On April 12, Marist College students were given the opportunity to witness a Presidential campaign rally for Democratic candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In the turbulent 2016 Presidential race, rallies have been a focal point for the political passions and divisions among Americans that have been highlighted by the candidates. Senator Sanders’ rally came as he and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were fighting for a win in the New York State primary, a race that many spectators viewed as a must win for Sanders. Now that Sanders has officially lost that race by a margin of 12 percent, questions have risen as to whether or not he can legitimately win the nomination without having to take the fight to the convention floor, a move he has not ruled out. While this may not be the most prudent move for the party, Senator Sanders feels that his campaign and the movement behind it can propel him to the White House. As I observed the Sanders rally this past week, I better understood Sanders’ rationale for wanting to continue his campaign as far as it can go. It seems that Sanders has genuinely captured something unique with his call for a political revolution and that was on full display last Tuesday in the McCann Center.

In the hours prior to the rally last Tuesday evening, a line outside McCann stretched to Route 9, as supporters from Marist College and the Poughkeepsie area eagerly awaited the Senator’s arrival. A mix of pop and indie music boomed from speakers outside the gym while vendors hawked various Bernie 2016 campaign merchandise such as pins and t-shirts. Once inside, the anticipation began to grow to a fever pitch, as even a volunteer who approached the microphone to ask someone to move their car was greeted with cheers and chants of “Feel the Bern.” Before Sanders took the stage he was introduced by a few speakers, first of which was the Deputy Mayor of New Rochelle who noted that “it’s not easy to challenge the establishment” as he faced potential political backlash for his support of Sanders. Next Father LaMorte rose and spoke of the “desire placed in our hearts by God” to help the less fortunate. He was followed by John Fox, the director of Gasland, a documentary that serves as a bible for the anti-fracking movement. Fox decried the way in which the Democratic Party has been co-opted by big banks and fossil fuels, and received enthusiastic cheers from a crowd that was speckled with anti-fracking t-shirts and signs. Finally Michael Stipe of R.E.M. stepped up to introduce the man of the hour, declaring “this is our time,” as Sanders emerged from the wings to a rapturous reception.

Despite Sanders’ breakneck campaign schedule, he still managed to find time to visit the FDR Library and Museum just before the rally, as he noted at the start of his speech. He framed his speech in the context of Roosevelt’s “Second Bill of Rights” which outlined what he believed to be inalienable human rights for people in modern times, such as universal healthcare and the right to collectively bargain. Sanders has evoked the memory of FDR, and as we sat just 15 minutes from his former Hyde Park home the connection between the two men felt stronger than ever. Sanders went on to discuss his own ambitious plans to break up the big banks, provide free college tuition and get money out of politics. He addressed the criticism that these policies were unrealistic by noting how America has progressed on issues such as LGBT and women’s rights that would’ve seemed impossible in the time of FDR. He went after Hillary for her Goldman Sachs speeches, but never resorted to the ad-hominem attacks employed by those on the Republican side, even to the chagrin of some in the crowd who booed her name mercilessly. Overall, the tone of the night never turned ugly as Sanders, who can come off as a curmudgeon to some, seemed as inspired by his youthful audience as they were by him.

While Sanders was typically eloquent he did not shy away from his “greatest hits.” When he mentioned the average donation to his campaign he turned to the crowd to provide the 27 dollar number, as if he were a rock star turning the mic to the audience to sing the chorus. Standing amongst the crowd of supporters, with their faces gleaming, hanging on every word, I could not help but marvel at the energy of the room. It was genuinely palpable. In moments where an exceptionally big applause line would evolve into a “Bernie” chant, it seemed as if the room’s energy was being tangibly manifested. Yet this fervent spirit that I witnessed can be a dangerous thing. In hands less gentle than those of Senator Sanders, this visceral populism can easily devolve into ugliness and hatred. The remarkable thing about Bernie Sanders’ campaign is that he has taken an angry populism and carefully molded it to a campaign of love and acceptance. This is why Senator Sanders should remain in the campaign even if his chances of winning have grown slimmer. He has not only engaged countless people into politics for the first time in their lives and given them a voice, but he has done so by rallying them behind a positive message. In the end, Bernie Sanders may not turn out to run a winning campaign, but it would be hard to deny that he has run a virtuous one.

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