More than 200 people showed up on a local college campus to receive marching orders for what their leader says is a political revolution.
They didn’t act like revolutionaries. Except to applaud and cheer some of the streaming-video remarks by their leader, they mostly sat quietly in their seats at IPFW’s Rhinehart Music Center. About the only raised voices came from the occasional crying baby.
The local organizer would never have been described as a rabble-rouser, even if he did make a literal call to arms. David Sanders told his fellow revolutionaries they would be expected to ring doorbells and hand out campaign materials.
"We don’t need to be mean and nasty about this stuff," Sanders instructed. "Donald Trump’s got that stuff covered. We don’t need to stoop to his level. We really don’t. So be nice and positive."
Meet the northeast Indiana supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. They gathered at IPFW for one of the 3,500 campaign organizing meetings around the country Wednesday evening for the 73-year-old man they simply refer to as Bernie.
Trump might be the Republican presidential candidate making the most noise these days, and Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Clinton might be considered the favorites to win their parties’ nominations and square off in the November 2016 election. But Sanders, the socialist independent U.S. senator from Vermont whose unruly hair has a Facebook page, strikes a chord among many people. In recent polls, he is preferred by between 14 percent and 24 percent of Democratic voters, running a strong-but-distant second to Clinton among the five announced Democratic candidates.
David Sanders, who runs CoWork Fort Wayne, an office-sharing space on South Calhoun Street, told the IPFW audience that until recently he "had personally given up on politics. I was pretty disgusted with it."
Sanders, 40, said he was tired of uncompromising political debate, the slant or absence of media coverage and the large sums of money being spent on campaigns.
"Then Bernie Sanders came along," he recalled.
David Sanders, no relation to the candidate, said he had expected 30 people to attend the organizing meeting and that 50 "would be amazing." More than 300 people sent social-media RSVPs, and 216 were counted at the event.
Jeana Eviston, 26, and Bryan Wulff, 30, sat together, Eviston wearing a "Bernie for President" T-shirt.
"He’s backed by actual individuals, and he’s not funded by these super PACs like Clinton is funded by all these Wall Street banks," Eviston said in an interview.
"It’s in our best interests to vote for a candidate who’s just honest, he tells his own opinions on things, he’s not trying to change his opinion based on who’s giving him the most money," she said.
Wulff said Sanders "has been consistent on all his views and things that he’s done over the course of his career, which is really important. When you see someone who doesn’t flip-flop and sticks to their guns and really lives what he stands for at all times, that’s important for voters, I think."
Jacki Trevino, 51, and Brad Howard, 50, sat a few rows in front of Wulff and Eviston.
"I’ve never been passionate about a politician like I have for Bernie," Trevino said in an interview. "I’ve never been involved in politics as much as I have this year. … He speaks to exactly everything that I feel, and I feel like he’s authentic and honest, and I love the most that he is not bought. I love the most that he wants to get money out of politics."
Howard said he has been a consistent Republican voter.
"I am tired of the financial abuse. … Looking for something fresh and new to start out with," he said.
Trevino said she would sign up as a Sanders campaign volunteer. Howard said he might.
Speakers at Wednesday’s meeting included Carmen Darland, the Democratic Party chairwoman for Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District. Darland explained how Sanders’ campaign would need petitions signed by 500 registered voters in each congressional district to have his name placed on Indiana’s primary-election ballot next May. Go for 1,000 just to be safe, she urged, because all signatures must be certified as valid.
Somebody asked whether he could sign a petition online. The Internet and social media are big among the Sanders crowd. Darland said no, it has to be paper. Petitions were circulated around the audience.
A half hour into the meeting, the lights dimmed and a screen over the stage showed live video from a house in Washington, D.C. Soon appeared Bernie Sanders, who traveled to Fort Wayne in 2012 to speak to a lunch program sponsored the Indiana AFL-CIO.
He said during the webcast that reporters are always asking him why his campaign is generating so much excitement.
"My answer is that the American people are saying loudly and clearly, ‘enough is enough,’ " Sanders said. "This great country and our government belong to all of us and not just a handful of billionaires.
"Enough is enough," he repeated. "We cannot as a nation continue to have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth. No, it is not acceptable that the rich get richer and everybody else gets poorer, that while we see a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires we have more kids living in poverty than any other major industrialized society."
He rattled off what he sees as America’s shortcomings and offered his solutions: raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour; combating institutional racism, including within police departments; appointing Supreme Court justices who will overturn the Citizens United ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns; making health care more affordable through a single-payer insurance system; and requiring employers to grant paid sick days, vacation time and family leave to workers.
Probably the biggest applause line at IPFW was when Sanders proposed free tuition at all public universities and colleges. Perhaps the most tepid response from the crowd, which was largely white, came as he pushed for creating a path toward citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.
"The only way we take on the Koch brothers," he said about the conservative Republican fundraisers, "the only way we take on the billionaire class and corporate America and these people who have unbelievable amounts of money and power, the only way I know that we can do that is when we put together a strong grass-roots movement of millions and millions of people, and that is what I mean by a political revolution, and that is what you are involved in today."
David Sanders encouraged local supporters to tweet their approval of Bernie Sanders by linking to #BernIPFW "to help show that we’re actually serious about Bernie Sanders here in northeast Indiana."
So the revolution – nice and positive – begins.