Attending a Bernie Rally

April 13, 2016

In News

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My first Bernie Sanders rally was his Town Hall rally in Manhattan on September 18, 2015. ( It was packed with enthusiastic supporters. Sanders gave a long talk on financial reform, something which would ordinarily put an audience to sleep or send it making for the exit. Instead, the audience was repeatedly brought to its feet, cheering enthusiastically as they heard a candidate of a major party open up on Wall Street fraud and abuse and presenting an image of an America in which everyone would have a place at the table, not just a tiny sliver of the super-rich.

Bernie returned, this time to his James Madison High School, on April 8. News of the rally spread by word of mouth. It was apparently organized the day before; I heard about it a few hours before it happened.

The weather was chilly as Bernie’s well-wishers, a few haters, and a large number of the just plain curious lined up to hear the candidate. The crowd was a typical Bernie crowd, with all its strengths and weaknesses. It was overwhelmingly young … and almost entirely white. It was only later as mostly black students coming home from school came to see what was going on that this changed at all.

Since his days as a student at Madison, the neighborhood had had a large influx of Orthodox Jews, mostly wearing the felt kippah, with a few sporting the black fedora and overcoat. I noticed many young yeshiva boys and seminary girls on line for the rally, some carrying Bernie signs. Even those who were clearly not part of the Bernie rally stood by patiently as ralliers clambered over their lawns to get a better look at their candidate. This is interesting because the Orthodox Jewish press has been hostile towards Bernie, pointing to his lack of Yiddishkeit and exaggerating his criticisms of Israel. The red-baiting of the Sanders campaign started with a (very good) article in the Jewish Forward ( and about the months he spent in a leftist and aggressively secular kibbutz run by Hashomer Hatsair (, which served as his introduction to socialism. More recently, his exaggerated recollection of how many Palestinians had been killed in the latest Israeli assault on Gaza was held up as yet another sign of Sanders’ hatred for the State of Israel and not the memory lapse that it plainly was. One elderly rabbi told a rally participatant how surprised he was that Sanders was not attacking the Jewish people at this rally. He seemed pleasantly surprised at the quality of the talk.

Sanders’ talk struck me as a rather weaker than his Town Hall meeting. He seemed more interested in reaching out to different constituencies than elaborating on his program. His Town Hall speech struck me as much meatier and energetic than this outdoor rally; and, in turn, the audience’s enthusiasm, while still great, was noticeably less intense.

One thing the Sanders campaign did at the Madison rally which it neglected to do at the Town Hall rally was provide a way for participants to join the campaign. At the Town Hall rally, a huge and enthusiastic crowd of supporters was allowed to disperse without anyone so much as submitting an email address. This time, there was an organized effort to buttonhole potential campaigners.

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