By the time this article is read, the California Primary will be history.
On Wednesday, political pundits will be steering their follower’s click-throughs and eyeballs toward the dedicated soldiers digging the candidate’s protective political moats, dissecting the height and viability of their respective financial battlements and naming the Important Houses, as one by one, the Rich and Powerful align themselves with the presumptive nominees. I’m not the first to call out this election cycle as America’s Game of Thrones, and yes, dammit, Winter is Coming.
But for 6,000 people, gathered at the Cloverdale Airport on Friday, June 3rd, the gnashing gears of the lumbering party machines seemed insignificant, at least for a day. A last-minute media blitz blew up people’s text messaging and inboxes at about 10:00 pm Thursday night. Bernie Sanders was coming to Cloverdale.
Facebook erupted with shares and emails were frantically forwarded. A daft rumor became national news when a Sonoma County skydiving outfit quietly suggested they were trying to reach Senator Sanders to discuss the idea of his sailing onto airport tarmac. And when a plane circled the airport, mere minutes before the Senator’s scheduled speech, all eyes went skyward – thousands of people pointing, laughing, simultaneously believing-not-believing that Bernie could descend from the heavens and anoint his followers. And who could blame us, considering what has already transpired during this election cycle? Truth truly is stranger than fiction.
Sanders supporters began lining up at the airport as early as 8:00 am. The first-in-line stalwarts came prepared, erecting pop-up tents, bringing coolers and lawn chairs, knowing they would have time to schlep the gear back to their vehicles once the gates opened at 5:00. Lake and Mendocino County residents were among the first 20 people to arrive. Karen Lee is part of the Ukiah-area Sanders team, who thanked her Lake County compatriots for sharing their shade.
“I want to see him. I want to shake his hand. We’re starting a revolution toward a better country,” said Lee. This was her first Sanders rally, but Lee has been working with the campaign for the past six months, phoning, canvassing, and helping organize volunteers. “He is going to say tonight that we’re all in this together. This is not about me. It’s about we,” she concluded.
By 2:30, a line of about 300 people snaked along an airport hangar. Organizers confirmed they were expecting up to 6,000 people, and they were spot-on in their estimates. Volunteers began to create a structure for the line. “We’re bringing out hoses and creating water and cooling stations,” one volunteer shouted to the crowd. “This line is gonna be serpentine,” he continued.
Press was ushered into the event area at about 2:30. We were told via email to bring our gear and be ready to stage no later than 3:00. About ten of us followed our press liaison to a large, cordoned-off riser directly across from the speaker’s podium. Behind the riser, tables and chairs were marked for those needing radio and video feed. All gear was to be stowed in this area until we were allowed back at 5:00. For the photographers and video people, it took some deep breathing to part with their backpacks filled with thousands of dollars worth of gear. Our liaison told us, “Everything will be fine. This is the procedure the campaign had been utilizing all over the country.” With that, we were whisked out of the event area, and yes, other than gear being broiling hot, everything was fine.
The airport is located along the Russian River, and the podium faced due west, leaving a stunning backdrop of the Sonoma County hills to frame Senator Sanders. At least 100 men and women comprised the event security team – local and county law enforcement, some donning bulletproof vests. US Secret Service members, some looking astonishingly like proverbial Men in Black. TSA agents, who seemed professional and genuinely glad to be there. A squadron of emergency services personnel, whose medical services were called upon just a few times throughout the day to assist with overheated attendees. I overheard a Secret Service agent querying a local volunteer, looking east toward the Russian River. “So, how many homes do you think are back there?” he asked. Looking at the immense swath of dense riparian vegetation hugging the river, I realized why the agent might be concerned.
The line, and the heat continued to grow, with on-the-ground tarmac temps spiking at over 100 degrees. By 4:30, cars were parked up and down Asti Road for over a mile in either direction. People walked that mile in searing heat, only to find they were at the back of the serpentine line that now wound from the airport all the way down Chrome Iron Road – the only access road into the airport. The line, at this point, with over three hours until the event was over 3,500 feet long.
