The Revolution Continues: Bernie Sanders in Iowa City
by Mitchell Griffin
Photos by Olivia Harter
Bernard Sanders is a busy man. The long-time independent Vermont Senator’s campaign continued its criss-crossing tour of the Hawkeye state with their stop at the Iowa Memorial Union March 8th. The Vermont senator hosted a rally in the southwest corner of Iowa in Council Bluffs the night before and continued on to Des Moines for another the next day. His busy schedule hasn’t been limited to the ever-accelerating campaign trail—Sanders has done anything but coast since his defeat in 2016’s Democratic primaries.
Little known to the wider public before the 2016 race, Sanders has used his elevated platform to establish himself as one of the most popular politicians in America. Policies of his, such as supporting Medicare for All, a $15 federal minimum wage, attacking Big Pharma, and greatly reducing the costs of college, were largely deemed radical in comparison to establishment D.C. politics, but now are now firmly entrenched in mainstream policy discourse. Following his defeat, Sanders campaigned to support Clinton in the battle against Trump and proceeded to be as vocal and adversarial of a critic as he has ever been upon his return to Capitol Hill. Sanders headed a vocal coalition criticizing Amazon’s harsh labor practices and low wages (which lead to the mega-corporation raising its hourly wages to $15), and is one of the leading figures of the movements behind attacking the United State’s role in the devastating war in Yemen along with condemning the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
A crowd that exceeded 1300 people with expected overflow uproariously welcomed Bernie on Friday night. Hundreds of lively spectators, who ranged everywhere from toddlers to those with hair much whiter than that of the beloved 77-year-old Senator’s, gathered at the IMU nearly three hours before anyone would step to the stage. Security began to usher in the anxious crowd near 5PM, slowly but surely filling up the Main Lounge to its limits. The crowd, drenched with anticipation, listened to upbeat, angsty-yet-cheerful revolutionary anthems like “Revolution” by Flogging Molly and then a change of pace with a performance from Elizabeth Moen just before the speakers first took the stage. University of Iowa students Teagan Rhoder and Austin Wu preceded a local citizen who was inspired by Sanders in 2016 to run for office herself. Finally, Sanders took the stage himself.
The iconoclastic Senator could hardly finish fragments of his sentences before being drowned out by the energy of the crowd. Sanders began by reminding everyone of how his populist revolution began in Iowa nearly four years ago. With next to zero name-recognition, a measly 3 percent in polls, and nearly every Democratic National Convention superdelegate pledging their support for Hillary Clinton, Sanders would end up changing the landscape of liberal American politics just as much as the emergence of Donald Trump shell-shocked the conservative establishment status quo. Highly characteristic of him, Sanders stayed away from talking about anything personal. The Brooklyn native didn’t waste time endearing himself to the audience with stories and platitudes of a personal American Dream narrative, rather he jumped right into his spirited attacks against financial corruption in politics. Nothing was safe from the reach of Sanders in his speech: the Trump administration was lamented as an embarrassment to the nation, climate change skeptics were singled-out as too were the financial greed of Wall Street, the giant pharmaceutical companies charging ransoms for life-and-death medications, and the failures of a health care system that lags far behind its counterparts in other major countries.
The 2020 Democratic field is crowded, to say the least. Sanders will face primary challenges from a field that features other prominent senators like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker. Warren is a fellow progressive with many of the same anti-corruption and working-class solidarity rallying cries as Sanders, whereas Harris and Booker have more complicated past records that have drawn fair critiques from the left of the political spectrum. With nearly a full year left before the beginning of the caucuses and primaries, Sanders will hope to set himself apart from the rest of the candidates. Sanders now has universal name-recognition, a list of recent legislative accomplishments, and his reputation for fighting for the working class built on the back of decades of public service to separate himself from the field. The Revolution found its start here and, if Friday’s rally is any indication, doesn’t appear to be losing steam anytime soon.