Bernie at the Expo

It’s 5 p.m. and the line is long. I can feel the attendees’ eagerness. 30 minutes go by, and rain begins to trickle down, just in time for all the anxious to finally enter. The sound of the crowd changes as security guards shout entry instructions: “Arms to the side and your belongings in the basket.”

We all descend upon the entrance of the Champlain Valley Exposition with a pat-down and a handful of Bernie signs and stickers. Chants go from slow and muddled to loud and clear. “Bernie, Bernie!”

I had never been to a presidential rally before, so I did my homework and read up on Bernie Sanders in recent rallies. I have seen other rallies on television, and they all appear to share elements in common. They are loud, lively and prompt cheers from almost every word that comes from the candidate’s mouth. So I was expecting much of the same. When I walked in, I saw to my right a stage with drums, guitars, and microphones. To the left was a beverage station, stocked with wine, cider and craft beer. Above our heads hung a great, big American flag and, in the distance, stood bleachers filled with newscasters armed and ready with their cameras.

What I did not plan on was the wait. Once inside the venue, it was another two hours before The Mallet Brothers Band, featuring Phish’s Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman, began to play. All chanting and murmurs came to a halt.

Instantly this rally became a concert. Now, I have been to my share of concerts and this was a perfect way to combine politics with a feel-good vibe. The room contained an endless sea of hands in the air and people jumping up and down. The tone for the entire night had been set: fun, politics and hopefully a good message from the man himself.

The rally had approximately 3000 people in attendance, which made for gathering opinions easy. Why Sanders, I asked. Some said the obvious: “Free healthcare and higher education for all.” Others simply said, “Trump is the most dangerous president this country has ever witnessed.”

But not everyone there was a Sanders supporter. Some were there for the free concert, or simply because they love politics. Some even had negative things to say about the candidate. “Bernie isn’t the change we need; his policies remind me of communism,” an older man said.

This gathering was by any measure diverse, which made me think: This environment may be a perfect cocktail to promote more violence than usual, but the rally was actually quite peaceful.

By 9:45 p.m. the music finally came to a close, and Sanders’ presidential campaign staff took the stage one by one. Finally, by 10 p.m. the ground began to shake as Sanders approached the podium. “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” the crowd shouted.

“We won the race against all odds. Everyone said it couldn’t be done,” Sanders said to the thousands of supporters. He continued, “And when we began this race for the presidency, everyone said it couldn’t be done.”

And then things just got louder. The mere sight of Sanders with his boisterous voice and constant finger-pointing seemed to inflame the crowd. He lost no time in launching his first attack, this one on Democratic opponent Joe Biden, pointing out that he supported the war in Iraq. It was then followed it by a familiar line from the recent debates, “In America, you cannot buy elections,” which was an obvious dig at former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The comment about Joe Biden caused a serious rise from Sanders’ supporters. This war was very controversial and cost many American lives.

Then Sanders broke into his usual stump speech about “Medicare for all,” forgiving student college loans and a future path to a free college education. It was a long night and I’m not sure he addressed any topics in depth, but, really, that’s not what rallies are about. It’s about getting supporters locked in and excited. It’s about getting non-supporters to start thinking about your agenda. There is no better way to do that than at a music-filled, energy-charged event. However, I just sometimes think there should be more than just rhetoric at these rallies. I want to hear the solutions and the “how.”

So, here is my question: How much does FREE healthcare and FREE college cost? How and who is going to pay for it? These are the big questions Sanders needs to answer. At this rally, anyway, he didn’t.