The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Sanders’ Tie-Dyed Primary

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     The first thing I notice as I cross the parking lot are the men in suits. It’s thirty degrees—a clear day in Rindge, New Hampshire—but the men in suits don’t seem to notice. They have ear pieces that crawl out of their stiff collars like skin tone worms and one of them is wearing a black windbreaker that has “Secret Service” in blocky white letters across the back. They stand with their arms crossed in pairs of two, eyes quietly probing the pedestrians who stroll by in front of them.

    A bus with “Franklin Pierce University” stenciled in black on its white sides stops noisily in front of the building. The vendors occupying foldable tables in front of the gymnasium call to the passengers as they exit, waving t-shirts and pins in an array of colors and sizes, and the men in suits chew gum and scan the crowd. I check my watch. Bernie comes on in thirty minutes.

    It’s 72 hours until the New Hampshire Primary; the eleventh hour for last-minute campaign events. Bernie Sanders announced this rally only two days earlier, but the gymnasium at Franklin Pierce is still bustling with activity when my friends and I arrive at eleven o’clock.

     We follow signs that lead us past a line of large white news trucks and blacked out SUVs and enter through the front door of the gym, which funnels into a corridor whose path is blocked by two large metal detectors. Behind them stands an imposing man in a bulletproof vest strapped with an array of dangerous-looking objects.

     His thumbs are hooked in the shoulder straps of his vest and his eyes scan each person probingly as they enter. At the far end of the hallway two men hold large german shepherds on tight leashes. An old bearded man in a tie dye shirt helps his disabled son through the entrance in front of me. His shirt says “Feel the Bern.”

      As we enter the gym a woman materializes from the shadows holding a clipboard and steps in front of us, grinning broadly. She asks if we want to sign up to be part of a phone call campaign to increase voter turnout in New Hampshire. She tells me I’ll get a sticker that means no other people with clipboards will approach me. I accept quickly.

    The gym is mostly full, with a stage set up on one end of the court and a blocked-off press section on the other. Near half court is a platform filled with expensive-looking TV cameras and worried people with headsets talking on cell phones. A man in a suit stands quietly by each exit. “Rockin’ in the Free World” plays loudly through the PA system.

    As I stand near the center of the room scanning the crowd, a woman taps me on the shoulder and when I turn around she asks if I might give a quick interview for Belgian National Radio. As it turns out, this is the first of five interviews, most of them before Bernie takes the stage: CNN Politics, a girl doing a school project, and two reporters all ask for quotes.

   One man, however, draws more attention from the journalists than any other: a tall, denim clad man with a cowboy hat and a jacket which proclaims in bold font across the back: “Ask Me Why Cops Support Marijuana.” Reporters swarm to take him up on the offer.

     Bernie takes the stage shortly before noon. As he shuffles into view the crowd roars and those in the bleacher section on stage jump to their feet and wave signs that say “A Future To Believe In.” He’s dressed in a blazer covering a blue sweater and a light blue dress shirt, and as he takes the podium he leans forward and rests his weight on his hands. The reporters recede to better vantage points. Once the commotion has quieted, Bernie talks for roughly 45 minutes.

    He addresses the need for campaign finance reform, discusses the Koch brothers and the power of Wall Street and Big Pharma, and reiterates the need for strong voter turnout. As he speaks, two thick men in suits with cropped hair walk quietly in front of me, watching the faces of the onlookers, and as they whisper to each other one of them fumbles with his earpiece and the fat gold ring on his finger. Bernie shakes his fist as he discusses income inequality and a broken political system.

     And then, about halfway through, between bursts of applause, Bernie hits his stride. In the middle of an impassioned speech, he pulls off his jacket and tosses it ceremoniously to a young man standing behind him in the bleachers. The crowd is in love. The gym erupts in cheers as the wide-eyed young man raises the jacket triumphantly and Bernie, turning back to the podium with a shy smile, declares “I feel like a rock-and-roll star!”

     If the near-frenzied enthusiasm of the room had not been palpable, it was now unmistakable. Bernie speaks for another twenty minutes, interrupted often by whoops and cheers—and one woman who interjects with a short tirade about Wal Mart, which he listens to earnestly before resuming. As he finishes his speech and steps down from the stage, the crowd flocks to him in a dense throng of commotion. My friends and I decide it isn’t worth the trouble, and exit the way we came. Men in suits scan us blankly as we step outside into the cold, bright day.

    As we walk back to the car, vendors call to us with more t-shirts, sweatshirts, socks, hats and buttons. I wonder what the men in suits might look like in tie dye as a shuttle pulls away from the entrance in a cloud of steam and exhaust. People are laughing and calling to each other, and two men with a camera set up by the exit ask passing attendees: “are you feeling the Bern?”

    After a short walk we reach the car, and as we’re pulling out of the parking lot a man in uniform steps in front of us and motions for us to wait. He looks up the hill to our left and we follow his eyes as a convoy of black vehicles begins to roll around the corner and down the road in front of us. We watch as they pass, windows tinted black, lights flashing.

   Then, a cheer rises up from the top of the hill. As we watch, a tan SUV rolls down the hill, and passes in front of us. In it, I see Bernie, his forehead against the glass, his hand waving, and a broad and uneven smile stretched across his face. As he passes out of view, I can’t help but admit it: I’m feeling the Bern.

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The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883
Sanders’ Tie-Dyed Primary