You Say You Want a Revolution: Observing a Bernie Sanders Rally

On a surprisingly warm Saturday morning in the early March of a late Chicago winter, Michigan Ave was noticeably very crowded; as if the city was emulating the crowd of thousands that meets every August for Lollapalooza. The front of the Chicago Art Institute was filled as people paraded the steps near the iconic lions waiting for the day’s festivities. Today, the sea of people is not taking Grant Park for a concert — although they will be huddled around the same stage that legendary acts such as De La Soul and The Roots performed at for Taste of Chicago in years previous — but instead a political rally for Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders. People swarmed the park hours before Sanders was scheduled to take the stage — jumping at the bit for a so-called revolution eager to take form in the frustratingly static times we are living in.

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The eclectic crowd composed of those from many backgrounds formed a distinct vibe that permeated the rally. There was a feeling of understanding that although the reported more than ten thousand were mostly strangers in a big city, there was an unspoken connection between everyone involved. An agreement that everybody in Grant Park was united for the same cause and shared the same general views. This is widely displayed by the shared sentiments of the symbols that attendees were donning.

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If the dense crowd showed anything, it’s that the energy exuberated by those for this political rally was not too far off from the aforementioned music festivals and concerts that the Petrillo Music Shell is usually the host of. Sure there wasn’t the debauchery, partying, occasional nudity, or drug use present that one may associate with some of these events (although, honestly, this rally did see its fair share of cannabis smoke rising above the crowd, especially as speakers celebrated Illinois’ recent passing of legal recreational weed leading to a plethora of cheers from the crowd), but the energy and culture was ever-present. There was a constant call and response between speaker and crowd, leading to inevitable cheers when something agreeable has been said (usually having to do with either Bernie the man himself, or topics of discussion that are in line with multitudes of his talking points such as prison, healthcare, and education reform), or the loud boos and jeers when referencing current problems that the crowd shares in seeing plaguing the country’s current state (especially President Trump or Bernie’s current main opponent within the Democratic Party, Joe Biden). The intensity of the energy proved to get to a point where supporters towards the back of the crowd resorted to doing just about anything to get a better view of the leader they were oh so dedicated to hear speak on such short notice (this rally was announced a mere couple days before the event took place). Whether this took the form of a friend’s shoulders …

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… or a vantage point that was just a bit higher…

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… This birdseye view will no doubt serve this constituent very well amidst the cluttered sea of people he is part of, leaving not much visible to the naked eye except a very large American flag as if reminding everybody in the crowd exactly what is at stake in a big election year:

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No matter the intensity and competition-like aspect of getting the best and closest view of their hopefully-future-president Bernie Sanders (a competition that if we were to use to judge my success at the rally, mind you, I no doubt failed) there was always the theme of leadership and coming together at the core. This comes unexpectedly for a main voting population that many politicians of recent on both the Left and the Right have described as “angry” (Bernie Sanders himself has a popular quote starting with: “The American people are angry. They are angry because…”). Perhaps this is just because the crowd in Chicago was not unlucky enough to be host of someone unfurling and waving a Nazi flag like a recent Sanders rally in Arizona, but there was a general peaceful vibe coursing through the park.

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Before the stage was visible, vendors lined the streets selling many different types of Bernie-themed merchandise.

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Much of this merchandise seemed straightforward enough: lots of the popular, stylized “Bernie” logo stylized in a distinct blue representing the Democratic Party. Some got more personal and stylized, causing them to stand out among the “Bernie” flags and signs. The bright sun caused immediate attention from the eye to tie-dye shirts such as this:

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As if almost a direct companion to the cannabis smoke drifting through the crowd, the tie-dye shirts like the one above catered surprisingly to the hippie crowd. The hippies and wooks and slackers and stoners who usually are not given a voice in the modern political landscape (for better or for worse, I have yet to know) have a place in Bernie’s campaign. And although no mentions of possibly legalizing psychedelics or ketamine were muttered from any speakers taking the stage (this is, after all, still mainstream American politics), it was a surprise to see any mention of or allusion to this culture take place after all. It’s almost as if Bernie Sanders is being hailed as a counterculture god in tune with the likes of Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison or Pigpen. If you’re not going to die like a rockstar at age of 27, might as well run for president at 78.

