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Bernie Sanders Connects with Voters at the Latino Heritage Festival

Posted: September 27, 2015 | By: Aaron Feldman Tagged: From the Campaign Trail

12038458_847800131942544_3375174157382339343_n“Are we going to get to see Bernie?” asked my overzealous sister for the umpteenth time.

“Yes, yes, we will. Calm down,” I responded.

(Inaudible teenage girl yippee) “Oh my gosh. Should I call him Mr. Sanders or Mr. Bernie? Does Mr. Bernie sound weird?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Senator would probably be best, but whatever works.”

My sister kept on squealing about meeting Bernie and was wondering what angle she should take her Bernie selfie from. I was trying to play it cool, but I was pretty excited to see him too.

Even though I am a political science major, I’d only seen one presidential candidate in person before, and that was Rick Santorum who, based on his current poll numbers, barely counts. I’d previously visited the Bernie headquarters and been keeping up with him on social media but I knew that seeing him in person was bound to be a completely different experience.

My sister and I weren’t alone in our excitement. It seemed like every sixth or seventh person at the Latino Heritage Festival was wearing a Bernie shirt or pin. Given the level of hype, I headed early to the small tent and two-foot tall platform from where he would be speaking.

I’d been told that this is how Iowa politics works. Politicians show up in the middle of nowhere and speak at Pizza Ranches and school gyms. However, Bernie was polling first in Iowa, beating the once unbeatable Hillary Clinton. It seems like he has the support of almost every liberally-minded college student I’d talked to. I just thought he’d get something bigger, a three-foot tall stage at least. So when I looked at his tiny platform, I was stunned. I suppose I didn’t mind though. It meant I got to stand in the second row.

Behind me, people started to congregate as it got closer and closer to Bernie’s time of arrival. Applause finally came a few minutes before five, and I saw a distinctive white patch of hair make its way through the pack. While being introduced, he gave a little wave to the crowd, who responded with a big cheer.

He took the stage and did what he does best. He criticized the Citizens United decision and how democracy is being manipulated by the corporate elite, reiterating that “this campaign is about bringing millions of people together…not just a handful of billionaires.” He vowed to reform financial regulation and fight for equality.

Sanders definitely connected with the audience. In front of several Latino voters, he said he was “profoundly disgusted” with how issues surrounding American immigration have been marred with racism and demagoguery. People can disagree on reform, he said, but racism in 2015 was inexcusable. He wants to bring the 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and offer a path to citizenship. Although the crowd was comprised of more whites than Latinos, his message aligned very well with the liberal-minded festivalgoers.

At the end of his speech, he took a question from Marlu Abarca, a member of the Latina mentorship program Al Exito. She asked about racial inequality, especially with regard to high minority incarceration rates. Bernie responded by vowing to end the war on drugs, repeal mandatory minimums, and put people in school so they are deterred from crime. Abarca says Sanders has her support because he is “fighting for people like me who come from low-income families.”

By the time the speech was over, I understood why my sister squealed like Sanders was some long-lost Jonas brother. The crowd simply loved him. As he left the stage, he was pursued by supporters and reporters alike. Among the throng, I lost him in the crowd temporarily. He was getting away! After picking up the pace a bit, I managed to catch up with him and meekly ask for an autograph. When I asked him, he was probably thinking about his speech in Newton later that day and the long road ahead of him, so I didn’t get to have the conversation with him that I would have hoped for. But that’s okay, I like him too much.