomplish,” said Sanders, towards the end. A woman from off camera gave Sanders a photograph of Gandhi, but the room is so loud and energized I couldn’t hear what she said. The earlier conversations had resumed, with more animation and at a higher volume.
Niedel got the room under control, and asked people to rise one at a time, to explain what it is about Sanders that’s captured their imagination and makes them want to work for his underdog campaign. The answers are revealing.
“When I heard Bernie Sanders speak, it rang true. Here’s my voice.”
“I think Bernie is probably our last shot, to be honest. A man with integrity. I figure I’ll throw my weight behind him and hope for the best.”
‘I’m for the people. I want to keep power away from corporations.”
“We have a 15 year old going to college in a few years and we’re still paying off student loans for us.”
“He’s real. I like what he says. It’s about time somebody stood up for the middle class and those that can’t stand up for themselves.”
“He’s one of the first to talk about ending hunger and ending income inequality.”
“I saw the filibuster in 2010 and it moved my heart, moved my spirit.”
“My grandson asked me what I was doing. I said I was researching Bernie Sanders. He asked me why I don’t just watch it on the news? And that smacked me in the head. How do you explain to a 12 year old that the media is bought?”
“He speaks to the values that most people in this country believe in.”
“Bernie is saying all the things that I want to hear.”
“I’m a recovering Republican. After the bank crisis I had an awakening. The system had been corrupted by big money. I really like Bernie’s message. He’s not selling himself.”
“In my life I have mostly voted for the lesser of two evils. I like what Bernie is saying.”
“He’s our last chance.”
On the subject of Hillary, people were sure of one thing. They don’t really trust her.
“We need an alternative to Hillary.”
“I would love to have a woman for President, but I just can’t trust Hillary.”
“When I learned about Hillary and Monsanto, that totally turned me off.”
“Sometimes you make a few too many compromises, and I think that’s the case with Hillary.”
“Hillary has Wall St. written all over her.”
An interesting series of comments turned into a conversation about Sanders’ identification as a socialist.
“I’m a long time socialist, first time socialist voter. If Bernie could lean a little further to the left, I’d be stoked.”
“Bernie needs to find another word (besides Socialism). Like Humanity. Humanist.”
“Socialist is a negative tag. He’s a Humanist.”
“What it really means is that he wants everybody to have a living wage. This is what socialism is.”
“The biggest socialism in this country is the biggest rip off: corporate welfare.”