Throngs of suburban voters joined their city cousins at a political rally at Argo Community High School in Summit last Friday, cheering calls by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for “nothing short of a revolution” to build “an America for all, not just billionaires.”
Several thousand men, women and children lined the south sidewalk of 63rd Street in the late afternoon sun, stretching from the Argo doors near Harlem Avenue to Archer Road, some four blocks west.
Despite a wait of at least an hour for most to even get inside the high school, spirits appeared universally buoyant.
“I’ve waited all of my life for a presidential candidate I believe in this much,” said Orland Park resident Beth Stein, 66. “I think I can wait a couple hours more.”
A self-described liberal “former Rockefeller Republican” who came of age as a campaign volunteer in the early 1970s for Illinois Senator Charles Percy, Stein said she, like many, has grown increasingly troubled in recent decades “by the growing gap between rich and poor, black and white. I think we’ve lost our way as a land of opportunity, of fairness.”
Echoing the theme was Oak Lawn resident Barbara Travis, 47, who said she is “troubled by the school-to-prison pipeline, by an America where millions of young people don’t have the financial ability to go to college, so their options are mostly limited to the military or the penitentiary. We need to change that.”
Many in the line described Sanders, a career politician, as someone quite different from the usual candidates. Burr Ridge resident Mary Edwards said, “Bernie is not just a breath of fresh air. Bernie is pure oxygen. We need Bernie so badly. If he wasn’t there, we would have had to invent him.
“The man has been consistent from day one, and I am not a millennial,” added Edwards, a middle-aged woman. “That’s a bunch of baloney about ‘millennials for Bernie.’ There are plenty of millennials, but believe me, there are also a lot of people on Social Security who are desperate for Bernie Sanders.”
Adding a bit of levity to the line was Park Forest resident Jerry Nowatzke, a self-described shaman who blessed his fellow Sanders supporters with burning sage to “keep the Trump vibes away.”
He said he supports the Vermont senator’s candidacy mostly because of his honesty.
“He’s not a phony, he’s for real,” Nowatzke said. “He talks straight. He doesn’t re-arrange himself for focus groups or what some blog said. He is who he is, plain and simple. He’s like Harry Potter, whereas Trump is like Voldemort—you know, bad vibes, negative energy, greed, racism.”
While Trump’s scheduled rally Friday night at the UIC Pavilion was called off for security reasons and descended into shouting matches and fisticuffs between Trump supporters and several thousand protesters committed to disrupting and even stopping the event, the Sanders rally at Argo was orderly, with a strong law enforcement presence led by Summit police.
The Sanders crowd included people of all ages, yet the senator’s storied support among college-age adults was clearly present.
Summit resident Darrell Vanderbilt, a fairly recent Argo graduate, was one.
“Compared to the other presidential candidates, Bernie is by far the most honest,” he said. “I guess the biggest thing has to be that he’s not being bought. When you hear him speak, he’s passionate, he doesn’t sound practiced. My top three issues are the environment, money in politics, and the criminal justice system with education coming in as a close fourth. Bernie Sanders hits on all of them -- right on the head.”
Palos Hills resident Shannon Vincent, 19, sounded a familiar theme about the crippling costs of higher education.
“I’m $30,000 in debt from one year of college, and I don’t think that’s right,” she said. “Last year I went to Northern Michigan University, and this year I go to Moraine Valley. Just the amount of money that it was started messing with my head, and knowing that my family can’t afford this anymore made my grades start to drop. I had to transfer. I don’t think that it’s right that for one year of college I’m $30,000 in debt and by the time I pay it off it will be $60,000 just for that one year.”
Three hours after the Argo doors opened, Sanders was introduced by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-7th) to loud and sustained applause.
Sanders broke no new ground, delivering his standard stump speech and reiterating his promise to end what he calls the domination of the American economic and political structure by the super-rich. The crowd cheered his swipe at Republican front-runner Donald Trump for allegedly demonizing people of color, immigrants and Muslims. They also hailed his poke at Democratic rival Hilary Clinton for her ties with Wall Street billionaires.
A thunderclap of cheers and applause, however, was reserved for Sanders’ slap at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“I want to thank Rahm Emanuel for not endorsing me,” he said. “I don't want the endorsement of a mayor shutting down schools and firing teachers.”
Predicting that the outcome of the March 15 primary would all come down to voter turnout, Sanders insisted that his supporters do all they can to get their families, friends, neighbors, college classmates and co-workers to the polls. “When turnout is high, we win,” he said.