On the ground at the July 29 Bernie bash
As we write this the 2016 US Presidential election is about fifteen months away, which means we’re still very much in the pre-season. Polls don’t mean much yet; it’s like ranking baseball standings based on spring training performance. But even at this early stage there’s one player who’s already drawing the attention of the scouts… Bernie Sanders. While many of our readers know Bernie from his weekly appearances on the Thom Hartmann show, he’s a mystery to most of the country. We hate mysteries, so we defrosted our Your Car Matters investigative reporter and sent him to uncover the mystery from the inside. Here’s his report from the nationwide Bernie Sanders House Party on July 29, and a revealing glimpse into the Belly of the Bern…
(by Charles Letherwood, Portland, Oregon, July 29, 2015)
In July, Bernie Sanders announced his third fundraising event since he entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in April. His opponent for the primary, an unknown Arkansas lawyer named Hillary Clinton, had already established a strong fundraising footprint by raising almost $47 million in the first quarter with an average donation of $144.89. In stark contrast, Sanders had raised a total of $15 million including $1.5 million raised in the first 24 hours of his campaign. Average donation? Less than $45. Still, in what will be the most expensive presidential election ever, $47 million beats $15 million. Bernie needed money.
Rather than sucking up to the big Corporate donors Bernie decided to try something different. His campaign set up organizational meetings around the country on one night, with Bernie to address them all over the internet. The idea wasn’t new; Barrack Obama did it in 2012 with 4000 “watch parties” for the Debates (Mitt Romney did the same thing with 336 parties). What was new was how far in advance Bernie was trying it. The Debate parties were held in October, just a month before the election. Bernie was already getting some buzz, but would scheduling grassroots organizing parties a full 16 months before the election work?
I went online to track down the Bernie Bash nearest to Sellwood. There were plenty to choose from with 28 events within 10 miles of Portland, but I picked the one at Watershed PDX on Milwaukie Ave. The first murmurs of how successful things would be came a day before the actual event, when the party was moved from Watershed to Trackers Earth, a much larger facility about a block away. When I arrived the line was already out the door. Moving inside, there were people of every age, shape, size, and description, and all rarin’ to go for Bernie.
To get the people educated and making connections, the folks at Watershed (big Bernie supporters) had prepared 12 different cards with points from Bernie’s campaign from “Reversing Climate Change” to “Reforming Wall Street” to “Growing the Trade Union Movement”. Each card had 12 boxes to check, and our task was to pick a card, read and understand the point, then go search out the people with the other 11 points and discuss the points with them. This not only was a great icebreaker between people who knew nothing about each other, but it also gave everyone an opportunity to change from having a nebulous feeling of “I like Bernie” to having an actually informed opinion.
My first stop from the card table was a small circle of people already excitedly comparing their cards. The youngest was 12; I had brought my daughter (Hi, Ivy!) to the event as an introduction to politics and was amazed at her passionate and common-sense explanation of why the minimum wage should be raised. On the other end of the scale was a long- retired woman named Meg who was equally excited about getting big money out of politics. This little group was a microcosm of the event as a whole… people with little knowledge to lots, from every age and background, but all enthusiastically supporting a man they believe cares about their opinion. Here’s a little bit about some of the other people I met…
Dan is from Southwest Portland and is supporting Bernie because he’s fed up with unresponsive government after fighting with the City to get a new brewery started. Moon Shrimp Brewing, unsurprisingly in Portland, will be a gluten-free brewery.
Claire is a Bernie supporter who didn’t know about the night’s festivities in advance. She was walking to the gym, saw the crowd of people and stopped by to check it out, but she was glad she did. She plans to start volunteering for the campaign when she returns to the U of O this Fall.
