Upon crossing West Main Street at 3:30 in the afternoon and getting in proximity to the crowds of eager supporters, the scent of strawberry vape and industrial paint on Feel The Bern buttons fills the air outside Heritage Hall in downtown Lexington. Faint chatter about finals and getting out of work early to see their favorite presidential hopeful is distinguishable from the noise of the city. I reach the masses, and my eye immediately catches a gentleman in a suit and tie holding a large sign among everyone else, which reads CLINTON IS A WAR CRIMINAL.
The attendees are mostly young, college-aged people. Most of the people are with dyed hair, May the Fourth be with you items and creative, meme-ish scenarios involving Bernie Sanders printed on shirts and stickers. They wait outside and in the food court in large crowds. Families and enthusiastic older adults with Bernie pins and signs are sprinkled among their younger counterparts. People seem to be confused about whether you wait in line for the event or just be prepared to make your way to the security screening to enter. This does well for a few little bazaars of merchandise outside the building’s front entrance. Theres about 3 hours to spare. I start mingling to get a general sense of everyone’s attitude and expectations.
“Absolutely man, I’m a fan of Bernie”, a young man in a University of Kentucky hoodie says. “Ever since he came on the scene where you had John Stewart kinda cracking on him about his crazy hair and how he doesn’t really have a shot, month by month you began to see it progress and more people get into it, and everyone blowin’ up over him, and its just awesome, man.” I ask about his outlook on UK’s political demographic this year. “Yeah, a pretty good amount [prefer Sanders], I’d say probably 75 percent maybe. Most of my friends are like military guys and more on the Republican side, but I’d say a good 75 percent are probably Democratic. Nobody’s voting for Hillary, so yeah.” Finally, I ask about what his chances might be in the Bluegrass state. “I wish that I could say yes [that he will win the primary], but honestly I think this state won’t really pick him up. I think he’ll get some votes, but I don’t think he’ll win it. But, I don’t know; you never know. People thought he was done before Indiana, and we saw what happened there. But its a bible-belt state and there are so many people stuck in their ways, not getting the right education. So I guess we’ll have to see.” An hour passes. The crowds augment.
“I like Bernie because of his stance where you can’t buy politics, that was probably my turning point on why I like him more than I like Hillary or all the other ones”, another guy explains. “He shows that there are still good people who hold power in this country, and Bernie is one of them who will use it to make this country much better as president”, a young woman says.
At about 20 ‘till 5, the lines outside start moseying inside through the food court. This can only mean its time. After going through security I enter the convention room where the actual rally will take place. Immediately, I hear cheering and shouting, whooping and chuckling. Everyone getting hyped for their main man. A gentleman walking next to me shouts “Dump Trump!” as we all make our way into the half-full room where basically anything goes for right now, and I join in with vigor. “Fuck the fascists!” The wide open room contains three small stages. One spare one which a lot of people are sitting on, one for camera crews and the other for Sanders to deliver his speech on. A vendor near the entrance is selling hotdogs and drinks while we wait. After about two hours of waiting, the room is filled. I would estimate around 5,000 people got in while a few hundred weren’t so lucky, and would watch the rally from the food court TV. Prince’s Lets Go Crazy and The Trammps’ Disco Inferno is playing in the meantime. People begin to take their seat on the main stage in the background of the podium. The people on stage begin doing “the wave” with their A future to believe in signs, and the audience below them does the same.
Finally, the Senator is introduced and greeted by thousands of cheering, screaming Kentuckians as he walks the stage. All smartphones go up, taking pictures and snapchatting the event. I stand on my toes trying to get a better view as official campaign signs and banners wave across my field of view. “Are you guys ready for a Political revolution?” the distinctive voice asks. The response is collective applause and then chanting. Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!
The senator transitions into his speech adapted for the state he’s speaking in. He mentions the thousands of manufacturing jobs lost in Kentucky due to NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with china and the thousands of families in Kentucky who struggle with affordable child care. He stresses thinking outside the box in regard to bringing about change in the nation — that the ideas perceived as radical and out of the question are the actual solutions to the issues, ones which the GOP has suppressed time and again.
Sanders concluded in declaring that diversity is our strength. That we are unique in being black, white, Latino, Asian, native American, gay, straight, men, women, some born here, some immigrants — and furthermore that love and selflessness is what drives us forward, that love trumps hatred, that when families and individuals are there for each other in their time of need, this is what comprises the strength of the American people. That this is evident in the political revolution, that the campaign is about thinking big, not small.
At the end of the night, crowds dispersed and faded out into the corners of the city, in bars and restaurants, where whole segments of 10 to 20 people still remained with their pins and signs. As I walk down the sidewalk after getting all I came for from the event, I can hear distant “Feel The Bern!”s and cars honking followed by cheering. Legions of empowered college students and wise elders made their way to their cars and buses from Triangle Park, still teaming and glowing with political fire.
The question now is if this event will have enough effect on the campaign’s chances in Kentucky, which I was most concerned about while planning out this report. In my opinion, if every one of the people who attended the event would go out on the 17th and vote for Sanders with the same energy they had on this night, there isn’t much of a doubt that he would have a huge chance of winning the primary in Kentucky. In the end, its another stone in the road. This one happened to be the fair city of Lexington in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.