Bernie Sanders hosted a rally in Spokane on Sunday, March 22, 2016 and Ethan Wolcott captures his experiences while in attendance, from queuing in line to Sanders taking the stage.
Presidential candidate for the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders, was scheduled to speak in Spokane, Washington on Sunday, March 20th at 9:00 p.m. The doors to the convention center hosting the event were set to open at 6:00 p.m. I had the day off and the weather was beautiful.
Our family began the day making waffles while I tried not to think about the line that would be forming.
I knew the rally would be packed. When your proudest moment in life is that one time your roommate walked in on you screaming at C-SPAN in your underwear because the Democrats were trying to pass a filibuster for a SCOTUS nominee, you accept that you’re a dork. You instinctively get a feel for how big of a crowd an underdog candidate like Sanders would draw. You want to go just to be a part of it, same way you’ll probably go if Trump makes it to town: not because you necessarily applaud them or think them the messiah, but you’re intrigued enough to want to be there, to want to see it, to want to see what the people are like and the little details that surround it.
After two incognito trips to the location, one to buy my wife coffee and one to take my kid for a walk in the park, I’d assessed that the line was decent enough by noon that I should start thinking about planting myself. I ate lunch and picked out a textbook to read for fun (again: dork).
1:00 p.m.: My walk through downtown merges quickly with some guy who has long hair covered in a red bandana, shorts, and a sort of Rastafarian coat on. Without hesitation I assume this guy is a Bernie fan. It doesn’t occur to me how much of an ass I am for this assumption until much later in the day.
1:10 p.m.: We arrive together and sit down on a gorgeous wooden bridge together. We have our spots in line, about 250 people back or so. We made it, we’re in. I smile at him and he at me and we say nothing to each other. Not because I don’t like him, I’m just horrendously awkward. He stares forward and I read my book. We are in this together until the end.
1:11 p.m.: Facebook got wind of people intending to bring guns to the event and “start some shit.” I’m not surprised. If you lived in Spokane, you’d expect it too.
1:14 p.m.: I’m frantically giving every passerby an ocular pat-down. A guy walks by with a bandana over his face like a Hollywood train robber. He passes us, my heart keeps beating. I accept that threats will always be present even when I’m not looking for them and I go back to reading.
2:05 p.m.: The line has grown considerably and I note the distinct lack of manbuns and snazzy suspenders one might expect. I am however sitting right next to large group of LGBT Millennials, all of which are happy to give hugs and kind words to people who approach them.
3:45 p.m.: I need to pee. I turn to the long-haired, bandana guy and ask if he’ll be my line-witness if I leave to find a bathroom. He says, “Of course.” This is the first time we’ve spoken in two and a half hours. I tell him he’s my hero when I return and we resume our silence.
4:11 p.m.: My friend is roughly 2000 people behind me. We were supposed to meet up. I tell him to get his ass up here and join me. He says no way, that it isn’t fair to cut, that it’s not what Bernie would want. I tell him if he doesn’t then I’ll come back there and neither of us will get in. He still declines and thereby calls my bluff. I also let three other friends know where I am on Facebook. They also decline to cut.
4:21 p.m.: More of my friends decline to cut.
5:08 p.m.: More of my friends decline to cut.
I hear the line is roughly 7,000 people long.
One friend. Adam, takes me up on the offer and he is ridiculed the rest of the night for doing so.
5:38 p.m.: My wife shows up, having successfully delivered our child to a babysitter for the night. She brought a sandwich for me. I’m very hungry, yet for some reason immediately turn to the bandana guy next to me and offer him half. He gets real excited saying he’s “hungry as a mother.” I offer Adam the cookies she brought for dessert. He tells me about his myriad health problems that make him pretty much intolerant to everything delicious. I’m sad that I’m oblivious to my friend’s health.
5:45 p.m.: Adam runs to the hotel across the street to pee, hoping to make it back by the time the doors open. When he returns he tells me that there are a bunch of protesters across the street.
5:48 p.m.: I run around the building to get a look at the protesters, expecting a warzone. It’s just the typical WBC-type people, maybe it actually is them, standing on a sidewalk with a megaphone. Adam and I ask each other if anyone has ever willingly come to Jesus through threats and violence.
6:00 p.m.: Doors are still closed.
6:30 p.m.: Doors are still closed.
6:35 p.m.: Doors open as far as we can tell, but security bottlenecks the line, and it also starts to rain. I don’t hear one single complaint.
7:08 p.m.: The protesters walk within reasonable distance to the entrance blaring their hateful rhetoric from a megaphone. Nobody boos. Nobody screams back. A couple people chant, “Bernie, Bernie” and I hear someone behind me yell as loud as they can, “We love you!” It is then that I realize I’m surrounded by people—not clichés, not stereotypes, and most importantly: not a drop of negativity.
7:09 p.m.: We get through security and make it to the main room. Adam had to throw away his e-cigarette and doesn’t seem to care. I have to break the news to my friends behind me that there is not a lot of space left. Nobody leaves.
7:50 p.m.: I’m exhausted and sit down on the floor, condemning myself to the endless sea of butts.
7:55 p.m.: Turns out people are going into overflow rooms and will probably get to see Senator Sanders in person as well. I note that he is not a young man and he has already held two other rallies across the state today. We’ll see.
8:15 p.m.: I stand back up and realize I have to fart. I let it go with confidence.
8:20 p.m.: I realize with horror that there is a small child playing video games and a young mother nursing her infant within inches of my ass … and nobody said a thing.
It becomes apparent for the first time that there are many young children in the room. It’s hot. It’s crowded. The same terrible songs are playing on a loop. And nobody seems frustrated. Nobody seems anxious. People are still smiling.
8:30 p.m.-ish: Some campaign organizer guy comes out to tell people to caucus. People get it. They’re on board.
Much later, Joe Pakootas comes out to endorse Sanders and promote his campaign. Then an LGBT representative expresses her excitement for a world in which people don’t have to go home and contemplate suicide.
9:45 p.m.-ish: Finally, the man himself, Mr. Bernie Sanders, arrives. According to my long-lost friends in the back of the line, he visited all of the rooms, and the people outside in the rain. Plus he met some local politicians and policy-makers. And sure enough, when he comes out to an enthusiastic crowd and waving signs, he seems exhausted. But he still does it. He does all of it and much more than people expected of him.
He gives a stump speech. It’s boring. It’s nothing that hasn’t been said a hundred times already in his campaign. Here’s the video if you want. This is the actual speech, yes, but it could have easily been a rally speech from anywhere else in the country and you wouldn’t have noticed. I’m to the right of the frame, likely farting on a child.
Not to say that what he’s saying isn’t stellar or isn’t terrible. It’s just that it’s important to note his consistency. It’s not just this election cycle; he’s been saying the same speech for 30 years. That’s his power. That’s his advantage. The takeaway from the night is the one moment in which he says something to the effect, “If you want to vote for me, great. If you don’t want to vote for me, that’s okay too. That’s what democracy is.”
That one remark reminds us that he is not trying to adapt in order to win our votes or change his rhetoric to manipulate us. He is trying to earn our votes, earn them through consistency and open discourse.
That’s the moment where I see the appeal. And that’s the moment where I’m happy to be in a room with a bunch of strangers cheering for the same thing.
I didn’t mind being stuck in a parking lot for an hour after that. I was happy to thank the cops for protecting the event. Adam bought my wife and me a late dinner on the way home. We all left feeling like better people than we often are, instead of enraged or hopeless.
12:12 a.m.: I’m in bed and happy to have wasted my Sunday on a bridge next to a nice man I’ll never see again.