Political Pendemonium

Photo by Joseph Guzy | Photo Editor.

The Duke sent two reporters to the first major Pittsburgh presidential candidate rally of the season.
These are their reactions to the mayhem.

Photo by Joseph Guzy | Photo Editor. An excited, wig-laden Sanders supporter takes a selfie at the senator’s Pittsburgh rally last Thursday.
Photo by Joseph Guzy | Photo Editor. An excited, wig-laden Sanders supporter takes a selfie at the senator’s Pittsburgh rally last Thursday.

By Joseph Sykes | Sports Editor

In 2012, I was 18 — just old enough to vote in the presidential election between Mitt Romney and the incumbent, Barack Obama. Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity because I just didn’t care. I was not as well-informed as my peers, it seemed. What’s crazy is the fact that it took me until last Thursday’s Bernie Sanders rally at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to realize my mistake.

While I wouldn’t consider myself a “Bernie Bro,” I appreciated the loyalty for the Vermont senator, which could be seen in the line that surrounded the perimeter of the convention center. It made me want to get behind a cause that speaks to my ideology, even though it’s not as refined as others’. This was further supported by the diverse crowd, which packed the hall where Sanders spoke.

Before I entered the room, though, I expected to see a bunch of hippy liberals screaming and shouting for their beloved leader. That’s what the liberal stereotype taught me these past years. Don’t get me wrong, there were people who fit the criteria, but they were only a small percentage. I was truly shocked to see everyone from elderly couples to businessmen to college kids.

This fact busted my political bubble, which made me feel silly. However, it was at the press conference before the rally when I realized how important my vote is this primary season.

When Sanders walked into the media room, I expected him to take the podium right away, but that was not the case. Instead, he stood behind three men who took turns speaking about job creation, one of the most important topics in this upcoming election.

Michael Smith, a member of the United Steelworkers Union, voiced his support for Sanders with a level of intensity that hushed the room.

“It is clear to me that Bernie Sanders is a candidate that has never wavered in his support of hard working, middle class Americans,” Smith said. “I want a better future for my children. That’s why I’m working to make Bernie Sanders the next President of the United States of America.”

Smith’s statement seemed like it was prepared well ahead of time; however it was incredibly sincere, and it seemed to strike a chord with the staunch members of the media, including myself.

Scott Slawson, the president of United Electrical in Erie, Pennsylvania, gave a similar speech. I admired how vocal he was about the subject.

“As a percentage of unionized employees declines around the United States, so does the percentage of middle-class [workers],” Slawson said. “With the passing of each free trade agreement, we are seeing a decline in good paying jobs and the destruction of many communities.”

I don’t know too much about free trade agreements and job loss, but I do know that I should be reading up on both topics before heading into the general election. I appreciated Sanders for being able to give a voice to the voiceless.

When Sanders took the podium at last, I gave him my full attention. He thanked the men for their words and spoke for about a half hour while barely looking at his script. There was one statement in particular that stood out to me, which I am still thinking about a week later:

“People like Pope Francis talk about this topic, a moral economy,” Sanders said. “Not an economy based on greed and selfishness, but a moral economy that says the middle class has a right to exist.”

It’s getting late in the election year, but I’m excited to begin researching each of the candidates so I can make an informed vote. While I’m not particularly sure if I agree with all of Sanders’ policies, I am thankful for the fact that his campaign is making me want to be a contributing member in our society ▪

Photo by Joseph Guzy | Photo Editor. A Sanders supporter holds up a sign at his Pittsburgh rally asking the senator to “Talk Bernie to me.”
Photo by Joseph Guzy | Photo Editor. A Sanders supporter holds up a sign at his Pittsburgh rally asking the senator to “Talk Bernie to me.”

By Leah Devorak | Layout Editor

I’m a reserved, generally soft-spoken teenager whose political beliefs err on the side of conservative. Yet somehow, I found myself attending the Bernie Sanders rally last Thursday with two of my fellow editors, press passes and all.

It was probably the promise of seeing a presidential candidate in the flesh that enticed me, but the longer I spent there, the more I realized it was not actually “the Bern” that was making me stay. It was everyone else in the crowd.

Honestly, other than the fact that Sanders is a good, enthusiastic speaker, there really wasn’t much I found interesting about him.

When he walked into the press conference, I expected to be a little star struck. After all, Sanders could be in the Oval Office in just a few months, yet there he was standing 20 feet to my left. Things like that don’t happen every day, so I should have been somewhat excited.

But when he walked through the door, I felt nothing.

He was plain, he was short, he was old. He was Bernie, the same one I had seen a million times before, except somehow much more underwhelming. In all honesty, his appearance was anticlimactic, and I was very disappointed.

The others in the building, however, did not fail to grab my attention.

They were exactly who you’d assume would be at a Sanders rally. Millennials in beanies, plaid shirts and cuffed jeans went as far as the eye could see – unless your vision was suddenly cut off by a glitter-covered “Talk Bernie to Me” sign, of course.

Even Sanders’ staff fit the stereotypical “Bernie Bro” description of hipsters trying to make change. I should have expected it all to be so cliché, but I didn’t, which drove me to quiet snickers on quite a few occasions.

Another thing I did not expect was the amount of older Americans who showed up supporting their peer. I anticipated to see about 15 or 20, but there were definitely at least 100, an impressive number considering the vast majority of his supporters are 20-something college kids.

In general, it was the complete opposite turnout of what one typically expects at a political rally, which made for a rather fascinating time and certainly helped create the insane atmosphere of the building.

It felt more like a rave than a rally, from the fist-bump line at the entrance of the hall to the blaring political anthems inside. Everyone in attendance was thoroughly buzzed, as if the whole entire crowd had drank six cups of coffee and a whole Monster before 8 a.m. — which actually happened in the case of one worker.

And when the rally began, it only got worse.

Before Thursday, the loudest event I ever attended was the One Direction concert at Heinz field last August, and I honestly never thought I would be in an atmosphere that rivaled it. But it turns out that more girls involuntarily shrieked when Bernie Sanders walked on stage than when Harry Styles slightly thrusted his pelvis during “No Control.” Mix that with all the men screaming and then put it into an enclosed space, and it easily surpasses the amplitude of the 1D crowd. It was certainly a strange experience.

But no matter how odd it was for 20-somethings to swoon over a 74-year-old, it was also kind of nice to see that they actually cared about politics. No offense to anyone, but it’s definitely much more common to find a young person who isn’t registered to vote than it is to find one without a Twitter account. Priorities have shifted, and with them, the love of politics has been lost.

But it seemed like Sanders has changed that, at least for his young group of supporters. He’s provided a cause for these people to actually believe in, something that exuberated from the rally the entire time. And I think that’s what really made me stay. No, I wasn’t feeling “the Bern,” but I was awestruck by those in attendance. And I can honestly say that it made the experience 100 percent worth it ▪