I walked in a skeptic, I walked out a little bit less of one: my experience at a Bernie Sanders rally.
When we arrived at 9:30 in the morning, the line in front of the San Jose Convention Center stretched around the block. Sounds smells, and sights competed for our attention––the lively chatter of anticipation, the warm, greasy scent wafting from the hot dog vendors across the street, hands exchanging money for memorabilia. The excitement was so thick you could almost taste it. These people were all gathered here for a Bernie Sanders rally happening later in the day. My cousin and I had made the last-minute decision to go the night before, not really knowing what to expect. Neither of us was avid Bernie supporters, in any sense of the term. We had each had our own dalliances with supporting just some of the various candidates in the vast Democratic field, but neither of us had found one that seemed absolutely right for us. My cousin especially faced an important decision, as an eligible voter. We had signed up to be volunteers at the rally, so we made our way past the line and into the convention center. It was mostly empty, except the few organizers and volunteers milling about. In the center of the space hung a large sheer American flag, its silhouette ethereal in the white light. The thing I noticed right away was that everyone was excited to be there. As volunteers, we had small tasks––handing out signs, directing traffic, giving attendees high-fives––yet volunteers were brimming with excitement and anticipation, not just for themselves, but for others. They all seem to say, you’re gonna love this, I promise. As we handed out placards, we overheard some of the volunteers discussing why they were drawn to Bernie. Some were socialists. Others still, were ordinary Americans who were tired of barely making rent every month in the Bay Area’s mounting housing crisis and growing financial inequality. Bernie’s message, above all, was a recognition. It was a recognition of problems that had been growing worse for generations and a recognition of problems that plagued the United States from day one. As doors opened to the general public and people began to flood in, this anticipation grew. Some carried signs. Others wore shirts or face paint. The once-empty convention center was brimming with people. The hanging flag was now ringed with people, craning their necks to see the stage.At last, Bernie came out to greet us. Cheers echoed off the walls. The crowd was a forest of blue posters and screaming people. What struck me the most about him is that he looked just as everyone thought he looked––that his image on the millions of televisions across the country was as authentic as the person standing 20 feet in front of me. He didn’t say anything particularly unique––this was the normal stump speech that he gives more than a few times a week, each for a different crowd. There was no groundbreaking policy unveiling or the answer to that question that seemed to dog his campaign: How are you going to pay for it? But perhaps it didn’t matter if he didn’t give specific policy or numbers or quantifiable data––these people weren’t there for just more statistics thrown at them by politicians and news organizations. They were here because of his ideas, not his policy. They came out of an overwhelming sense of hope that the man standing in front of them can create a new American morality. Although I still retain some of my skepticism, I walked out of the rally with a deep understanding of the importance of Bernie Sanders campaign. In many ways, he has been the moral conscience of the Democratic party––pushing candidates toward once-radical positions like clemency for undocumented immigrants and universal healthcare. I count myself lucky that I was able to witness the energy his campaign has created firsthand. And even now, as Bernie’s chances of winning the nomination wane, I feel a strong sense of gratitude for the sense of hope he has brought to our cynical American minds. His contribution to the American process will remain long after his campaign ends.