By: Tricia Callahan
For those not in the know, Bernie Sanders toured the Palmetto State with 4 Town Hall Meetings this past weekend. His second stop was in Columbia, South Carolina where he drew a crowd of 2,700.
I arrived at the Medallion Center almost two hours before he was scheduled to speak, and the line was already building. Smiling volunteers sold buttons like cotton candy at a state fair. An older woman applied them to the entire length of her purse strap like a Girl Scout proudly showing off her badges. As I stood sweaty with a notebook and anticipation, I was certainly feeling the literal burn of the sweltering Columbia sun. As I allowed my eyes to wander, I noticed the line was winding through the parking lot and into the street.
Matt and Kathryn, a young couple from Aiken, were whole-hearted supporters. When asked what drew them to the event, Matt commented that he agrees with Sanders’ “stances on health care.” Given the reaction of the crowd during Sanders’s speech, I would come to find that a lot of attendees were on the same page.
Alex, a junior in high school, was also in attendance with his teacher Mrs. Beth. His bright eyes lit up as he enthusiastically explained, “I am very interested in the political landscape,” adding that, “I’m trying to get both sides of course. I am going to the GOP meeting as well in September in Greenville to hear all the candidates speak.”
When the doors finally opened, the Medallion Center was quickly packed from wall to wall, with even more supporters spilling into the overflow room. The air conditioning was a gust of relief upon first entry, but the collective heat from the massive crowd quickly canceled it out. Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” bellowed out of the speakers as sweat glued me to my seat and my notebook doubled as a fan. The clock ticked closer to show time and folks were getting antsy, clapping and chanting “Bernie!”
Following a passionate introduction from Press Secretary Symone Sanders, Bernie Sanders made his anxiously awaited way to the podium. Sanders sounded slightly horse, most likely from his speech in Greenville earlier that day, but after taking a couple swigs of his water, his passionate speech was in full swing. “If we stand together; they may have the money, they may have the power, but we’ll have the people!” he bellowed, and the room roared in agreement. During a quiet lull, a gentleman screamed “I love you Bernie!” Before proceeding, Sanders responded, “I love you too,” and flashed a full smile.
Sanders was able to discuss a multitude of topics, from raising the minimum wage to providing tuition free college, all of which the audience responded to with obvious, overwhelming approval. One of the most striking moments of the night was when Sanders addressed his thoughts on the criminal justice system, commenting that “it costs more money to keep people in [jail] than to send them to Harvard.”
Sanders also spoke to things that are very much on the forefront of voters’ minds, including health care, big money, police officer monitoring, institutionalized racism, pay equity, and family values. Perhaps what made all of his strong stances feel valid is his track record as a Senator or maybe it was the fact that he didn’t have to tailor his ideas for campaign endorsements either way from where I was sitting it was apparent that he had a whole lot of people on his side.
After thanking the South Carolina residents for attending he walked toward the crowd. Excluding no one he shook hands, took selfies, and signed autographs. His wife was by his side smiling and chatting with the crowd.
He may be a 73-year-old candidate but he speaks with the vigor of a teenage revolutionary. Love him or hate him, there is something admirable about running a campaign with the support of the American people and not Super PACs. With no affiliation to big money, Sanders may be the type of president who could really speak to the wants and needs of Middle America—which is terrifyingly different yet also shockingly refreshing.