“BERNIE’S THE MAN”
Gini Reynolds and Ede Morris are, among their many talents, two of our beloved Raging Grannies, who didn’t come to the rally to sing, but did come to be part of the event.
“I’m ecstatic Bernie is coming close enough to our county to see him. I stopped everything, left the farm and came down here,” says Reynolds. “He represents the people’s voice. This is nothing to do with old-style politics.”
“This is a historical event,” says Morris. “Bernie is changing the course of American politics. I’m supporting him for so many reasons. I want to push Hillary as far to the left as we can,” she concludes.
Lexie Krauss, a college student born and raised in Mendocino County drove from Willits to attend the event. “I believe it’s really important for youth to be politically active. I’m here to show support.”
Sabrina Nguebari-Krauss a Ukiah native who now lives in Sonoma County. “I’m so excited to be here, even in this incredible heat. I called Channel 2 to see if they could send a helicopter to take a photo of this line, but they said that Bernie made some unscheduled stops and they didn’t have an extra chopper,” Krauss noted.
People shared umbrellas and sunscreen. People trudged up to the cooling station, carried as many cups of water as they could and shared them with others down the line. People evoked John Lennon, singing, “All we are saying, is Bernie’s the Man.” The composition of the crowd appeared primarily white, but the age span was hard to calculate. A surprising number of seniors and boomers mingled with first-time voters, young families and startlingly, a large number of disabled folks using walkers and wheelchairs, who endured the insufferable heat but were thankfully allowed first inside the gates.
Bernie “art cars” were on display, with one owner encouraging people to sign his sticker-bedecked vehicle. A festival atmosphere permeated the line, with vendors setting up shop before and after the event, selling T-Shirts and buttons. Apparently Senator Sanders does not have issues with people selling “unofficial” Sanders tchotchkes. The promotional items ranged from classic Bernie logo designs to everything else. T-Shirt slogans included, “Bern Baby Bern,” “Bernie Fucking Sanders,” “Hot Chicks for Bernie,” a tie-dyed Bernie as a Grateful Dead skull, a Sesame-Street Bernie, Bernie as Che Guevara, the now-meme “Birdie” Sanders bird, a kitten-themed “Demo-cats for Bernie” and naturally, the stoner’s “Burn One for Bernie” button. Up and down the line, Warriors fans proudly displayed the team’s “Strength in Numbers” placards and T-Shirts. My personal favorite, in stark black and white, was a shirt saying, “Unfuck the World.” If only.
Attendees were admonished through Sanders confirmation emails to Leave Bags at Home. No Signs on Sticks. No Chairs. And though it seems it should go without saying, No Weapons. Once attendees arrived at the seriously serious TSA checkpoint area, replete with scanning portals and wands, additional rules were appended to the list. Those who carried small purses or bags were subject to thorough searches. “Can you explain why you are bringing tweezers to the event today?” a TSA agent politely asked a guest. The tweezers did not make it into the event. Apples were not allowed into the venue, but a green pepper made the cut. Political buttons had to be removed. No metal or glass bottles of any kind. All camera-holders were required to show a photo taken with said camera to a TSA agent. Despite the airport-level scrutiny and the thoroughness of the searches, attendees and security seemed to take it all in stride, including what was now an oppressive combination of late-afternoon heat merging with the crush of thousands anxious to get through the gates.
A local musician was serenading the growing crowd as organizers attempted to get everyone through security checkpoints. He sang, “Greenback Dollar,” by Woody Guthrie. For those of you who don’t know or might not remember the song, it’s worth a listen, particularly in the context of these changin’ times:
I don't want your millions, mister.
I don't want your diamond ring.
All I want is the right to live mister.
Give me back my job again.
I don't want your Rolls Royce, mister,
I don't want your pleasure yacht,
All I want is food for my babies,
Now give to me my old job back.
We worked to build this country, mister,
While you enjoyed a life of ease.
You've stolen all that we've built, mister,
Now our children starve and freeze.
Yes, you have a land deed, mister,
The money is all in your name.
