On President's Day (hint, hint) over 17,000 people packed the Tacoma Dome to rally in support of Democratic frontrunner Senator Bernie Sanders. The crowd size slightly surpassed the number Sanders drew when he last came through Seattle, which helps him battle a media narrative about a revolution failing to feel the Bern as strongly as it did when Hillary Clinton was the primary obstacle to a life of bread and roses. The crowd size also made for a loud-ass room. Holy shit.
But wait, why Tacoma? Sanders’s team picked the Dome based on space and availability, according to a source.
It ended up being a good pick. Even before doors opened, long lines wrapped around the stadium. Some arrived early in the morning, well before the show kicked off around 4:30 p.m.
The Revolution Waits In Line
All the people I talked to in line told me they liked Sanders for the same reasons: he’s consistent and trustworthy. That appeal makes sense, especially after four years of the most mercurial, mendacious President in U.S. history.
Matt, a 39-year-old union electrician from Shoreline, said he’s been following Sanders since the Iraq War protests in 2003. He appreciated Sanders’s “passionate” critique of the war, and has stuck with him ever since. “As a Generation X kind of person, I was very cynical about politics when I was younger. Watching Sanders speak in the Senate was the first time I saw someone who was being authentic and honest when they were talking in the chamber," he said.
The artist Frankie Crow Flag, 40, and his aunt, Susan Balbas, live in West Seattle. Their top priorities this year are the environment, LGBTQ rights, and indigenous peoples’ rights. Crow Flag said Sanders was “the only one I know who is going to do what he says, the only one I trust.” Balbas agreed. “He’s the only one who’s going to make real change, and not incremental tweaks to every corrupt system,” she said.
Thirty-year old Jacquelyn, a web developer in Seattle, said Sanders’s consistency is what appeals to her. “He’s been saying the same thing for decades,” she said. She’d vote for Warren as a second choice, but the Senator's backpedaling on her Medicare for All timeline made Jacquelyn think she’d backpedal on other commitments.
Warren’s readjustments on her Medicare for All plan also affirmed Christopher Edwards's loyalty to Sanders. Edwards, a West Seattle dog trainer, said, “I think she played a little dirty with Bernie before that debate, too, and I was kind of upset with that."
Though everyone was reluctant about supporting other candidates, only a guy wearing a onesie with Sanders’s face plastered all over it said he wouldn’t vote blue no matter who. From Nicholas's perspective, he’ll lose his health insurance when his dad loses his job in a few months, and Sanders is the only one he trusts to come through on Medicare for All. He feels no obligation to vote for the Democrat so long as we have an electoral college, though he would hold his nose and vote for the D if he lived in a swing state.
The Hot Dog Guy Loves Bernie
Like other major 2020 Sanders rallies, this one was half music, half politics. As thousands filed in, Burien rapper Travis Thompson played a set. He was followed by local soul outfit Stephanie Johnson & The Hidogs, and then Portugal. The Man, who play that very catchy song that people on the internet like to dance to.
Puyallup Tribal Council chair David Bean gave the land acknowledgment and spoke about the fight against the Tacoma LNG plant, and the Sacred Family Canoe Group performed a percussive song that ruled.
Kshama Sawant fired up the crowd by proudly introducing herself as “the socialist on the Seattle City Council,” and took a moment to champion her Tax Amazon movement. She called for a million Sanders supporters to descend on Milwaukee during the Democratic National Convention to “have Bernie’s back,” presumably in the event of a contested convention.
Not to throw any shade on our future mayor, but I was in line for a hot dog when Council Member Teresa Mosqueda took the stage and helpfully reminded the crowd that, despite what some union bosses say, union members support Medicare For All because they don’t want to spend their whole life bargaining for health care at the negotiating table.
The guy working the hot dog stand clapped when Mosqueda asked the crowd if they were ready for a Bernie Sanders Presidency, and then unscrewed the top of my water bottle for me. “We gotta take the tops because MAGA people might throw them,” he said.
And there was a MAGA presence. As Sanders delivered his stump speech, two white guys tried to interrupt the rally. One blond guy in a MAGA hat hopped around and clicked his heels like a leprechaun while making a white power sign with one hand. Another guy waved around a blue Trump flag.
