03 July 2015
Bernie Sanders in Madison
Bernie Sanders brought his message to Madison, Wisconsin two nights ago. In view of the tentative results of the poll in the right sidebar of this blog (which I'll discuss when voting closes next week), I decided I owed it to TYWKIWDBI readers to attend the rally to see for myself what this political movement is all about. The photo above was published in The Guardian yesterday. The camera angle is from the upper deck behind the speaker's podium. I have drawn a red circle around myself in the far upper right corner of the image; sufficiently enlarged, you can see about a dozen pixels depicting me wearing one of my Neatorama t-shirts. The rest of the photos below were ones I took at the rally.
Local news media had indicated that there would be large crowd, so I left home early because I don't have the stamina to stand for hours. I arrived 45 minutes before the scheduled start time, and even then had difficulty finding a good seat (as indicated by the position of the little circle). Fortunately for events such as this, visuals are not crucial, and the audio system in the auditorium was superb.
The Veterans Coliseum at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison has a seating capacity of 10,000 for sporting events. By the time the program started, the building was full to the rafters -
- including seating on the coliseum floor, so the estimates of 10,000 attendees are certainly accurate and perhaps conservative. As Bernie Sanders was speaking, I took a photo toward the podium -
- which shows people standing in the entrance ramps (probably in violation of fire codes).
So much for the numbers. Now, who were these people? In terms of "diversity", the crowd is overwhelmingly white. The state of Wisconsin is 86% white, and this crowd was even more skewed. Beyond that, it was hard to me to see any other homogeneity. There were girls with purple hair and farmers with John Deere shirts. Lots of older people, but plenty of college-age students.
The most uniform characteristic of the crowd would of course be their political beliefs - liberal and progressive. I was startled, but not actually surprised, to see a man standing in the aisle next to me wearing an old Paul Wellstone tee shirt. Wellstone was a progressive and activist in the Minnesota Democratic party who died in a plane crash 13 years ago. Although Wisconsin's current governor (Scott Walker) and legislature are Republican, the state has historically been home to a strong Progressive movement, moreso in Madison - home of the University of Wisconsin - than in Milwaukee. I should think there is no doubt that Bernie Sanders chose Madison as a favorable spot outside New England to kickstart his campaign. Energizing a grassroots base here would also be useful because of the physical proximity to the adjacent state of Iowa, which holds an early and influential caucus when the poltical theater begins in earnest.
I won't use this post to discuss the content of Sanders' speech, which presumably is a stump speech that will be repeated endlessly in the months to come. My interest was in the crowd's response. Knowing that apart from a few curiosity-seekers, everyone in the crowd was liberal/progressive, I knew that there would be applause when Sanders attacked Scott Walker and the Republicans, but I was surprised by the energy with which they responded to his talking points. He spoke about organized labor and the right of women to control their bodies and the cost of higher education and frequently about income inequality. But at one point he said if elected president he would have a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees that they must favor overturning Citizens United because Citizens United is undermining American democracy. The crowd went wild -
My photo is blurry because people were jumping up and down and yelling. I would expect that response from a small crowd in a Jon Stewart audience, but hadn't expected it from such a large mass of people. "Citizens United" boils down to the ability of wealthy individuals and corporations to influence American elections. Opposition to Citizens United is probably the ultimate populist emotional trigger, and this immense crowd responded enthusiastically. This requires a certain degree of political sophistication, and obviously people who attend rallies are expected to be more knowledgeable about issues. Whether this enthusiasm can be generated in a broader population remains to be seen. Ten thousand people in Wisconsin hope so.
For those interested in hearing Bernie Sanders' speech, here it is in its entirety. The embedded video will include an unneeded crowd-rallying introduction - most of you will prefer to use this link to view just Bernie Sanders. Or you can click the video below and move the progress slider to the 8:30 mark.