So here we are, exactly one year from the day the media announced Bernie Sanders would be running for President. While the official announcement from the campaign was to follow a few days later, for many of us this signaled the start of something incredible.To borrow a line from the Grateful Dead – “What a long, strange trip it’s been”.
Now I don’t know the actual first time I saw or heard Bernie Sanders but I do know it was at least 10 years ago. Although I don’t do it as much now, I’m one of those people that can actually sit through hearings on C-Span and that’s where I first saw him(I think). Whatever, I know it was a long time ago. The thing with Bernie is that he is so unlike almost every other politician that I’d ever heard in my life and I was attracted to that but being from the tiny state of Vermont, that doesn’t exactly get you a big following in the media, especially when you talk about the things he talks about. So he was far from a household name.
A few months prior to Bernie’s announcement I was very turned off by politics, because at the time it seemed like a foregone conclusion that we would have either a Bush or a Clinton in the White House and neither one of those choices was very appealing to me.
But then Bernie happened. To say it rocked my world would be a mild understatement and it gave me something to fight for, even if I knew it was going to be a difficult battle. Like Bernie and his team, I knew that if his message could get out, then he might have a chance. I payed little attention to what the media had to say about his chances, in fact although I never looked it up, I’ve read that his announcement was buried on page 20 of the New York Times. I didn’t care what they said(and still don’t) because we now had something to fight for and my vote would no longer have to go for the lesser of two evils.
I got involved online almost immediately, in fact the logo you see at the top of this article was my Facebook cover photo on the day the media announce he was running, April 28, 2015. One of the first signs that we had something going here was what happened at Reddit. Bernie’s page there absolutely caught fire and quickly grew to 100,000 readers. But more than having big numbers, there was the grassroots organizing that was happening behind the scenes.
Facebook groups and pages started springing up at such a rate, one just could not keep up, each one of them becoming their own micro-community but yet all connected in one way or another. You could find pages “Anything For Bernie” and I got into that part of it a month later as well, creating the Bands For Bernie page and Puget Sound For Bernie Sanders. Although I don’t do much on those pages now, because The Bern Report came calling, my fellows Berners there have used them to keep getting Bernie’s message out in literally every way possible. In the early days, the largest of the grassroots social media army, The People For Bernie Sanders 2016, would have weekly conference calls and we’d discuss ways to all work together. Although there was little talk of it in media, we were VERY organized behind the scenes.
Prior to The Bern Report existing, Bernie announced he’d be coming to Seattle for a rally at UW(University of Washington) and also would be speaking at a Social Security rally downtown. Everyone in my local Bernie circle lost their minds, as we were going to have a chance to see and hear him in the flesh. Those were exciting times for us as we’d been seeing the massive numbers of people showing up to the rallies elsewhere and it was clear the movement was strong and growing quickly. If you’ve been to one of Bernie’s rallies, I don’t have to explain to you how awesome they are.
Being the editor of the most popular online music news source in the northwest has some perks occasionally and I was able to get a photo/media pass for the downtown event. Of course this was before Bernie had Secret Service protection and I’ll never forget him just sort of strolling into the press tent like it was no big deal.
Of course, it WAS a big deal as several thousand people were waiting beyond the barricades to hear him speak. But during that hour or so that he hung out in the press tent, I learned even more about him. I followed him around with my camera and he didn’t seem to mind that I was eavesdropping and taking photos, he stopped and posed for me on many occasions but the fascinating thing to me was the way he was talking to people.
Everyone he talked to got his full attention and he seemed more interested in talking to just regular people than he was with the elite politician class that were also in the tent.
Sure, his speech got cut short by Black Lives Matters activists and while at the time, there were some disappointed people that had waited for hours on a sweltering Seattle afternoon, ultimately that day proved to us he was not like the others. We’ve all seen the videos of how both of the Clinton’s have angrily dealt with protesters but Bernie handled it differently. He remained calm, with no visible anger.
As I stood just a few feet away from Bernie and Jane I heard him tell the protesters “If you want to talk, let’s talk but I’m not going to shout over you” and then yielded the microphone.
As he stood on the stage looking down at me, I got the sense that he knew why this was happening and why it was needing to happen. Was he disappointed? Yes. But he handled it in the best way possible in my opinion because that helped open a dialog and got a lot of people talking about the senseless killings of unarmed black people by law enforcement.
After that event was over, we had a Bands For Bernie event just a few blocks away at The Crocodile in Seattle and then headed off to the rally at the UW. We were a bit late because of the music event and when we arrived saw lines of people heading towards Hec Ed Pavilion, which quickly filled to capacity. We were left standing outside with several thousand other Berners that couldn’t get in but there is no shame in that and no one that I saw seemed to mind, because we were there and we showed up.
A few weeks after Bernie’s Seattle trip I started The Bern Report, which was in all honesty sort of an accident at least in terms of what I was thinking it could become at the time. I did however want a platform to write more about the campaign itself, things I couldn’t really do with Bands For Bernie, so I got busy.
20 days after the site launched I got an email from someone telling me to watch a Thom Hartmann video. I’ve been a fan of Thom’s for years and his refreshing progressive voice has always resonated well with me so imagine my surprise when Thom is talking about the website I created just 20 days earlier. In the bigger picture it doesn’t mean much but it was definitely a very cool moment and it kept us energized and wanting to do more.
Over the course of this last year I’ve attended nearly every Bernie function I could, to experience the movement in person. It’s one thing to see it on social media but a whole different thing when you get to be there live. In addition to the Seattle event downtown with Bernie, I also was fortunate enough to get photo/media passes for his two most recent rallies in the Emerald City, first at Key Arena and then at Safeco Field. I’ve attended marches, live music events, phonebanked, attended meetings at his local field office, became a Volunteer Leader for the campaign here in Washington and also a Caucus Site Leader at my caucus location near Tacoma. And of course spent countless hours online working to help get his message out there.
There is so much more to say, so many stories to share about all the events I’ve attended and all the friendships I’ve made. I could talk about meeting Jeff Weaver and having him say “it’s great” when talking about this website. So many things like that have happened but the people are what has made this special. One of my favorite stories has been Nishtha Sood, who paid her own way to come from India just to volunteer for Bernie’s campaign in South Carolina. And while Bernie didn’t do as well as we wanted him to do there, it’s clear that if people are willing to fly halfway across the world to volunteer for a campaign, there is something special going on. Something that likely won’t happen again in my lifetime.
Photos from August 28, 2015 – Downtown Seattle Social Security rally.
Black Lives Matters protesters cut Bernie’s speech short
March For Bernie – Seattle #1
March For Bernie – Seattle #2
Key Arena Rally
Safeco Field Rally