"He's the first honest candidate I've ever seen," Rachel Hungerford, a 31-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter told me as she stood outside KeyArena in the rain on Sunday, March 20. With three hours to go before the presidential candidate was scheduled to speak, Hungerford huddled under a polka-dot umbrella with a friend.
Her reasons are the same reasons you've heard from every Sanders supporter on your Facebook feed and every millennial who makes it into a national story about Sanders. Campaign finance reform. Health care. Bank reform. Student debt. The disappearing middle class. Millennials like Hungerford—millennials who've been paying attention to the presidential race—can sing Sanders's praises in their sleep.
But Hungerford had something else to say too, something that resonates more in 2016 Seattle than perhaps anywhere else in America. The Democratic establishment, Hungerford said, is too timid, too willing to compromise. Democrats haven't been "true to their party."
"If you're coming to the table having already compromised," Hungerford said, "you've already given up."
Seattle is a test case in what happens when an unapologetic left emerges, pushing policies that are attacked as "radical" but actually enjoy wide popular support. Compromise happens in Seattle, but it comes later in the process than for the mainstream Democrats Hungerford is fed up with. Bernie Sanders's campaign is effectively taking the Seattle model national.
Consider: Seattle has given workers paid sick leave and given Uber and Lyft drivers a way to unionize, and is now considering requiring employers to give hourly workers more advance notice of their schedule. The city has also, of course, passed a $15 minimum wage to be phased in over seven years.
Bernie Sanders told the crowd at Sunday's rally: "We are listening to workers all over this country who are telling us they cannot make it on 9 or 10 bucks an hour, and that is why we have to do nationally what Seattle has already done: raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. And, Seattle, thank you very much for leading the country in that direction."
The Seattle City Council has recently begun—thanks to pressure from community activists who oppose King County's youth jail—funding work to identify alternatives to incarceration for youth.
Sanders: "What we are gonna do is invest in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration."
Seattle made marijuana possession police officers' lowest priority in 2003, nine years before Washington became one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana.
Sanders: "Every person here knows that heroin is a killer drug and, while people may debate the pluses and minuses of marijuana, it ain't heroin. That's for sure... States, as you know, have the right to legalize marijuana... But in my view, possession of marijuana should not be a federal crime."
And last year, on the same ballot where voters sent a socialist back to city hall for a second term, Seattleites passed a first-of-its-kind public campaign finance system, which will give voters "democracy vouchers" and limit city lobbying.
Sanders: "When we talk about the major crises, number one: Every person in this beautiful arena believes passionately in democracy. One person, one vote. But as a result of this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we now have a campaign-finance system which is corrupt, which is undermining American democracy. And here is promise number one: Together, we are going to overturn Citizens United and we are going to move toward public funding of elections."
This city represents the political ills Sanders rails against, too. It is a wealthy tech metropolis with a homelessness emergency. It's a city in a construction boom facing a housing-affordability crisis. It is the biggest city in a state where mental-health care and public schools go criminally underfunded but voters continue to tolerate the most regressive tax structure in the nation.
It's no wonder, then, that more than 15,000 people showed up to Sanders's Seattle event. "I think," Sanders said at KeyArena, "Seattle is ready for a political revolution."
The crowd roared.
Most of the Sanders fans I interviewed outside KeyArena said they'd reluctantly support Clinton if she gets the nomination. But those who refused did so in part because they're tired of compromise on the left.
One 28-year-old wearing a small Guy Fawkes mask pin on his jacket said he would "absolutely not" vote for Clinton and repeatedly called her a "bitch." The man, who told his friend he wasn't planning to tell me his name and then gave his name as "Cody Redblood," decried "lukewarm progressives that get voted in and then they end up really not doing at all what they [said they would do]."
"I think his record speaks volumes for what he's likely to do," Redblood said about Sanders. "And I'm mostly excited for a Sanders administration because I would love to see corporate corruption be dismantled and people called out, jailed, the money being fucking allocated to proper places."
"Break up the big banks," his friend, Michael Welsh, 25, chimed in.
"Yeah, I'm definitely ready for that," Redblood said.
When a presidential candidate comes to town, and people line up to see them, reporters typically put this question to people waiting outside the venue: "Can you tell me why you're out here today?" The question assumes the candidate means something to this place. But in Sanders's case, this place clearly means something to the candidate.
"Washington State has been pushing the leftist agenda more than any other state right now," said Hayley Sherman, a 25-year-old middle-school teacher standing in line to see Sanders. "We're pushing a progressive agenda more so than any other state."
Even if Sanders fails to get the nomination, his supporters are hoping his success will pull Clinton left. If they're right, hers will become a more Seattle brand of progressivism.