But where's the work that you did, mister?
I'm demanding back my job again.
Think me dumb if you wish, mister,
Call me green or blue or red.
There's just one thing that I know, mister,
Our hungry babies must be fed.
We'll organize together, mister,
In one big united band,
And with a Farmer-Labor party
We will win our just demands.
Take the two old parties, mister,
No difference in them I can see.
But with a Farmer-Labor party,
We will set the workers free.
Another Guthrie song comes to mind – a version of “Ain’t Got No Home,” in which Guthrie changed the lyrics to reflect his disgust with his landlord, who refused to rent to African Americans. The revised lyrics, which were never recorded, are as follows:
Beach Haven ain't my home
I just can't pay this rent
My money is down the drain, and my soul is badly bent.
Beach Haven is like heaven
Where no black ones come to roam.
No, no, no, old man Trump,
Beach Haven ain't my home.
Guthrie is singing about his landlord, Fred Trump. And here we are, full circle.
With the tarmac filling up, organizers politely requested that those sitting on the ground rise and stand to make room for the crushing crowd. With very little complaining, hundreds rose and more people flooded in to fill the staging area. Cloverdale Mayor Mary Ann Brigham was ebullient. Who would have thought, she says to the crowd, that Bernie Sanders would be shortly joining her on stage? On the press riser, six people march in and take assigned their places – the Sanders traveling press corps. KGO, Fox News, CBS, Tokyo Broadcasting, MSNBC and more – six young people march up with rolling duffels, snap open their tripods, deftly attach their video cameras and adjust their lenses. Surprisingly, four of the six camera people are women, who settle into their seats, and I assume, live-text their story to headquarters. Several press people took quick selfies of themselves in front of the audience before the Senator arrived on stage.
And then it happened. It took us by surprise. I was looking east, beyond Sanders’ podium when someone on the riser said, “What is that thing? Is that a drone?” It was a Great Blue Heron, as majestic and as big a heron as I’d ever seen. It looked positively prehistoric, like a Pterodactyl. Slowly, deliberately, the heron flapped its huge wings – once, twice, making a single, measured pass over the assemblage before disappearing to the east. Mother Nature, yet again, blesses the Berners.
Moments later, a group of Native Americans exit a hangar. Accompanying them was Arizona Congressman Raúl Manuel Grijalva, (D-AZ), the first Congressional representative to endorse Senator Sanders. Rep. Grijalva took the stage, stating that the Senator was bringing “a historic, heroic, empowering message to America” and alluded to a “blowhard running around” who thought American needed to be made great – again. “America has always been great,” emphasized Grijalva, as an audience member held up a sign, saying, “Bernie Can Beat Trump: Save Us, California!”
Because our region is on the wrong side of the digital divide – something I wish the Senator would have publicly addressed (he does so on his website), I won’t assume everyone has access to the Senator’s one-hour speech. It is available on YouTube, and with a few exceptions, it was classic Bernie. Those that follow him would be familiar with his unwavering themes that he doggedly, relentlessly hammered on – at Cloverdale and everywhere he goes on the campaign trail.
“It’s a pretty hot day,” quipped the Senator, after introducing his wife, daughter and grandchildren to a fervent, passionate crowd. “Today I was asked, ‘Why Cloverdale? Did you make a mistake?’ I’m guessing I’m probably the first presidential candidate to drop by Cloverdale,’” he smiled, getting big laughs from the attendees.
Sanders didn’t waste a minute reminding the audience about the importance of Tuesday’s primary. He commented about his candidacy winning with an overwhelming majority of young people, but he added that the definition of “younger people” includes those 45-to-50 and younger. “Wait until you’re 45,” he smiles to the younger set, alluding to how 45 is the new 30.
He plunged into the heart of his speech – his vision for social, economic, racial and environmental justice, immediately contrasting his vision with Donald Trump’s continued attacks against Latinos, Muslims, women, Veterans and African Americans. “That is not the future of America,” said Sanders.
