I've been paying attention to Bernie Sanders for about a year now, since May of 2015, which was early enough that my first impression was, like ... what's the point? There's no way they're going to let Hillary lose a second time. But it quickly became clear to me what Bernie Sanders stands for, what he says he has always stood for, and why people are so excited about him. To those who are Feeling the Bern, he's honest. He's consistent. Supporters will tell you, Look at his voting record. He voted against the Patriot Act, against the Iraq war, he opposed the repeal of Glass-Steagall. In many ways, he seems to have been on the right side of history — and with that, it's easy to understand people's love of Bernie. He's reliable, he has foresight.
His fans, also, may tell you that Bernie has been a long-time advocate for LGBTQIA rights and same sex marriage — the truth of which, when you look into it, is questionable. And maybe you've seen that picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 — an updated version from this year, with a red circle drawn around, supposedly, Bernie Sanders — but it isn't him. Yeah, it's true that he was arrested in 1963 while participating in a different civil rights protest, so my point isn't to write him off, or to write off his supporters, it's just to say — even in this media-saturated world, it's hard to know where to find information and more difficult still to know who to trust. So I remain skeptical but also curious. I try to keep an open mind.
On May 13th, I walked to downtown Bismarck, North Dakota, the evening of the Bernie Sanders rally, to speak with attendees. The noisy streets, the Loud Muffler Capitol of North Dakota, populated with vendors hawking t-shirts and pins, guys from a local bar trying to a make a buck by selling hot chocolates, and a line stretching several blocks down Main avenue. Some people went to celebrate their candidate, some folks went to protest, others just wanted to learn. I wanted to know: What kinds of people, in Bismarck, come to a Bernie Sanders rally, and what do they have to say?
Before I went into the rally, I tucked my microphone and equipment away so I could make it through the metal detectors. As I came to the gate, the man beside me in line realized, with honest surprise, that he had a Swiss Army knife in his jacket. Security turned him away, of course — I walked in as he turned around. Local media reported that attendance was over 500, but according to volunteers who stood at the metal detectors tallying folks as they entered, the final number was 2,246. Inside, the crowd was diverse (if skewed a little to the under-30 demographic) and excited. Blue signs floated in people's hands, adorned with the campaign logo and slogan, "A Future to Believe In". We heard opening speakers: disabled veteran Jimmy Stewart and gubernatorial candidate Marvin Nelson.
Nelson spoke, among other things, of the Non-Partisan League. Looking around at familiar faces, I saw artists, musicians, writers, activists, farmers, ranchers. I couldn't help but think of the state grain elevators, the state bank — the rural agrarian culture that helped to create this state, a culture with a spirit that Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Jefferson would idealize but would never have the guts to actually live. How long until we have our own permutation, a North Dakotan version, of that Donald Trump slogan — a hashtag campaign, blue hats with the words, Make North Dakota Socialist Again. On the other hand, if we're going to return the land and government of North Dakota to a previous condition, if Bernie Sanders really wants to honor the treaties like he claimed to when speaking of his previous night’s visit to Pine Ridge, maybe it's time to take another look at the Treaty of 1868, time to repair the damages of the General Allotment Act, and time to Make the Dakotas Indigenous Again. Sadly, not unlike his remarks about reparations for African Americans when speaking with rapper and politician Killer Mike, there are in fact things Bernie sees as too divisive. The crowd cheered, and I did too, as the music came up and Bernie was introduced. Senator Sanders walked out to the vaguely isolationist tune of Bruce Springsteen.
"We Take Care of Our Own."
June 7th is the primary in North Dakota, so whoever you're voting for, get out there that day. If you want to support the show, please take a look at the donate page. If you're interested in Bernie, be sure to check out his website.
Later this month, I plan on speaking with supporters and protesters outside the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference where Donald Trump will be speaking. Keep an eye out for that.