Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bernie Sanders at the L.A. Sports Arena

 Bernie Sanders in Los Angeles

Only two domestic-born movements have compelled me in my own life enough to volunteer. In this blog, I have written about my participation in Occupy LA nearly four years ago. Last night, my wife convinced me to accompany her to help out at the rally for Bernie Sanders at the L.A. Sports Arena.

I had only been there a few times. Maybe a circus when I was a kid or with a kid or two, in my meat-munching decades, before I could no longer visit either circuses or zoos.  I attended a graduation held there once for where I teach. My former colleague and I sat high in the back of the bleachers and chatted the whole time, such was the roar of the voices in the cavernous acoustic dome. It's now woebegone, bought as the Coliseum by USC but otherwise little used for much, and no pro sports, for the billionaires want their own stadia, their own branded monuments to greed a mile away.

This is what Sanders opposes. He spoke an hour on the dot to a fervent crowd. My wife and I got folks to register for the mailing list, and among the 213 volunteers who showed up on little notice at 2:30, we were happily a diverse crowd, although one you'd have seen at Occupy or any lefty rally. Still, the vast "demographics" of the SoCal region were represented, and unions, students both shaggy and preppy, frat boys and mohawked gender-benders, Latino families and black activists, people fresh from dressing up for their day job and plenty of paunchy folks in "Feel the Bern" t-shirts rushed to hear him. A genial crowd, and as the LA. Times reported, one stretching back to the Coliseum itself.

Only white t-shirts were left to sell. The organizer lacked a portable microphone and many could not hear him. We ran out of stickers to give to supporters. Only xeroxed b/w handouts in tiny squares cut by hand told the curious about where to go online to learn more or volunteer. But we were informed that all the domains had been bought up, so somehow, those so moved would find an online Bernie. 

My wife and I discussed on the way home, caught in heavy traffic due to the rally, the prospects of what she termed "an exercise in futility." Long before she could vote, she cherished the McGovern '72 jersey she still had. Apropos, I had not voted but once, in '92, for a winning President, and she had a few more notches in her belt as she supported the Democratic candidate in the past three winning elections, whereas I, after the Greens in '94 qualified for our state's ballot, grudgingly backed them.

Not that I am thrilled about everything on the blue side of the ticket. My own left-libertarian leanings clash with a very strict view on immigration legal as well as illegal, tilted if at all towards Canada and Australia's restrictions for age, occupation, and education, rather than our endless chain migration and reunification, which only to me encourages people to enter less qualified for contributing practically to our society and economy; it also meshes with my environmental views and my ZPG bent. Qualities likely to be found hardly at all in my peers. As I say, I'm the only electric car owner who did not vote for our incumbent. Still, I cannot wait for a perfect candidate, and we all compromise when voting.

Getting back to Bernie, I noted the crowd cheered loudly for the young woman speaking of her success who came here "sin papeles," and his platform naturally includes this reform. He also wants to overturn Citizens United, to another loud round of applause. I wondered how the unions who thronged to see him speak would handle that; for me I reckon they and the vexing pension issue do cloud the issue of budgets. I also speculated many of the young Latinos might have been encouraged to attend by their UTLA teachers, for extra credit in civics. If so, it'd nonetheless made a great lesson in participation and spectacle. But if he won, if that is, he'd likely take the income from the fat-cats, in democratic-socialist leaning ways, and redistribute it to make public colleges free, make campaigns publicly funded, and to eliminate overseas tax shelters and the insane military spending we accrue.

He gave his standard stump speech. It was clear, as he inserted along "my home state of Vermont" (although his accent verified his Brooklyn birth), whenever he mentioned L.A. or California. He spoke about five minutes per topic as enumerated below, and it was well-organized and accessible.

His policies raised in me no surprise. Here they are for convenience. He got a thunderous response for berating a government that locks up a kid for pot possession but lets off Wall Street bankers, and certainly this 73-year-old's populism resounded in the arena of 17,500 and 10k more outside.
Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, reminds readers in the same paper, after two women purporting to be from Black Lives Matter prevented him from speaking in Seattle last Sunday: "Sanders has charm, but the Jewish socialist transplant from Brooklyn has spent his political life in a state that has only 7,500 blacks. He lacks the vocabulary to appeal beyond the white left. Meanwhile, the black left, an indispensable voting bloc, has no standard-bearer in the primaries and is clearly angry about it. Clinton's most comfortable in the role of elitist technocrat, which is great for fundraising from Wall Street and wooing Beltway journalists, but it's not so useful for wooing voters in a populist environment. Thanks to her husband, she still has goodwill among African Americans. But she lacks the charisma, passion or personal story to excite either the black left or the white left. The woman who left the White House 'dead broke' makes five times the average American's annual income per speech." That is the next challenge, even if Bernie took pains as did the volunteer coordinator to avoid any mention of her or Democrat oligarchs, while castigating of course the GOP.

During a lull before the speech, I read a few pages of Raoul Vaneigem's The Book of Pleasures. This former Situationist refuses to vote in his native Belgium, "In the speaker, listen for the distant echo which declares against him." I suppose that echo last night was not only GOP or HRC, but the few who wonder, as I often do, the anarchist slogan "If voting would change anything, it'd be illegal."

Realistically it's a long shot for Sanders. Pundits keep warning he will hit a ceiling of progressive support and stall. I fear a Ron Paul parallel, from an upstart who channels and crests discontent but who fails to garner delegates; also, a party to whom a fringe contender is anathema compared to a Romney or a Bush, or, again, a Clinton. In the Huffington Post, Michael Brenner cautions an earlier prefiguration: "Sanders might be playing Gene McCarthy to Biden's Robert Kennedy in 1968. Biden is no Bobby Kennedy; but then Hillary is no LBJ." Funny as that was the first election I recall, and my parents debating Nixon and Humphrey's chances, and watching the death reports on MLK and RFK on the black and white tv in our blue-collar house. No wonder I grew up cynical about change.

I have, as I mentioned, rarely or never seen a winning candidate, in my childhood or after I came of age, whom I could trust. I recognized early on Bill Clinton's appeal. In the first Dem debate in the '92 race, I sensed this unknown (to me) would win, even as he was dwarfed among seven contenders. I never, all the same, trusted him very much. By his second campaign, I had tired of his wiliness. His wife, with her fixed stewardess mien and dead eyes (I have heard of two people who met our current president, and they both told me he smiles without his eyes going along with it), fails to fool me.

In Sanders, beneath bluster he keeps his own tempered, diplomatic caution. We were instructed as we volunteered, not to speak of, let alone ill of, the presumed Democratic winner. Bernie went on stage, as his press release verifies, "in a hoarse shout,: to proclaim that 'this country belongs to all of us and not a handful of billionaires. We need a grassroots political revolution.'” I am not sure such rhetoric will withstand the fury with which HRC and the DNC will inflict upon him soon, but for now, as she bides her time, Sanders is making himself hoarse berating those of the other party who claim to defend family values, while, like Hillary herself even if it is not spoken, being funded by plutocrats.

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