[By Marcia Milner-Brage in Waterloo, Iowa, USA]
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of 1,500 at Waterloo, Iowa’s West High School gymnasium last Saturday night. He held the crowd’s attention for 78 minutes, laying out his agenda if elected President of the United States in November 2016.
On the wall above the bleachers, next to a large American flag and the school’s team logos, were banners for Bernie (as he is affectionately known). A Future to Believe In. And: Feel the Bern. The crowd was representative of my fellow Iowans: Young and old. Black faces, brown faces, white faces. Blue collar and white collar. Conservatively dressed or wildly flamboyant with florescent dyed hair, nose rings and tattoos.
With a strong, unwavering voice tinged by a Brooklyn accent, his hands emphasising each point, the 74-year-old, white haired grandfather spoke, interrupted often by applause and the chanting of his name. Bernie! Bernie! His campaign is politics not as usual: he refuses donations from large corporation or special interests who want to control government. He is the people’s candidate, who support his bid for the Presidency with small donations, averaging $30. This underscores his belief that real change happens from the bottom up. He didn’t talk in hyperbole or sound bites. He set forth with clarity and detail the importance of reversing extreme wealth and income inequality and ending institutionalized racism. He extolled the necessity of offering free college tuition for all and guaranteeing health care based on the Medicare model. He was explicit about establishing a fair and secure immigration policy and how foreign policy in his administration would emphasize diplomacy, over military intervention. He urged "all Americans to condemn anti-Muslim hatred. We must not allow ourselves to be divided. We must stand together."
The democratic process, leading up to choosing a new President, is in full swing here in Iowa. Prospective candidates are rallying followers at gatherings like this all across the state. The Iowa Precinct Caucuses will be held on February 1st. While Iowa has a relatively small population, it is the first state to hold such an electoral event. Who wins in Iowa can be an indicator of who will become the party candidates at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in July. It was at Iowa’s Democratic Caucus in 2008 that Barack Obama came from behind to beat out Hillary Clinton and establish himself as electable for the Democratic Party nomination. This time, Sanders, running strong in the polls just behind Hillary Clinton, is working for a similar come-from-behind victory. From the throbbing buzz in the hall with Bernie Sanders rallying us from the lectern, this victory feels in reach.