Portraits from the Center of Brooklyn's Bernie Sanders Hype Storm
We asked some of the Vermont senator's biggest fans why they were fired up for Bernie 2020.
A child at Bernie Sanders's rally at Brooklyn college. All photos by the author.
In 2016, Bernie Sanders and his campaign made an indelible mark on the Democratic Party. Even though his run ended in a flameout at the Democratic National Convention, his ideals and campaign tactics have influenced a wave of newer and younger politicians who are now somewhat ironically competing with him for the chance to challenge Donald Trump in 2020. But despite the more crowded field, Sanders clearly has a strong base of support—he scored over $6 million in individual donations in the first 24 hours of his official campaign, more than any other candidate’s initial haul.
On Saturday, Sanders held his first campaign rally in southern Brooklyn, where he grew up, to make his case for a second go-round. Despite an overnight snowstorm and a muddy field filled with slush, thousands of people rallied at the quad of Brooklyn College to hear the Vermont senator explain why he should be the one to lead the Democrats to victory. Sanders played the hits from his previous campaign by calling out billionaires, Amazon, the military industrial complex, and more. But he also struck a more personal chord, presenting his background as the antithesis of Trump: He was raised in public housing by a father who fled the Nazis, educated in public schools, and active in the Civil Rights movement of the 60s.
“I did not have a father who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers, casinos, and country clubs,” Sanders said toward the end of his speech. “I did not come from a family that gave me a $200,000 allowance every year beginning at the age of three. As I recall, my allowance was 25 cents a week.”
The rally demonstrated a couple things. First that Sanders, who has attracted attention throughout his career because of his unabashedly leftist views, is going to lean more on his backstory this time around. But also showed that many of his fans from 2016 haven’t lost their enthusiasm for him. VICE talked to attendees about why they are feeling the Bern again, or for the first time, and what they expect from him.
Robert Segel, 55, from Brooklyn
VICE: Obviously, it’s not your first time around. What brought you around to Bernie in general?
Robert: In general... the idea that we’re actually going to get some representation for working people. I was with Occupy in 2011, before that I worked on Wall Street. I see how these bastards behave. Having worked in the system, I really have grown allergic to it. I want someone who is going to come from outside and bring some real change.
What do you think is going to differentiate 2020 from 2016?
God I hope nothing! Bernie’s been saying the same thing for 37 years. If he changes his message just to try and just work an angle this time, then I don’t know, he’s letting me down. His angle was right the last time. Now, how they run the campaign... We won’t have some politics-as-usual lizard person manhandling the Democrat Party to get her in, so with a flatter, fairer playing field… that’s what we need.
Do you see anything from the other candidates that is intriguing you?
There are intriguing things to look out for. I’m seeing a lot of likable corporate Dems that I’m trying to raise a red flag about. Clinton was a problem, but the Democratic Party, the “Republicrats,” “the System,” are the big problem. Joe Biden is part of that system. Cory Booker badly wants into that system. Kamala Harris is a very likable cop who wants into that system. These people are not progressives! They are bank-fellating business-as-usual corporate Dems. I’m more worried about them.
Alan Briones (left), 26, and Christopher Elie, 26, from Hopewell Junction, New York
What brought you both out today?
Alan: I go to school here and I live close, I’m here every day. I was like, “This is the best opportunity to be here anyway and support Bernie.” I supported him last time too.
Christopher: He told me about this event. I’m all for it. I supported Bernie last election and I’m optimistic this time.
Is there anything you’re expecting to be different this time around from the campaign?
Alan: I feel like he’s starting already from a place of strength. People gradually got to know him over the course of the whole thing last time. He’s standing for the same things his entire life basically and now more people are openly doing the same thing. He's the emblem for that. He’s continuing with that energy. It’s more favorably seen in a way that makes me optimistic. Go Bernie.
Christopher: I imagine just based on what he’s been saying in the last couple of days he’ll be saying the same kind of stuff, which is what I’m expecting and what I’m hoping for.
Alan: I feel like his big strength is that he’s been so consistent over a long period of time. It’s hard to see somebody who has so much integrity, not compromising on what he believes in and what he stands for, literally forever.
What are some policies you like about him or are looking for in a candidate?
