It was a Bernie Sanders rally, but the overreaching arm of federal law enforcement – present around every snowy corner in the Granite State in the week leading up to the primary – was still punching.
I was the first person in line besides a slow trickle of volunteers who apologized for cutting those who waited while lawmen assembled a portable metal detector.
A metal detector. At a Sanders rally.
A woman smelling of a tolerable amount of patchouli cut the queue, which at the scheduled start time of 8:30 am had inflated to about 50 heads. Turned out she was introducing the Vermont senator, and while she wasn’t happy about waiting in the cold with the rest of us, she acted cool enough and started rapping with the crowd.
It was a colorful array of backers, young to old, all trading stories about previous Bernie rallies, their affection for the candidate, and of course rival Hillary Clinton. “What a class act we are,” the woman behind me said, referring to the rather civilized Democratic debate the other night. “But it makes for shitty television,” I added.
A Secret Service agent walked the line giving instructions, after which organizers finally opened the doors about 20 minutes late. At a Donald Trump rally I hit last week,
people were incensed that they were being told they couldn't bring their pocket knives into the building. On this morning, it was the ban on metal thermoses that had the most folks disappointed.
“Bernie didn’t want all this security,” claimed one woman, shielding the candidate from criticism. “They're making him have it.”
It was like a high school mixer inside the gymnasium, with reporters walking through the crowd for interviews. “Are you voting for Bernie?” “Do you think that he can get the backing he needs?” “Will you still come out to vote if it snows tomorrow?”
The Bern unit was talkative. Like they didn’t understand that TV crews just want quick and cute delicious sound bites to pop into their coverage. At one point I spotted a national news hairdo cutting off a long winded Bernie-backer in mid-spiel: “Thank you so much, that's really great. Really, absolutely fabulous, just what I need.”
There was a blizzard warning in effect, and campaign workers were nervous about transportation to the polls on Tuesday. “Do you need a ride?” “Can you drive people?” A younger voter is confused. “Wait a second, if I drive someone, does that mean they have to vote for Bernie?” The operative chuckles, “They don't have to, but we hope they will.”
It was cold inside the gym, felt in the mid-50s. A lot of locals were in Bernie T-shirts anyway, but the rest of us who hurtled up from southern throes could have stood to feel some more Bern.
One guy tried to start a chant, “Bernie Sanders – Not For Sale!” But the crowd wasn’t ready, and instead opted for a simpler two-syllable “Ber—nie” refrain that faded in seconds. It’s not exactly thrilling, but you rarely see this stuff on television, where producers often aim to yield a pretty finished product.
Go-time finally came about two hours after organizers started letting people in. The kind patchouli cutter from the line, a former New Hampshire state rep, introduced the candidate, but Sanders had not yet arrived. She put the party on pause, and with time to kill, a Bernie operative distributed flags to the supporters on stage to accompany their campaign signs.
The candidate came out swinging at Super PACs, and bragging that the average contribution to his warchest is $27. “We are treating the American people as if they’re mature enough to handle the truth,” he said. “And the truth is that democracy is being undermined.”
The candidate continued, “You have the power to transform the future of America. Not billionaires. Why do billionaires spend money on elections? Because they want to control it so it works for them … That’s called a rigged economy.”
The senator then pulled out his rhetorical Uzi, leaving not a single lobbyist or money-grubbing goon standing. Comparing the average person’s plight against the American economy to a five-on-ten game of basketball, Sanders went into specifics, even slamming the Walton family as the “largest recipient of welfare in America” on account of the number of their employees who receive federal assistance.
Then on to the current minimum wage (“nothing short of a poverty wage,” should be $15 an hour), youth unemployment specifically (“a tragedy unto itself”), prisons (“what about investing in jobs and education for the kids instead of jails”), and of course the fat cats: “The power of Wall Street is that two executives of Goldman Sachs became secretaries of the Treasury.”
Bernie didn’t stop at jobs. “Today some kid in New Hampshire gets picked up for marijuana,” he said, drawing a relative comparison. “That kid will have a criminal record, but you don’t get a criminal record for destroying the American economy.”
And on and on the candidate went, saying things you rarely hear from people who are running for the White House. After listening to Republicans pound their chests all week, offering savior to the people of New Hampshire, it was a welcome relief.
“Real change never comes from the top down. Real change comes from the bottom up.”
I stared through a glass door at a Secret Service agent who was playing with a pocket knife in front of his colleagues, all of whom were afraid to ask him to chill despite their being visibly appalled by his behavior.