Salem Student Feels the Bern

Ayana Shiggs C’16 attended the Bernie Sanders Rally in Greensboro this Sept.

By Regina Pearson
Photos by Regina Pearson

I could #FeelTheBern, before I even got to the stadium. Large groups of people approached the stadium on foot, many wearing various Bernie Sanders merchandise. More merchandise was being sold in- and outside the stadium, solely by volunteers. In fact, the whole rally organization was manned by volunteers. I knew he was serious about his promise to have a grassroots campaign, but tonight I suddenly understood it in a very real way. By the time the rally began there were over 9,000 in attendance.

Three women of color spoke before the man of the hour arrived on stage. First was his press secretary, Symone Sanders, a Black Lives Matter protester and former communications director for Ralph Nader. Second, a NC State University student and vice-president of Students for Bernie, Nida Allam. Lastly, Angie Wells, a flight attendant and union member. Each of them spoke passionately about their respective issues: income inequality, discrimination, mentioning the loss she faced earlier this year in the Chapel Hill shooting and fair union work.

The crowd, while already frenetic in its wait for Sen. Sanders, showed a renewed force when he stepped onstage. He greeted the crowd with a wave of his arms. I’m not going to lie: it felt akin to how I imagine a cult meeting unfolds. Bernie Sanders’ following is frequently described as “cultish.” He’s still an underdog in the presidential race, having passed Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire and Iowa polls. His following consists of mostly young, white Americans. The crowd reflected that, but the number of older audience members was impressive.

He hit his foundational issues hard, almost repeating them verbatim from previous rallies. Sanders criticized the Koch Brothers and Citizens United saying, “When you have one family spending more than either Democrats or Republicans, you aren’t talking about democracy, you’re talking about oligarchy.” He also lambasted the recent Republican budget, claiming that it would throw 27 million Americans off of health insurance, cut Pell Grants by 90 billion over ten years, cut school nutrition programs by billions and give more tax breaks to the top tenth of the one percent. Sanders then spoke about the social issues America faces. In contrast to the constant dull roar, when he mentioned the Charleston shooting, the audience was completely silent. He touched on institutional racism and police brutality, mentioning the names of several victims of police violence. Naturally, he moved onto justice reform. “Too many lives have been ruined for non-violent offences,” said Sanders while later lamenting that CEOs who were involved in the economic collapse of 2007 had no such criminal record.

Nearing the end of the rally, Sanders closed with a call to action to liberals, moderates and conservatives alike to be politically active, “When we stand together there is nothing we cannot accomplish. But we cannot do that unless people get involved in the political process.” He thanked the crowd just before leaving, his exit accompanied by energetic music.

Whether you love him or hate him or you’re somewhere in middle, Bernie Sanders is not a candidate to be ignored. With the crowds he keeps pulling and his rise in the early polling era, something in him is resonating with America.

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