Politics | My Day With Bernie Sanders

I didn’t know where I was. The email told me to head toward Washington Square Park, but I might as well have been in Indio, California. Walking from the Christopher Street train station felt like making a pilgrimage. Police barricades and a flow of dreaded dudes guided me–that’s when the fun began.

Nobody knew where to go. Dozens of people attached themselves to a queue on Macdougal and Washington Square North. Asked if this was the entrance to the Sanders rally, I was met with an “Idunno, I just saw people and joined in.” My skepticism of anybody with a man-bun proved right as a woman began shouting “Press only! Press entrance only!” I weaved between pet dogs and around button merchants ahead of the crowd after an officer told us to head south then turn the corner. Finally on the right path, I started to get a feel of my surroundings.

Parents didn’t know how to explain the “weird smell”–which was clearly some dank bud–to their preteens. “Probably something from the sewers,” the Gen X’ers assured their mini-me’s. The hour of reckoning neared and the line still snaked around the N.Y.U. campus. With the pearly gates clearly in sight, Berners began hopping the barricade to get to the front of the line. Disgruntled cries of “What would Bernie do!” bubbled throughout Sullivan Street, guilting would-be hurdlers into stay grounded. When that scene began to settle, the visuals became sharper. To my left were Bernie cosplayers and puppets, to my right, homemade poster boards seemingly 3D-printed directly from Tumblr. 7 PM hit and the flow halted, with myself and hundreds of Sanders stans relegated from a live rally to a live radio show.

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Believe it! | Omer Seman-The Signal

We didn’t know when he would be there. A field organizer for Sanders opened the proceedings by introducing Ali Najmi, a candidate for City Council. Quick to identify his Muslim roots, he greeted the 27,000+ attendees with an “Assalamu alaikum.” “Walaikum salam,” replied the culturally informed crowd. After his spiel, Dr. Paul Song took the stage to advocate for universal health care, but using the phrase “Democratic whores” right after evoking Hillary Clinton’s name brought a few groans and ultimately, his resignation from a leadership role in the progressive-advocacy group Courage Campaign. But he mentioned the 1969 New York Mets, so I liked him in the moment.

Most people didn’t know any of the Vampire Weekend songs, but they politely tapped their feet and nodded their heads. As they wrapped, lead singer Ezra Koenig gave a shout out to the Columbia Metrotones, the university’s all-female acapella group accompanying them onstage. “I know we’re in N.Y.U. territory, and some people think there’s a N.Y.U.-Columbia rivalry, but if there’s one place to put aside the bourgeois rivalry of private universities, it’s right here.” He concluded with a “Go CUNY!” exclaim, which brought the loudest applause of their performance.

Everyone in attendance knew there was a different energy when actor and activist Tim Robbins began to speak. As darkness encroached upon the park, Robbins lit a fire under the Sanders supporters. Residents poured out of their apartments and gathered on balconies and rooftops as Robbins echoed throughout Greenwich Village. He honestly sounded like a potential Sanders running mate and as this election cycle has shown us thus far, anything can happen.

The crowd knew it was almost time for Bernie to arrive. One after the other, former New York State Senator Thomas Duane, political activist Linda Sarsour, V.P. of the Transit Workers Union J.P. Patafio, Ohio Senator Nina Turner, Communications Workers of America president Chris Shelton and actress Rosario Dawson gave their remarks. Ever aware of the abundant social media fodder around me, I captured a few Snapchat videos for all 12 of my followers to gaze upon. As another whiff of the gange floated my way, I realized I had been neglecting the app designed to broadcast my every waking moment worldwide, Periscope. Two close friends poo-pooed my efforts in the live feed, but I powered through for the nearly 10 strangers watching live.

Did you know Spike Lee was born in Brooklyn? Donning a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap, he wanted the crowd to crescendo by putting a political twist to a rhythmic chant heard in sports stadiums. Half of the crowd understood the plan, the rest just repeated the Senator’s name. “NO, NO, NO, STOP, STOP, STOP,” an irate Lee yelled into the mic, but he was given the Oscars treatment and played off the stage.

That guy with the glasses in the middle? Not me. | Omer Seman-The Signal

We knew it was Sanders when his voice finally rang from beneath the arch. We also knew all of his talking points because he is nothing if not consistent. Breaking up the banks, LGBT rights, political corruption, single-payer health care and the like were all mentioned. What surprised me was how fervent the response was to fracking. Sullivan Street erupted when the presidential hopeful declared he would ban it nationwide; Sanders’ home state of Vermont and New York are the only states to impose bans.  As the Senator carried on, a steady stream of rally-goers staggered away from the park. Holding the rally on a school night weaned out the younger participants…or so I thought until a tiny girl with a Free Hugs poster passed by.

I wasn’t sure if I could get a glimpse of Bernie, but with my live stream up to 33 sad saps, I went against the rush of bodies departing from the epicenter. “Starman” began to play on the speakers and I serenaded the viewers with a rendition of the chorus. Cell phones were at the ready as the Senator waved to us behind a row of officers and secret service agents. With my phone at 4 percent, I felt for my portable charger when it hit me.

I didn’t know where my wallet was. I assumed it was snatched out of my front pocket Assassin’s Creed-style, but I retraced my steps to be sure. Campaign flyers, candy wrappers and plastic water bottles were all scattered, but no wallet. I asked the nearest officer what recourse I could take and he recommended going to the 6th Precinct and see if it turns up. With more than enough people to fill Madison Square Garden as suspects, I doubted it would appear. Thanks to the 21 century, I Ubered a ride home with my phone at 2 percent. Thanks to 2.2x surges, I paid $51.13.

Going through the hassle of cancelling credit cards and replacing I.D.s was tolerable, but the sentimental value lost hurt the most. Every movie ticket stub I had collected since 2012’s Chronicle was in there–each associated with time spent with friends. Photos of my cousin, grandfather and father were lost. It was my father’s wallet. I probably shouldn’t say this, but If I were ever to make a horcrux, this would have been my first choice.

Even with all that, I was still closer to 50/50 than I hoped to be today. I rushed home after class to inhale a bowl of rice and chicken and head to the polls when I received a package from Perry Reflexology. I laughed as a black leather wallet slipped into my palm. Dee, the good samaritan who returned my wallet, had my number thanks to mock business cards I still carry with me. Everything was in its place, even the voucher for a free haircut after nine (I’m two away!)

Shout out to the good people at Perry Reflexology! | Omer Seman-The Signal

If I was at a Clinton rally and the same events occurred, would I have leaned toward her? Most likely, no. Sanders is an ideologue promising a Utopian world of bite-sized banks and a thriving middle-class who, if elected, will struggle to pass anything through a Republican Congress. I consider myself a pragmatist and that is what Secretary Clinton is portraying herself to be. What first drove me away from Clinton was the thorough New York Times article on her role as Secretary of State in the dissolution of Libya. She is championing her foreign policy experience over Sanders, but President Barack Obama has stated he regrets actions taken in Libya more than anything.  

What drew me toward Senator Sanders was the simple promise of changing the political system from within. It echoes the message then-Senator Obama made during the 2008 election cycle. The country is more polarized than decades past and bipartisanship might be a pipe dream, but today I sided with a dreamer.  


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