While I did not get too many photographs of the people attuned to the culture in which tie-dye represents, there was a surprising amount. People of all ages were wearing free-spirited clothing that would usually suggest little interest in mainstream American politics. Nevertheless, they were at the rally to show appreciation for someone running to become the leader of a major political party, showcasing that whatever Bernie is doing right now, it is indeed something different. Some of these people had their own twist to their presentations, such as this gentleman carrying a snare drum …

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…A closer look shows that he was not only here to produce a beat for people to follow and sing and vibe to, uniting the thousands and thousands of Bernie supporters into showing appreciation for their ideal candidate and the lifestyle they project becoming possible with him in office. Instead, he was delivering a much grander message:

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It does seem the fitting, after all, that the main force bringing those who aren’t the most politically active would be a president that is the antithesis of what they believe. After all, there has not been a president that abuses the media and craves attention like the reality star currently in the White House (mind you that there is not even a hint of any political sensibilities portrayed in that statement, instead just how things are at the start of the third decade of the 21st century). In fact, a pin vendor at the rally had multiple designs and sold them for the price of 1 for $5 in the hopes that something small can spread the word about his political ideas. Here’s the assortment:

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Among phrases like “weed not greed” with an emblem of Bernie, as well as the popular “Steal your Face” logo representing The Grateful Dead being merged with the identifiable crazy, sparse white hair and glasses of the old Jewish man in question, is the three simple words on the left: “FUCK DONALD TRUMP.” With a contentious election containing a sitting president running for a second term this year, Trump equaling bad seems to be just as important of a message as Bernie equaling good. Oh, and by the way, make sure to resist the corporations and smoke pot as well.

Other groups notably attracted to Bernie’s presence and rhetoric are minority voters. Seemingly every speaker made a reference to either black, Asian, Latino, women, or LBGT voters (I can continue this list until it is all-encompassing, but you get the gist). It is obviously one of the main goals of Bernie Sanders to have the widest array of supporters as possible; a sort of all-hands-on-deck approach to a revolution that concerns challenging a status quo. Soon before he took the stage, local politician Chuy Garcia took the stage, orating much of his speech in Spanish for a largely-understanding audience. An early speaker noted that Bernie has always supported black and gay rights unlike some of his competitors who have only started to do so recently. When referencing his arrest in 1963 at a Civil Rights rally in southside Chicago, many eager supporters raised and waved a common totem toting the photograph of said event…

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… A much younger Bernie Sanders being arrested for supporting views that he still promotes is a powerful image, and seems to get to the heart of why so many people of so many backgrounds love to support him. Consistency gives the impression that one is honest. And if there’s anything that people love to hate politicians about, it’s dishonesty.

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Politics, when given events such as rallies and an overlong campaign process, is just as entertaining as sports or music. The crowd leaving the Bernie Sanders rally, then, behaved and looked just like those that would leave a sports event or the gigantic crowd that floods the streets after every Lollapalooza. Young people were on their phones looking for those they lost somewhere in the midst of the crowd, people were impulse buying the concessions that will soon be unavailable to buy in person unless another rally pops up in the city before November, and the crowd’s dispersion showed everybody just how many made up the audience of the rally. For almost an hour after the rally culminated, its effects were still visible in the immediate downtown area. The sidewalks stayed busy and cops helped direct traffic of both vehicles and pedestrians. The local parks nearby Grant Park were more full than anyone would expect in early March, Bernie signs were visible to all, and there was a surprising lack of opposition from other political ideologies. Those who disagree with the large formation of democratic socialists must’ve stayed home, and those who were hoping to see some ideological scuffles for entertainment’s sake must’ve been strongly disappointed.

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What this rally means in the long run, we won’t know until November. But one thing is for sure, the crowd at a Bernie rally is quite unlike how I ever pictured politics to be. If there ever is such possibility of revolution 51 years post- Fortunate Son, we are in the midst of it now. However, after all is said and done, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and Joe Biden supporters alike must merge together after the fact and get along in this day to day commotion that we call real life. At the end of the day, society prevails.

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