S.F.'s Latest Loss to Oakland: Bernie Sanders

A Bernie Sanders rally

As usual, San Francisco's loss was Oakland's gain this weekend. But on Saturday, the loss was Bernie Sanders. 

With the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary at long last right around the corner, supporters of the 74-year old independent senator from Vermont — and the clear choice of the left to be the Democratic Party's nominee to succeed Barack Obama as president — put on simultaneous rallies in 30 cities across the country. 

But to feel the Bern in the Bay Area, you had to go to Lake Merritt. That's where the local rally for “Bernie Fucking Sanders” was moved from San Francisco, over fears of a conflict with — seriously — an anti-abortion march.

[jump] Despite the venture change and despite a cold and blustery Saturday, a crowd appeared that was more diverse in age, gender and race than one might expect for a septuagenarian from one of the country's whitest states.

But it seems the old man, who has a reported two million individual donors giving campaign contributions, is doing things no one expected.

“I’ve never felt so strongly about a candidate,” said Tom Kahan, a 64-year-old Oaklander who said he’s been voting for 45 years.

“His message is right on point,” said Patricia Rathwell, a 55-year-old who lives in Oakland and carried a “Latinos Para Bernie” sign.

“I’ve never done this before,” said 30-year-old Chris O’Brien, who came over from San Francisco and helped organize the event, an all-volunteer led march.

The entire two hours of Bern feeling had an air of something new and unknown for the attendees — which perhaps could easily be said of Sanders’s candidacy. 

“Bottom line is, that in fact we are in the process of doing something that nobody ever, ever dreamed could happen,” the senator himself said. “We have converted what was thought to be a fringe campaign to a campaign which has the establishment shaking. They are shaking.”


Sanders said that near the end of an 8 minute speech he live-streamed Saturday about an hour after the Lake Merritt march ended.

There were roughly 30 other March for Bernie events nationwide on Saturday, and during his speech Sanders even thanked the 2,000 house parties that were watching.

There’s something vaguely familiar about all this. Where have we seen this before?

In 2008, the guy going up against Clinton looked good in polls too. He was doing new things. Everyone talked about a revolution.

On Saturday, everyone talked about a revolution again — but one without Obama, whose presidency largely did not live up to the left's expectations.

Still, they chanted a familiar refrain: “Think we won’t win? Yes we can!”

Yet there’s no denying the numbers.

Tom Kahan wanted to point this out. He came to the march with bullhorn in hand, kindly informing the crowd about something he found on the internet earlier on Saturday. In the state of California alone, he discovered 19 campaign-supporting events planned for Clinton in the near future. “And for Bernie?” he asked the marchers. “Try 1,000.”

For Kahan and many others, including Patricia Rathwell, Sanders is speaking their language — one of inclusion and common sense.

Rathwell said the campaign is about working folks, a message that resonates with her as a teacher in the Berkeley Unified School District — and, she said, her peers as well. Though critical of Clinton, she admitted to supporting the former secretary of state in the 2008 primaries. But Rathwell dismissed the notion that Hillary might have an edge with female voters.

“Not the women I’m talking to,” Rathwell said, characterizing it as a matter of substance over some sort of gender alliance. She called Clinton a “corporate candidate” who would continue to foster the global image of the U.S. as an imperial nation.

For what it’s worth, organizers took a gentle approach to the march. It was originally planned to happen in San Francisco, but O’Brien said it was moved to Oakland so as to not interfere with the Walk for Life anti-abortion rally across the Bay.

Very polite.

The freshly-minted political organizer was one of many younger people at Lake Merritt on Saturday. O’Brien said he had never taken part in such an event, but felt compelled to join the movement.

“[Sanders] stands for the majority rather than corporate interests,” O’Brien said. “I agree with all of his stances.”

Saturday’s rally only came about five days prior. O’Brien said organizers launched a GoFundMe page Monday to raise $860 to cover the cost of the rally, and they hit the goal that day.

Seems to be a theme in the Sanders world.

Alas, not everyone at Saturday’s march was feeling the Bern. One young woman named Jessica, a self-proclaimed communist who was selling copies of the Workers Vanguard newspaper, said Democrats are just as evil as anyone else in the U.S.’s two-party political system. She wanted people to consider not supporting a single candidate, a path she would be taking.

When asked to elaborate on her beliefs, and provide her last name, Jessica scurried away and said she did not know she was speaking with the media.

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