“Today we have a corrupt campaign finance system. But we’re telling the truth. That is unusual in contemporary politics.” He looked at the crowd. “THIS is what democracy looks like: ordinary people coming together – one person, one vote, not billionaires rigging elections. That’s why we are going to overturn Citizen’s United. Anyone has the right to run for public office.”
From the corrupt finance system, Sanders went to the corrupt economy, highlighting the transfer of trillions of dollars to the top 1/10th of one percent of the population. “Corporations make billions to move jobs to low-wage countries, while our veterans sleep on the streets, parents have no childcare and work for $11 an hour. Our job is to create an economy that will work for all of us,” he continued.
He addressed the country’s broken criminal justice system. “Why does the wealthiest country in the world have more people in jail than any other country on earth?” he asked the crowd. “We spend $80 billion to lock up 2.2 million fellow Americans.” He made it local by addressing rural unemployment for kids. “When thirty to fifty percent of kids don’t have jobs, bad things happen,” Sanders continues. “We will not invest in more jails and incarceration.”
From there Senator Sanders addressed law enforcement. “I’m a former mayor. I know that average police officers are honest, hardworking people doing a very difficult job. But like anyone else, if officers were to break the law, they must be held accountable,” Sanders noted, adding that he intends to demilitarize local police departments and end corporate ownership of prisons. “We have to change law enforcement culture so that the use of lethal force is the last response, not the first,” he noted.
For this crowd, the segue to the ending of the War on Drugs was a no-brainer. “Millions of people have police records for marijuana possession. Imagine being a 19-year-old trying to get a job with a police record,” said Sanders. He stated, “It makes no sense to me,” that cannabis sits alongside heroin as a Schedule I drug. “I will take marijuana out of the Federal Controlled Substances Act,” he stated, while also acknowledging that cannabis is not without controversy. “Not here!” yelled out an attendee, to chuckles. Sanders continued by stating that for a number of reasons, he would support the current legalization initiative on the California ballot.
Another smooth segue: into the national crisis of addiction. “Substance abuse and addiction should be treated as a health, not a criminal issue. We have to think big, outside the box, and create a revolution in mental health. Right now, thousands of suicidal and homicidal people are walking the streets. People should get the treatment they need when they need it. They shouldn’t have to fill out 50 forms and wait six months to get treatment,” he said, to thunderous applause.
“Our campaign made history with eight million individual contributions,” said Sanders, asking the crowd what the average contribution was. “Twenty-seven dollars!” roared the crowd.
Then Sanders discussed his disagreements with Hillary Clinton – her acceptance of millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests. “We’re taking ON Wall Street, not taking their money,” roared Sanders. “Their greed and their recklessness have caused incalculable harm to our country.”
He discussed his differences with the Government’s recent unemployment figures, stating he believes the real number to be closer to ten percent than the reported five percent. He pledged to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, creating 13 million jobs, and to create the best childcare system in the world.
Then he excoriated Republican Party “family values” in which women are told they have no right to control their bodies, where LGBT people do not have the right to marry and where seniors, disabled veterans and other citizens are expected to live on $12,000 per year. “We disagree,” said Sanders. “A truly great nation is judged by how they treat the most fragile and vulnerable in society.”
“We have bad news for the Republicans. We’re expanding Social Security. We’ve introduced the best legislation in Congress to do that, and President Obama says that it’s time. I hope Secretary Clinton comes on board,” he smiles to the crowd.
Forty years ago, said the Senator, a person with a high school education could get a well-paying, middle-class job, enabling a comfortable life. Now, he says, the highly competitive, global economy requires the best-educated workforce in the world. Today, he continued, hundreds of thousands of people cannot afford college, or upon graduation, find themselves deeply in debt. “It’s not good enough to have free education for kindergarten through 12th grade. We need public colleges to be tuition-free,” he said to a cheering audience.
Sanders addressed the plight of undocumented workers. “They are ruthlessly exploited, underpaid, working long hours. When you have no legal rights you can’t protect yourself. That’s why I’m introducing comprehensive immigration reform and ending deportation policies. We will unite, not divide families, and to do this I will use the executive powers of the presidency.” At this point, the crowd went wild, chanting, “Bernie! Bernie!”
