Feel the Bern, Play the Game, Eat the Dog
*thoughts on the August 2015 Bernie Sanders rally in Los Angeles*
If the line is around the corner, chances are it’s the first or last place you want to be.
“Not enough black people,” my companion notes, calmly surveying the veritable Whole Foods flashmob that has assembled in the name of democracy, or crewneck sweatshirts, or both. The hope in the air is catching and makes me want to grab a screen printed t-shirt and stew in its weird, new stink.
We slowly make our way around the massive stadium teeming with six dollar hot dogs, overproduced Americana ballads from the 80’s and the same .gif of a billowing flag looping over and over, world without end. I’m cautiously excited, then excitedly nervous, then nervously eat a six dollar hot dog, crafting a sentence I will write down later that has an embarrassing number of adverbs and commas (it’s this one). This hot dog holds the unique distinction as the worst and most expensive meat tapestry I’ve ever paid for. The vendor is old and sweet and makes a weird comment about my tits but he’ll probably die working this piece of shit job so I don’t say anything. Solidarity, brother.
Bernie Sanders is my current favorite candidate in the upcoming election for a number of reasons, but this surreal, blue-bathed rally isn’t one of them. He tags the campaign as a “political revolution,” but Sanders’ approach to the rally is well-laid in history. Every word of the evening is shouted into an overmodulated microphone with ample pause between verbs, as if explaining a word problem to a third grader with a learning disability.
Sanders and every politician before him have had to scale this issue - condensing complex thoughts and platform points into concise, bite-size pieces for general consumption, but the looming screens and waving fists result in an overwhelming and (still retaining my self-appointed position as the Bravest Woman Alive) scary experience for those who are not on board heart and soul.
A group called “Babes for Bernie” initiate the wave. Go Trojans.
I’m not very political, and for many in the crowd, attending this rally seems to be just as big an exception to the rule. As nervous, excited herds make their way into seat more commonly used for screaming about penalty shots, it’s a lot of people’s first rodeo, and no, none of us have any money. Tom Petty pulses in the background, and I wonder what his stance on Bernie Sanders is. Or anything, really. Tom Petty seems nice.
One of the most important things about any rally is its band leader, someone to whoop and raise their arms the second the room’s enthusiasm dips anything beneath a sweaty fervor. It’s a difficult thing to do, and newly appointed national press secretary Simone Sanders (no relation) does it well, giving herself some wiggle room at the beginning of her speech addressing the Black Lives Matter movement at a time the Sanders campaign desperately needs to. She speaks, as do the others, in a string of nonsensical buzzwords
“Are you ready to galvanize a political revolution?” she asks, saying words that all mean things individually, but as a group hang together loosely like a mid-game Jenga tower. The very idea of galvanizing causes the crowd to shout until their pores burst. It’s not pretty, since most of our pores are full of rich man’s hot dogs.
Behind Simone is a small gaggle assembled to represent different aspects of Sanders’ platform, the nesting dolls (American nesting dolls, not that commie bullshit) that have been voluntarily consumed by a kindly man from Vermont. The thesis has been established - Black Lives Matter, subtext “black people, please figure out who I am,” and now the rest of the stage must be set before the biggest hollow doll does a backflip off a blimp and makes the crowd cheer. The nesting dolls speak in increasing size.
Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that these people are well established in their fields, but their coaching is so flawless that it’s difficult to tell the difference between genuine believer and struggling Tisch drama student. The climate change doll says his piece, the immigration doll says hers, the working class everyman chimes in, the women’s advocate says a few things, at least two of them cry, and the wild card celebrity endorsement - tonight, it’s Sarah Silverman - is toted out as the crowd compliantly tweets along with what little reception there is.
They talk, as Sanders and every politician before him has, in carefully crafted sentences that build in a crescendo to a shouted final syllable, usually the “-ca” in America or “you” or "-ders." No speaker, it seems, has been trained on how to hit their p’s on a microphone in front of 27,900 people. Maybe after the primaries.
Silverman’s speech ends in a crowd-wide stomping of feet and the persistent chant of “Bernie! Bernie!,” a pattern that continues through the evening. Simone returns to the platform and we recognize that It Is Time - there are no more nesting dolls left onstage, and she affirms what we are all on the precipice of a weird, political climax for.
We’re cumming, hard. Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!
Every nesting doll takes a step back as the man himself enters, and Sanders makes sure to give his wife a kiss on the cheek before beginning an hour-long, fervent talk-through of how everything is broken. His voice is understandably hoarse, given the rigorous speaking schedule he’s keeping to remind people that yes, he exists.
Sanders’ campaign has garnered extraordinary grassroots support, a point he’ll be the first to note (though it’s still predicted that he’ll be crushed beneath a Clinton wedge heel), though he does not mention his opponent once in his talk. What he does mention are the same things we’ve spent an hour listening to from the nesting dolls, but he sells it with an everyman commitment to the name “Bernie” that melts even the sternest of hearts.
Because of his kindly nature, it’s strange seeing Sanders shouting from a podium like a 20th century dictator. Given the enormous task of raising awareness with the primary clock ticking, he isn’t left with much choice - though his convictions are strong, one can’t help but think he’d rather be talking to us ten at a time. Still, his speech writer has done their damn job, and the words are delivered with as much passion and lilting diction as a life-long New Englander can be expected to give. The people behind him are wildly pumping their fists on a Sandersian high and, as is wise at this point in an election, the candidate makes a million vague promises and then dials back on them.
'I will only make you one promise,' Sanders promises forty-five minutes and three hundred promises in. Oh, Bernie.
He then takes advantage of the warm crowd and tempts us with boos, tossing out phrases like 'the one percent' before taking a hard left into 'we are going to change that'. Phew!
‘Their family values are not our family values!’ he continues, scrunched face and pointed finger for tomorrow's page two (if we're lucky). It’s bizarre to see a dark horse candidate play the game but here we are, cheering for empty aphorisms because yeah, it sounds damn good.
Sanders' message is punctuated with a series of knife twists directed at the Republican party, using the repeated phrase 'you cannot' to emphasize the wrongdoings of the party. You cannot hoard money, you cannot avoid taxes, you cannot drive without a license, you cannot just subscribe to Showtime you need to buy the whole premium package, you can’t just kick a dog because you failed your math test, etc. etc.
I have to pee. There are no women’s rooms open except for the one on the top-iest floor of the whole damn stadium. Where were you on this one, Bernie? Where? Were? You?
Upon returning, emptied of the basketball nectar I have paid so dearly for, I find Sanders hitting the few topics his companions had missed in a thunderous voice - mental health, veterans, student debt and unemployment are covered in broad strokes and staccato syllables. Seeing as this is far from his first stop on the tour, he knows exactly where to pause and when to begin again, almost Shakespearean in execution save for the fact that who fucking cares about Shakespeare, what country did he ever run?
When the diatribe is complete, all 27,900 of us slowly pour out of the stadium with new hope, or at least with six dollars less. It’s okay, though - provided everything works out, this is a pittance to pay for the galvanized political revolution to come. If things don’t work out, we'll be on the streets trying to peddle our hot dog vomit for change. Life finds a way.
If a rally for my candidate is this overwhelming, just imagine being in a sea of people you fucking hate. I did, and now I’m left with this pile of hot dog vomit, if anyone’s buying.