John Connelly, a Sanders supporter, intervened. As police corralled the Trump supporters out of the arena, Connelly said the flag guy claimed someone assaulted him by trying to take his flag. It was a small, meaningless interruption.
Anyhow, back at the stage, Seattle Rep. Pramila Jayapal did what she’s really good at, which is calling out a cliche and throwing it back at the people who use it. In this case, she turned the word “radical” on its head, asking the crowd if they thought fighting for LGBTQ equality, health care for everyone, and free college for all was radical. You won’t be surprised to learn they did not.
In his new stump speech, Sanders came out swinging against Donald Trump. After calling the President a "frawd," a "lyah," a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, and a homophobe, he did the thing he needed to do in case any suburban voters were listening, which was remind everyone that Trump tried to kick 32 million Americans off their health care, and then highlight the fact that Trump’s new budget cuts Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
As he did in 2016, he then issued forth a waterfall of policies and executive orders only a billionaire could hate.
Speaking of which, Sanders took aim at Mike Bloomberg, who opened up three offices in Washington state last week. Sanders hit him on his record of “racist policies, like stop and frisk,” and for being an oligarch who is trying to buy the election.
The only thing that got a louder “boo” from the crowd than the word "Bloomberg" was the phrase “Democratic establishment."
In a phone interview, Rep. Jayapal said the crowd’s clear antipathy for the Democratic establishment speaks to the fact that people don’t feel like politics is working for them. “If you look at the suffering that’s happening in this country—500,000 filing for bankruptcy because of health care related costs, stock market gains going to the top 1%, 500,000 people sleeping on the streets every night and 100,000 are children—there’s this sense of anger,” she said. She pointed to a New Hampshire poll showing that 81% of Democrats are “angry” with Donald Trump, and said the crowd probably would have given the same reaction if Sanders had mentioned the Republican establishment.
While TV reporters talked to Sanders himself about Bernie Bros posting pee pee poo poo in peoples’ mentions (h/t Kirsten O’Brien), I was having a marginally more interesting conversation with Jane Sanders, Bernie’s “top strategist,” former chief of staff, and wife.
Washington is in the midst of a housing crisis, and Sanders’s Housing for All plan talks a big game on ending exclusionary zoning, which makes housing advocates very happy but pisses off several “Seattle progressives” who pack city hall every time someone threatens to build affordable housing in their back yard. What’s Sanders’s pitch to these “progressive” homeowners who are worried about their property values and their neighborhood character? “I’d say give it a shot,” Sanders said. “Put yourself in their shoes. And if you’re a progressive, I think that’ll be easy.”
At the same time, Sanders also stressed the need for local buy-in in housing policy. “Some are using land trusts, some are using inclusionary zoning, some are building huge developments, it’s up to them,” she said, but a Sanders administration will massively increase the amount of federal funding toward whichever solution municipalities go for.
Sanders also reasserted her husband’s support for safe consumption sites, which the current Department of Justice has vehemently opposed, and said Sanders “has a bully pulpit, and could lead” on this issue if Congress ends up in a gridlock.
But Sanders will only get that bully pulpit if he wins, and, as many commentators have pointed out, voting tallies in early primary states suggest that more voters prefer moderate candidates over progressive ones such as Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who will, incidentally, hold a rally at the Seattle Center Armory this Saturday.
When I tossed that math at her, Sanders touted her husband’s popular vote wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, and noted that Sanders won more Independents than the other candidates.
In a phone interview, Rep. Jayapal, who heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, added that voters don’t break down along neat ideological lines. Joe Biden supporters, for instance, like Sanders as their second choice.
“Democrats lost the state of Michigan for the first time in 28 years in 2016. We lost Wisconsin for the first time in 24 years. Sanders won 71 of 72 counties in Wisconsin in 2016,” Jayapal said. “It’s not that Michigan or Wisconsin voters changed their values, it’s that they weren’t inspired by the person on the ballot. I think people are seeing that Sanders can win a state like New Hampshire and Iowa, but he can also turn out and mobilize a complex voter base—young people, people of color, and blue collar workers of all races who want somebody to work for them.”
“This is one of the real appeals of Bernie Sanders,” Jayapal continued. “He has been saying the same thing for a very long time. Nobody questions that he actually believes what he says, and that he’ll fight for what he says. We want a president who we can actually trust.”