The sweltering hundred-degree heat of June 1st, 2016 saw hundreds of people from highly varied backgrounds gather on Hutchinson Intramural Field, Feelin’ the Bern (I couldn’t help it) on the University of California, Davis campus — myself included.
My arrival to the event presented large-scale versions of my daily concerns regarding social gatherings in California, but my concerns abated soon as I realized that my own anachronism (while certainly noticeable in my kitten heels, leather camera bag, belted khaki shorts and silk-polyester blend blouse) was swallowed by the crowd, lessened with every footstep by the diversity therein.
The entirety of the University of California, Davis community and surrounding region meets a highly varied demographic of races, religions, academic affiliations, and social status, something the school prides itself on — and while the majority of the folks attending the rally were mostly united in political affiliation (with room for a few Clinton supporters, undecided voters, and objective observers), the variation within that qualifier was significantly higher than one may expect (viz., not just hippies here, although there was a flower crown or two to be seen).
Supporters from every walk of life came in droves to show their support: the environmentalists, the socialists, the independents, the gamers, the academics, the undergraduate partiers, the LGBTQ Pride movement, the hippies, the upper-to-middle-aged professionals, the young professionals, professors, educators, agriculture workers, the Catholics, the Protestants, the Jews, the Muslims, and the graduate students, bringing with them their own set of experiences and sociological backgrounds.
In-line discussions included everything from video games, to business, religious power, research, academia, farming, the weather, historic events, and current ones. The experience of standing in line was itself overwhelming auditory corroboration of the diverse demographic of the group. Enthusiasm levels were equally varied, with some using the rally as opportunity to enthusiastically discuss, make friends, and demonstrate inclusivity, with others clearly only there for the ‘something to do’ factor: “can I have one of your bullshit pamphlets [to use as a fan]” and similar phrases demonstrating some supporters’ intolerance to the heat and disinterest in political fliers being passed out during the long wait in line.
At four o’clock in the afternoon, the single-file line for entry into the eight secret service screening tables extended the length of the field and doubled back four times, with more attendees arriving every moment, the line now extending to the extremities of the sidewalks surrounding the field’s perimeter.
The efficiency of the secret service agents assigned to screen each individual passing through the metal detectors was pristine, and within an hour, I had found a space with an excellent view right next to the press stand. More attendees had arrived, with people gathering on rooftops, sidewalks, and the top of the neighboring parking garage.
The next three hours saw performances by two local musicians doing folk-inspired, americana renditions of classic rock from the late seventies and my own advancement to a better vantage point much closer to the podium where Bernie would speak. The first performer, an acoustic guitar playing, folk singing, kindergarten teacher extraordinaire, directly addressed the press stand from where I was standing after local news anchors had just departed, stating before one of his final selections: “I see a lot of other stuff that doesn’t make me too happy [on television]. Did they leave? Did the TV people leave? Because they ought to be filming this!”, making a reference to corporate-owned media and playing “This Land Is Your Land”, which prompted many to sing along and great response from the still-growing crowd.
Most attendees were hearty supporters of Bernie, but many were either on-the-fence or there “just to see what it was like”, as one Hillary supporter I spoke with just prior to Bernie’s arrival explained. He was slightly pompous, over-confident, and knew little regarding the details of either campaign, citing “I don’t know, she’s just more practical” as his major reason for supporting her campaign, lacking the capacity to elaborate further. After skirting around more politically-oriented conversation questions (probably due to his incapability to answer them), he was clearly more interested in me than in Bernie… and as uncomfortable as this made me as a woman alone at a large event in a stereotypically party-hard school, it certainly cemented the importance of one of Bernie’s major causes. As many women have experienced in these situations, the young man’s tone turned sour when I repeatedly turned down his invitations and skirted around personal questions, making me remember on my walk home that the idea of ‘nothing energizes an evening walk like the fear of being sexually assaulted because I turned down a date’ should not be an acceptable motivator for power-walking.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard spoke to the importance of his campaign, urging the importance of his cause and highlighting the potential therein in a brief introductory speech. Her speech was excellently phrased and sincere overall, and her comfort level in addressing such a large crowd was evident in her delivery.
Senator Sanders’ arrival, four hours after mine, was met with cheers and emotionally-charged support from the audience: even the well-behaved bomb dogs seemed a little jazzed.
Luckily, I managed to convince my new friend to move along as Bernie arrived and began to speak to the central tenets of his campaign in a concisely effective stump speech, addressing the issues most important to the demographic of the highly varied crowd — that is to say, most all of them — efficiently and powerfully. His succinct phrasing, direct delivery, and illustrious use of language was ideally suited to the crowd, who at this point had gathered in the thousands.
This being said, the directness of Bernie’s delivery did not demonstrate as much oratory fluidity as the powerful speeches of President Obama’s first campaign, which, famous for his style of deliverance, captured the hearts of the youth vote and arguably, won the election for him twice. There was not a wet eye in the house; not an individual standing was moved to tears… which they well could have been due to the force behind Bernie’s delivery and social relatability of his causes. But of course, he was not lacking in overall emotional overtone. His commentary on wage equality, prison reform, and education captured the attention of the massive crowd, referencing average student loan debt stating the ineffectuality of the current student loan system concisely and powerfully:
“We should be rewarding people for going to college, not punishing them.”
In its entirety, Bernie’s speech was powerful and well-delivered, backed by hundreds of passionate young supporters. His presence at the podium is humble and demonstrative both of his diplomacy and commitment to standing firmly by his beliefs.
He touched upon the state of the current incarceration system in the United States as an “International embarassment”, passionately urging the need for change: “We must invest in our young people in jobs and education… and not in jails and incarceration”, and concluding shortly thereafter with summarized commentary of his passionate beliefs on education’s relationship to overall national social problems, effectively highlighting the critical need for immediate reform to what he later referred to as the overall ‘status quo’:
“We have built jails but not colleges. It is time to reverse that trend. It is time to understand It costs less money to send a young person to the University of California than to send him to jail. This campaign is about thinking outside of the box. About not accepting the status quo. And [going] beyond the options that corporate media gives us.”
The exuberance of the crowd mounted into a deafening roar which would extend into the late night hours, leaving the rest of Davis cradled in an eerily still desertion — the calm before the storm of the June 7th 2016 California Primary.