Alan: Medicare for all, college not being so expensive and putting us all into student debt that we’re never going to pay off. All the things he’s been talking about forever.
Christopher: I think Bernie is the most equipped to kind of seize the political moment. There’s this whole conversation going on about whether now is the time we submit a moderate candidate to sweep up disenfranchised Trump people, or now is the time to strike back. I think Bernie represents this option to really seize the ability to make some real change when people are willing to try something new.
Aeshah (left), 17, and Iqra, 18, both from Brooklyn
What brought you out today?
Aeshah: I’ve heard of Bernie since 2016 from his first campaign. Seeing him now, he’s trying to make a change again. I mean Donald Trump, come on…
What are some of his policies that you like?
Aeshah: Healthcare. Healthcare I feel like is a big thing. Not many people can afford healthcare… healthcare is really expensive, so him trying to reduce it and make it affordable for everyone is a good thing.
Are there any other Democratic candidates you’re interested in?
Aeshah: Not really.
Iqra: No. (laughs) Just Bernie, I love Bernie.
A Noah Harrison (left), 25, from Bushwick by way of Atlanta and Kathryn Fuller, 23, from New York City
What brought you here today?
A Noah: For me, pure passion brought me here. I have never felt so strongly about a political figure in our country. Seeing Bernie in the last election cycle was just both really heartwarming and eventually heartbreaking. I feel like I learned so much. Bernie’s presence and his ideology has made me into the politically active person I am today. It’s just such a dream to be here and this historic event, his first rally.
Are you expecting him to stay the course or expecting him to change it up?
Kathryn: I don’t expect him to deviate from the points that he has been attempting to complete for his entire career as a civil servant. Which is a part of his campaign that I like. I’ll also say that what makes him a strong candidate is that he is willing to listen to his constituents, and obviously now his larger audience of America.
What differentiates him from the other candidates out now?
Kathryn: I think obviously his length of tenure as a senator really does set him apart. We have actual hard evidence to believe he’s consistent on the issues that he purports to be consistent on.
A Noah: I think Bernie is incredibly unique. He’s such a genuine holdover from the Civil Rights era and a time when people—far less than today—really had to fight if they weren’t of a very particular status.
Kathryn: I think he hasn’t compromised during his career, which for some is a detractor. For a lot of young people that are interested in having a candidate that doesn’t compromise their beliefs, that’s a highly attractive quality.
Ramon Mendez, 26, from Astoria, New York
Is there anything you expect that will be different for Bernie this time around?
Ramon: Yeah, I mean he’s going to have to defend a lot against the fact that he’s a white old man. But that’s just a distraction—Joe Biden’s a white old man and people are acting like he can be president. The difference is that a bunch of Bernie’s campaigns—Medicare for all, Green New Deal, things like that—are already being coopted by other candidates.
What do you think he needs to do differently this time to clinch the nomination?
Honestly, he has to appear even more to the left.
You don’t think going to the center is the best?
No, not at all. That’s what lost Hillary the election and honestly if we try that again, we’re gonna lose. It’s not pragmatic. We have to realize the country is leaning a lot to the left and that is the natural progression of things.
If he doesn’t get the nomination would you go Dem no matter what or sit it out?
I live in New York so I have the advantage of maybe voting for a third-party candidate. So it’s either a Green Party candidate. If it’s someone like Warren I’d vote for her. If it’s someone like Joe Biden… no interest.
Gabriel Sanchez (right), 23, from Oklahoma but lives in New York now and Geoffrey Mcgee, 21, from North Carolina but lives in Bed-Stuy
What brought you guys out today?
Geoffrey: We were both really involved in the primary in 2016. We were both college students. We just thought, this is the moment. This is the time for us to really show our energy, show our passion. We care about climate change. We care about prison reform. We care about a decent living wage. We care about healthcare. No one is talking about it in this administration, we have to show politicians in charge that we mean business. We’re out here today in the freezing cold for one reason, to show the power of the people. That’s why we’re out today.
Gabriel: We care about the people and everybody else. We’re teachers and we are fighting for equality every day.
Geoffrey: We have students on the line. This is not just our future, this is not just their future. It’s the future of their children, their children’s children. It goes and goes. We have to change something.