At Santa Monica rally, supporters praise Sanders’ ideological persistence as proof of authenticity

By Joe Piasecki and Jen Pellerito

Sen. Bernie Sanders drew about 3,000 to a campaign rally last Friday at the Samohi amphitheater
Photo by Alon Goldsmith

At the height of his presidential campaign’s powers in May 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders packed more than 6,500 people into the Santa Monica High School athletic field for a nearly 70-minute speech highlighting his standalone support for eliminating student loan debt and public college tuition, raising the minimum wage to alleviate wealth inequality, and implementing universal health insurance coverage.

He returned to Samohi last Friday to deliver more concise remarks to a crowd of about half the size in the school’s outdoor amphitheater, touching on many of the same ideas that — once widely regarded as radically left — are now closer to the mainstream among a packed field of Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls.

But in moving his party to the left, Sanders now faces the challenge of distinguishing himself from fellow progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who speaks in more granular terms, and other high-profile candidates who’ve released their own policy antidotes for expanding health care access, including Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris.

“I don’t think he stands out as much,” observed incoming Samohi senior Anan Waktole. She’s drawn to Sanders’ drive to eliminate cost barriers to higher education but feels Harris, in particular, has been espousing progressive values “in a way that keeps everybody engaged.”

Diehard Sanders supporters, however, remain energized by not only the content but also the consistency of his message.

“Bernie pushed everybody else further toward the progressive movement. Why vote for someone like Bernie when we have the real thing? He’s got the heart, the history,” 47-year-old Mario Quintana said.

“It’s his lifelong record — Bernie’s been this since day one,” Nilina Mason-Campbell, 33, said of Sanders’ mission to eliminate economic barriers to education and health care access. She’s less trusting of slicker Democratic presidential candidates, and was particularly turned off by Harris’ recent L.A. fundraiser photo op with Ariana Grande, Katy Perry and Demi Lovato.

“He has set the agenda for the rest of the Democratic Party,” said Marc Krigel, a retired aerospace worker.

Despite a lower turnout than the 2016 rally, last week’s crowd appeared more diverse — running counter to the Bernie bros stereotype of Sanders supporters — as did the roster of warm-up speakers, an ethnically diverse assortment of women that included an undocumented student, a local union leader, dynamic campaign co-chair Nina Turner and Sanders’ wife Jane.

But Turner in particular hammered home the consistency of Sanders’ decades-long ideological consistency by repeating the phrase: “#receipts.”

And for many Sanders supporters, his consistency demonstrates one quality other Democratic candidates have yet to convincingly offer them: proof of integrity.

“He sticks to what he believes in,” said 23-year-old Abril Martinez Lopez. “I really admire that he hasn’t changed his positions.”

“It all comes down to his authenticity,” said 26-year-old Colin Lamerdin.

Sanders concluded his remarks by emphasizing that the goals of his campaign — specifically improved wages and expansion of affordable housing, health care and education access — are bigger than his candidacy.

“It goes without saying that we have to do everything we can to defeat Donald Trump … but we’ve got to do more than that. We have got to take a deep breath and understand something that we don’t talk about as a nation. And that is: What are the economic rights of human beings? … And what this campaign is about is redefining what human rights are in America.”