Feeling the Bern

Posted: October 28, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog
Bernie Sanders Rally

Bernie supporters enthusiastically wave their complementary and homemade Bernie signs in the air upon the Bern Unit’s arrival. Photo by Sarah LeBlanc.

The first time I saw Bernie Sanders was at the Des Moines Register Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair back in August on a 90-degree day. I showed up 45 minutes early and was shoved into the back of the crowd in front of an old man without a shirt who was holding up a Bernie sign in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. Sanders was, I considered, the first big candidate I could potentially support and had seen in real life. And his supporters, as was evidenced on Saturday, are arguably the most vocal and excited about the possibility of a President Sanders.

Until last summer, I had not been politically active. Yes, I voted, but that was about the extent of my political participation as a citizen. So nothing could possibly prepare me for what I pulled up to on Saturday in downtown Des Moines where Sanders was hosting a rally before the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual and historic Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in an effort to pump up the crowd and prepare for a march across the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge to the event’s location inside Hy-Vee Hall. I was really hoping for some excitement because after the supreme struggle that was finding parking not a mile away from the rally and probably committing several not-super-legal U-turns in the process, I was feeling a bit like this rally might not be worth my effort. But, man, was I not disappointed.

When I entered the rally, I was gifted with a lanyard that made me feel super official, a feeling that was subsequently dampened by the glow sticks attached to the string (a combination I hadn’t seen or worn since I was in middle school). Despite the generalization about the average Sanders supporter, the crowd ranged from people dressed in suits, dressed up in red white and blue and dressed down in shorts and sweaters or Bernie T-shirts. Though an estimated 2,000 people who had tickets to the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner crowded inside the small gated lot, more people surrounded the fences and sat on the hill for an elevated view of the celebration.

At 3:30 p.m., probably half the people who ended up attending the rally were present, not counting the gated area within the gated area that held the makeshift media headquarters. A local folk singer, David Moore, was serenading the public with a guitar and harmonica combo about Bernie’s beliefs and the “Feeling the Bern” epidemic currently spreading across the nation. Overhead, a red plane flew dragging a banner calling, “The revolution starts now. Feel the Bern!” causing Moore to interrupt his song to ask what people were so excited about (because apparently, he lost more people than just me on the logic of his song).

After Moore, we were introduced to Sanders’ hype team, or as they enthusiastically exclaimed, the “Bern Unit.” Lucky for us, everyone in the rally was invited to be a part of the Bern Unit. And though I haven’t yet committed to caucusing for any particular candidate, his hype team was kind of terrifying me into feeling the Bern. From the manipulation of high school sports cheer songs to revised musical numbers and synchronized chanting, however, I began to feel a little cultish (apparently, I’m not the only one). Say what you will about Sanders supporters, but they have to be the most creative I’ve seen in terms of transforming his name into a pun. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s a good bad pun. In fact, his name has been transformed into so many different sayings and slogans, there’s even a guide for them. I mean, I can appreciate a good “Hill Yes” from a passionate Hillary supporter, but there’s nothing like a rendition of “Bern down for what” to get you in the political mood.

The Bern Unit also consistently yelled at the crowd to be louder, more raucous, so Katy Perry at Hillary Clinton’s rally would hear them across the bridge. With double the people and two high profile supporters (Perry and Clinton’s husband), Clinton succeeded in boasting double the crowd but it’s arguable which group had more dedication and spirit to lend to their candidate. Sure, Clinton had Perry on her side, but did she have an eccentric folk singer strum a song on his guitar devoted to her accomplishments as a crusader for the middle class? I didn’t think so.

IMG_1215LeBlanc is a junior political science and journalism major from Madison, Wisconsin. She’s visited three countries in the last six months and enjoys copious amounts of Netflix, chocolate and bad puns. Follow her on Twitter.