Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kenneth Lee: Together Anything Is Possible

This is such a wonderful reflection of a larger picture of the experience of joining with thousands of others to see Bernie. I've stood in line for 4 hours, much of it in the rain, waiting to see Bernie here in Vancouver. And I've waited for more hours with many more thousands of people to twice see Bernie in Portland. And the diversity, the warmth and big heartedness, the depth of discussion of the critical issues of our time, the enthusiasm and smiles and connection shared between those who were little babies to those well up into their 70's was such an amazing and powerful gift and presence. To feel the gift and the power first hand of this revolution/evolution that is happening is hard to put into words. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude!  ~ Molly

I should've known. As an actor in live theatre, I really should've known. 

I arrived at Washington Sq Park on a cool sunny evening, skeptical at my decision to attend the Sanders rally. Friends who know me well know I don't do crowds. I deplore them. If it isn't too hot, or humid, it's too loud, too rowdy, too rambunctious, too chaotic. There's always some asshole who wants attention, or some yelling match or some fight at some far corner because someone stepped on someone's toes or someone's working out some relationship issues somewhere. Or the music's too loud, or someone's hatin' on someone else's taste, or someone's cut in someone's line and somebody's not pleased with some attitude somewhere. I get drained by crowds. I don't do them. 

There were already throngs of people being diverted from the East and West sides of WSP South to LaGuardia Place where massive crowds had already gathered. There were people of a wider demographic than I had expected, though most were young. An older gentleman had a BERN THE WEED T-shirt on and was passing out buttons. An older woman was handing out yellow roses, she says, "just because". A student held up a white mop with a Bernie mask attached to it. Yet others were distributing placards of support, or stickers and miscellaneous paraphernalia. 

Everyone around me was discussing the issues with a startling breadth of knowledge and depth of passion. What was more surprising, everyone really was in good spirits. Where was the rancor the media seems to be portraying between the Democratic candidates and their supporters? Most of the discussions i heard around me wasn't about Hillary Clinton as much as it was about a political system gone awry that has gotten Americans worried. The crowd standing behind us were in red T-shirts. Turns out they belonged to the Jersey chapter of a worker's union and they were concerned about earning a livable wage. As a young Muslim millennial took the stage to give a brief introduction of why she and her student group was supporting Bernie, the group in front of us continued to debate about where the astronomical Iraq war bill could have been better spent. Free college tuition? Expanded social security? Better fund the VA? 

I had to say I was surprised. As we jostled our way through the bottlenecked crowd and a heavy police presence, it became obvious that that wasn't going to be necessary. It was startling how orderly and patient everyone was despite the snail's pace at which we inched toward the metal detectors. Though there was no trash bin in sight (a clear oversight by the organizers), the garbage was stacked in a neat pile on the road in between barricades. It took us TWO HOURS inching forward in line before we got to the entrance, when police finally decided that the metal detectors weren't needed afterall, and unleashed the throngs into the Park. And even then, there was no chaos. No grumbling or police antagonism. No mob behavior or aggressive asshole that demanded your attention. At the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a group of middle aged women waving rainbow flags as they marched forward. I don't mean to make it sound pollyanna but everyone really was just smiling and in good spirits. 

I settled myself on a set of steps on the east side of the park and watched as people continued to run toward the fountain to catch a good view just as the sun was setting and the first speakers were announced. As the park started to fill to capacity before my eyes, I remember thinking to myself, wow, in all my years living in the Village, I've never seen the park so filled with people before. But not just any people, smiling people, people of every race, age, religion and gender identity, united by an unabashed naivete and an unapologetic idealism. A people who shared a common disaffection toward a political system that hasn't worked for them, who shared a similar world view and perhaps for those couple of hours we stood in line, caught a glimpse of what that world could be. 

At some point after sunset, while Tim Robbins was talking about party elites and the establishment being shaken out of their complacency by a progressive electorate determined no longer to be ignored, someone must have fainted or needed medical assistance because someone started shining a flashlight with their cellphone to signal for help, and a game of 'telephone' ensued with cellphone flashlights popping on in succession to light a path for EMT to reach the person in need. 

Bernie had yet to take the stage, so it wasn't political kabuki or campaign rhetoric that was stirring people's emotions but perhaps an ethos, a world view in action? If there's any truth in leadership engendering the kind of world we could live in, Bernie's world seemed cool. Hopeful even. And no, I didn't smell weed on the premises (even though decriminalizing it was discussed), and everyone showered.

When night fell and Spike Lee introduced Bernie Sanders to the stage, the crowd cheered and then almost unanimously fell silent. Some people in the back called out to those in front to please not sit on another's shoulder so as to block the view. They apologized and acquiesced. This wasn't a hootin' and hollerin' crowd. They weren't here to catch a glimpse of a bona fide celebrity. They were here to listen. If anyone else was having a conversation, I didn't hear it. As Bernie gave his speech, I took a moment for myself, to look around me at the faces that were giving him their attention. A cool breeze blew by. 

Bernie's speech wasn't a call and response like Ohio Senator Nina Turner eloquently gave, but a measured message. I didn't hear anything new I hadn't already heard articulated before on TV. Yet, a spontaneous moment erupted when Sanders, struggling to describe the differences he had with Hilary on campaign finance reform, had an assist from the crowd. It was "yuuuge!" the crowd roared. Sanders, surprised, broke into a chuckle. The crowd burst into laughter.

As an actor in the theatre, I should've known. The substance of a campaign speech may resonate in the television screen at home, on the radio, in interviews et al, but it's at a rally, a theatrical event if you will, that one begins to see a candidate's world view expressed in the imagination of the people you are witnessing this event with. And bear witness we did. Together. For each other. And it was more powerful, more beautiful, than I imagined. 

Yes. I should've known. 

I'm not one for concerts, rallies or crowds. I just don't do them. My last concert was for U2's Pop tour where I left partially deaf feeling like I saw mosquitoes performing an ear shattering din while sweaty bodies thrashed against mine. I left this one feeling crystal clear about one thing; cliche as it may sound, I left feeling that together, anything is possible.

In other words, I left feeling the Bern.
 — at Washington Square Park.

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