No matter where you were on the sprawling grounds of the Seattle Center on Sunday March 20, 2016, you couldn’t help but see Bernie Sander’s supporters. From buttons to T-Shirts and hoodies and with many of them carrying signs and the occasional umbrella, they were out in huge numbers to hopefully see Bernie speak in person.
To say the congregation was only on the Center grounds though wouldn’t be painting a clear picture. Supporters seemed to be everywhere, whether they were standing in line downtown to catch the monorail or almost anywhere in the downtown corridor. Sanders had a key to the city, whether there was a an official proclamation or not.
And the excitement around Bernie’s campaign wasn’t kept to just Seattle. Rallies were also taking place in Vancouver and in Spokane with huge crowds showing up to catch a glimpse of the Vermont Senator who has been shaking up the political establishment since he announced his candidacy nearly 11 months ago. Washington will hold its Democratic Caucus on Saturday March 26 and if Sunday in the Evergreen State was any indication, Bernie can expect a large victory here.
In the Emerald City, the digital marquee was lit up with “A Future To Believe In Rally” as thousands upon thousand waited in the rain for several hours to get inside. Sanders of course is now under Secret Service protection and that made the lines move at a snail’s pace. I was fortunate enough to have a media pass but still went and hung out with friends that were in the massive lines on both sides of the Arena. The official number released by Key Arena staff of those trying to get in to no avail stood at 5500 but that number seems quite low from my vantage point.
On the 1st Avenue side of Key Arena, there was no actual line, just a massive army of Bernie Sanders supporters packed together, shoulder to shoulder with no real organized process to move people in. Sadly, if you were in the center of that crowd you weren’t going to move far, as the people around the edges of that sea of bodies were receiving an unfair advantage in getting in. On the other side of the building there was another line that snaked for thousands of yards, wrapping around the historic fountain and beyond.
What I did notice from the line though was that it only got bigger throughout the day, even as over 10,000 poured into the Key. An hour before the official start time of the rally I went outside to have a look at the crowd and there seemed to be more than twice as many people outside as there were inside.
Sanders, as he often does when there is an overflow crowd, came out and spoke at 5 p.m. to the folks that couldn’t get inside the packed venue. In an abbreviated version of his now iconic stump speech, he energized that portion of the crowd and left them feeling like every moment they’d waited for him was completely worth it.
Inside the venue though, after a few hours of warming the crowd up with music and guest speakers, the Bernie Sanders hype team took the stage. They led the crowd in various chants and brought the Key up to rock concert sound levels as Bernie was preparing to come out. And when he did, it was like a “Sonic Boom” had hit the building.
After the raucous crowd settled down a tiny fraction, Sanders was able to get a few words in. For the next hour plus he preached his anti-establishment platform to an audience that was clearly hungry for change and he obliged. Whether he talked about taking on Wall Street, Donald Trump or Criminal Justice Reform, the man that so many Americans have come to love brought the house down repeatedly. To say it was a frenzy is a little bit of an understatement. But one thing is clear about Sanders and that message was driven home once again on this soggy late afternoon in Seattle, he wants to bring people closer together and they loved him for that.