The Senator talked about the collapsing of public school systems, the poisoned water in Flint, how men in rural West Virginia die 18 years earlier than their counterparts living in nearby suburban Fairfax, and how we will rebuild rural and inner city communities here, and not in Afghanistan. “I led the effort against that damn war, and she voted for it,” he growled.
Then Sanders addressed his earlier meeting with local Native tribal members. “All of you know that the First Americans were cheated, were lied to. It’s no secret. These people have so enriched our culture, we owe them a debt of gratitude that we can never fully repay. When I am president, we will fundamentally change the relationship of the Federal Government to Native peoples,” said the Senator, receiving the audience’s longest and most raucous applause.
The sun had set by this time, and a golden, NorCal light was permeating the grounds. “As human beings, we are part of nature. If we continue to destroy it, we destroy the human species. We have a moral responsibility.” Sanders paused briefly. “Look around at this beautiful planet. We must leave this for future generations. We have to take on the fossil fuel industry and tell them short-term profits are not more important than the future of the planet. Republicans reject what scientists tell us because they are dependent on the fossil fuel industry for campaign contributions,” he continued. “Forget about campaign contributions. Worry about the future of this planet!” he shouts.
From the health of the planet, Sanders discussed the health of the people, noting that people in the audience were surely un-and-under-insured, and undoubtedly getting hosed by “the unconscionable greed of Big Pharma.”
“Health care is a right, not a privilege. There’s something profoundly wrong when we can’t guarantee health care. That’s why I will pass Medicare for all,” he continues.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Perhaps, without even knowing it, Senator Sanders evokes the evening’s earlier Woody Guthrie song, noting that it was trade unions that created the modern middle class. Noting that change occurs from the bottom up. Noting that countless people died to end the abomination of slavery and racism. Noting that only 100 years ago, women rose up to claim their place as voting citizens and that more recently, gay and lesbian citizens claimed their right to love whoever they want to.
Senator Sanders concludes by paraphrasing Fredrick Douglass, reminding the crowd that no one ever gives us freedom. That progress comes through struggle. “In venues like this, I have connected with 1.4 million Americans who are asking profound questions,” says Sanders. “How does it happen that the middle class is shrinking? That we have the highest rate of child poverty on earth? That our infrastructure is collapsing? That hedge fund owners pay lower taxes than police officers?”
The answer to those questions, and many more, will not be answered by the results of Tuesday’s primary. Nor will they be answered during, or following the general election. Regardless of who becomes president, it is doubtful that the unbridled passion and the steadfastness of the Sanders supporters is going to dissipate. It is hard to imagine that Secretary Clinton could have garnered 6,000 supporters with less than 24 hours notice – gathered them to willingly sweat in brutal heat for 5, 6 or 7 hours to see her speak. It is also hard to calculate how many Berners will roll over in November, holding their noses and begrudgingly voting for the Secretary. Something has changed, irrevocably. Many people in line talked about the Sanders campaign being the birth of a significant, competitive third party – or maybe even the emergence of something akin to representative democracy.
Was it merely coincidence that numerous Warriors fans proudly wore their “Strength in Numbers” gear to this rally, and presumably at many others? Was it coincidence that Senator Sanders attended the Warriors’ series-defining Game 7, where the Dubs found their way back from the doldrums to beat the Thunder? Was it not telling that Mr. Trump noted recently that “San Francisco is playing in the NBA Finals?” The Warriors have created a basketball revolution – a pure-hearted, sincere dedication to a wholesome team ethos, respectful treatment of their opponents and a genuine love for their fans, who return that love a thousand-fold. It wasn’t so different at the Sanders rally. The respect, the unity, the positive approach to winning against a formidable opponent – all this takes strength in numbers. And regardless of who wins this year’s Game of Thrones, the sheer numbers of Guthrie’s “green, blue and red” citizens are increasing, with each and every day.