Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
Last night I attended the launch of the new Pittsburgh headquarters of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Pennsylvania has a large number of delegates, and the state helped elect Obama twice, so the Sanders campaign is digging in for a tough fight over the next month leading up to the primary on April 26.
The campaign rented a large space on the Southside — a former grocery store which still has the Schwartz Market sign above the door. For generations, the store served the needs of the ethnic neighborhood — mostly Poles and Ukrainians. The men worked in the steel mill beside the river, drank in the bars and social clubs, and voted reliably Democrat in Pittsburgh’s political machine. The women hung their laundry on lines from the wrought iron fire escapes, prepared yushka and kolduny in cramped kitchens, and attended the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the neighborhood. The steel mill is long gone, washed away by foreign competition and the ineptitude and arrogance of the managers. The social clubs have declining memberships, many of the churches have been converted to lofts, and the political machine has crumbled under its own corrupt weight. Only the bars remain, now trendy with a clientele of college students and young professionals, but the neighborhood still feels gritty with tattoo and massage parlors on every block.
The old Schwartz Market was packed with Bernie supporters, most of them young and white, a few men holding small children, their wives standing beside them in business suits and sensible shoes. The music was a mix of Leonard Cohen and Red Hot Chili Peppers. There was excitement in the air, and the speakers were twenty-somethings who spoke about guerrilla strategies: talking to people at bus stops, talking to your neighbors, your co-workers, going face-to-face as they called it. With very little media coverage, virtually no television ads, but lots of internet outreach and chat, Sanders is not so much a running a campaign, as he is leading an insurrection. Despite the fact that the mainstream media has tried to ignore Sanders, he has taken almost as many delegates nationally as Clinton, and fifty percent of the delegates are still to be decided in the upcoming primaries over the next couple of months. Despite what you may have heard, the nomination process is far from over.
Whether Clinton supporters like it or not, Schwartz Market represents the future of the Democratic Party. This event was thrown together in a matter of hours. Word got out over the internet — I received three emails about it yesterday afternoon — and hundreds of people showed up, excited and ready to volunteer. These young people are energetic, idealistic, and pragmatic. And they are wired. One of the speakers asked the crowd how many of them got their news primarily from the internet and virtually everyone raised their hands. Sanders supporters are not going to be dictated to by old liberals and feminists, and certainly not by talking heads on the nightly news. They despise Donald Trump and everything he stands for, and they don’t like Clinton much either. They believe that Sanders can win the Democratic nomination and face Trump in the general election. And trounce him. They may be right.
But right or wrong, they will change the future of the Democratic Party.
Copyright 2016 Michael Simms