Susannah came all the way from Oregon City, and was familiar with Bernie from his Hartmann appearances. She liked his honesty, but also had a soft spot for his accent. Susannah brought her friend Debbie with her, but of all the people I talked to during the night Debbie was the only person who described herself as “apolitical”. She didn’t see much difference at all between Sanders and the other politicians running, but admitted that because she didn’t follow politics she didn’t know for sure. She said she was open to changing her mind, but when I talked to her later on she still hadn’t become a Bernie Believer. Oh well.
Anthony, Brian, and Kalani all had different degrees of political interest, but all found something to like in Bernie. Anthony had followed him since he announced his candidacy and likes him for his authenticity. He thought Bernie was “awesome”, though his positions were the obvious intelligent solutions, and thought it was strange that Bernie’s honesty and policies stand out so much against the field of other candidates. Brian’s priorities were infrastructure and education, he was angry about tax breaks for the affluent, and though Bernie had “common sense” solutions to those problems. Kalani said she was “desensitized” to politics, and that there was no politician she completely agreed with until she listened to Bernie.
One thing about the Bern… if you’re looking for Obama-style soaring oratory, you won’t find it. He concentrates on content and specifics instead. When he got to it Bernie’s actual address was brief and to the point, delivered in his usual earnest and gruff style. He led with some overall policy points which were no surprise to any of his supporters, and closed with a call to take part in the campaign (it was, after all, an organizing event). It didn’t matter, though, because he was preaching to a very enthusiastic choir. The end of the speech was the signal for a huge and sustained round of applause.
On the way out, people eagerly exercised their 21st-century “free speech” rights by giving money to the cause. The aforementioned Ivy was handing out Sanders bumper stickers as fast as possible from behind a growing pile of money. One guy stood up on a chair and auctioned off “the very first bumper sticker from the very first printing run from the very first Bernie House Party” for $45. The volunteer from Watershed was winning her battle to collect cash and at the same time sign up people to help the campaign as fast as they could line up in front of her. But for all the money flowing into Bernie’s coffers, two things struck me… the piles were made up mostly of 1’s, 5’s, and 10’s instead of 50’s or 100’s, and every dime was given by individual flesh-and-blood people, not a Corporate Person or PAC in the bunch.
I never heard a final number for the money raised at the event, but I did talk to the organizers and multiple counts put the number of attendees at about 450. Nationwide, Bernie had 3500 events that drew a total of 100,000 people. We know now that this level of support was no fluke because of the turnout for Senator Sanders’ three major events since; he drew 15,000 in Seattle, 28,000 in Portland, and 27,500 in Los Angeles. One could ask if this support will last the 15 remaining months until the election, but one could look at it another way… what will his support be like if it’s this strong 15 months out?
I’ve listened to Bernie Sanders for years on his weekly “Brunch With Bernie” visit on the Thom Hartmann Program, so I already knew what he’s about. I know that he’s a Socialist, not a FOX-News “Socialist-communist-leftist-totalitarian”, but someone who realizes that society has some elements that must be addressed by all of us together. I know he represented the democratic wing of the Democratic party, in the Elizabeth Warren mold. I know about his loathing for the Banksters who destroyed our economy, and that he realizes our income inequality gap is unsustainable. I know he’s as blunt as Chris Christie, yet charming in a way that Christie could never be. For a long time I’ve known that most average Americans would agree with him on most things, if they only had a chance to hear him. So I haven’t been surprised at the massive outpouring of support Bernie’s seen since entering the Presidential race. I’ve only been surprised that he’s finally gotten his chance to speak to the American people, and I can’t wait to be further surprised by their response.
Why July 29 is such an important date to the Bernie Sanders campaign, Aaron Davis, Washington Post, Jul 17
Bernie Sanders Hosts Biggest Organizing Event of 2016 So Far, Sam Frizell, Time Online, Jul 2015
Protesters drove Bernie Sanders from one Seattle stage. At his next stop, 15,000 people showed. John Wagner, Washington Post, Aug 8
Windfall at Bernie’s: Sanders raises $1.5 million in 24 hours, Dan Merica on CNN, May 2015