Bernie hits his stride in Texas
If a long-term Republican stronghold can be persuaded, who knows what Sanders can achieve
“Bernieee Yo-da! Bernieee Yo-da!” hawked a man holding up a t-shirt of the star of the Baby Yoda meme dressed in a blue cape with “Bernie” on its chest, above “Feel the Burn 2020.”
Then my attention was grabbed by a commotion starting off to the side, as seems foreordained at these political rallies.
A young man in a Stetson holding a microphone was haranguing a white-haired man playing a guitar emblazoned with a big “Bernie” sticker.
“You could never play that under communism!” exclaimed the Stetson wearer, as two other men similarly dressed in black circled, videoing the scene. “It wouldn’t be allowed!”
A short distance away, another man, going red in the face on a bullhorn, continued an even more belligerent tirade about communism, surrounded by a phalanx of heavies.
Is that Alex Jones? Sure enough, the team behind Info Wars, the far-right American conspiracy theory and fake news website, had come to stir the pot before Bernie Sanders’ Sunday rally in Austin, Texas.
Having filmed their clickbait, the Info Wars mob headed in the opposite direction to the estimated 12,000 people arriving to root for Sanders at the end of his weekend barnstorming across Texas, with previous rallies at El Paso, San Antonio and Houston.
While Jones was out for a stunt, he is not alone in playing the communism card or accusing Sanders of being extreme—similar criticisms are coming from within the Democratic Party. But Sanders’ brand of populism is clearly working as the primaries progress. He has garnered the highest number of votes in all three so far.
Hence, despite an uncharacteristic Texas sky full of dark clouds above the rally, there remained a palpable sense of the 1960s-esque revolutionary spirit that had been evident the night before during the pre-rally Austin Bands for Bernie music festival.
While the Nevada results came in giving Sanders a win, a lady strummed her guitar singing about travelling out of state to New Mexico for an abortion. Next, a “psychedelic six-piece ensemble” played against a video screen backdrop of trippy swirling colours.
“Bernie’s anti-war platform is what first put me onto him,” say 41-year-old Lucas Diercouff, a Texans for Bernie volunteer wearing an Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran baseball cap after his five years as a combat medic. “He’s going to slash the defence budget to fund these great plans. I don’t want others to be in the same position as me of not being able to afford college.”
As the evening and bands progressed, I couldn’t tell if it was the senator’s effect or my own biases, but I kept finding myself talking to highly articulate women in their early twenties exuding great gusto.
“I’m only 23, and I have so much energy,” said one, explaining the 25 hours a week she volunteers for Sanders and other local Democratic candidates on top of her Accenture analyst job.
“This is a movement, not just an election,” said one 24-year-old, as a gentle smell of marijuana enshrouded us, and who I suspect was a little high herself; she managed to drop “ameliorate” into the conversation without batting an eyelid over her intense dark eyes beneath a tomboy haircut.
“He is going to change the way people think permanently, so this country can catch up with other developed countries.”
The spirit of the ‘60s was certainly alive at the rally for one ageing hippy who drew comparisons between Sanders’ efforts and those of George McGovern, another liberal maverick who failed to become the Democratic nomination in 1968. McGovern’s subsequent long-shot, grassroots-based 1972 presidential campaign left the Democratic party badly split ideologically.
“Elite Democrats: Is fighting for racial, environmental, social and economic justice really that radical??” stated a placard among the rally crowd that testified—as proven in Nevada—to Sanders’ ability to coalesce a multiracial collation of younger black voters, Muslim mothers in hijabs, Latinos, white liberals, and moderates.
“For so many years, people have been saying that the Latino block just needs to rise up, and now that they are doing it, people are downplaying it,” says a 35-year-old man. “We are seeing more young students and Latinos mobilised than in any other electoral cycle I have seen since 2000.”
“Have you noticed how the mainstream media undermines every win of his,” says 23-year-old Anthony Dilizia, dressed in a snazzy Stars and Stripes-themed jacket and tie. “Bernie is challenging both Republicans and the Democratic establishment.”
That’s exactly what the 78-year-old senator did once on stage. He took to task every industrial complex going—cue lots of booing—while reaffirming—cue cheers and clapping—Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free college tuition, erasing college debt, legalising marijuana and much more.
As I listened standing beside a young man wearing a striking colour of eye shadow—though I thought he’d overdone the rouge on his cheeks—it certainly sounded like it would make for a better, kinder America, Sanders’ vehement pro-abortion platform notwithstanding.
At the end as the crowd dispersed, though, I heard a woman opine to her young friends that she “wasn’t sure with some of the things he said…” before she was out of earshot. I set off in search of her platinum blonde hair among the crowd—I can’t help the high proportion of photogenic youth among Sanders’s supporters—and what could prove a dissenting voice.
“Oh, I am very much aligned with all he said,” she explained, “what I meant was that when he was talking about all the terrible things that we need to sort, I didn’t know whether to clap or boo.”
All photos are by James Jeffrey unless otherwise stated
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