Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cornel West, Tim Robbins and Mike Bonin draw contrasts among Democrats to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders at massive Venice campaign rally

By Joe Piasecki

Bernie Sanders addresses 14,000 people on Venice Beach
Photos by Ted Soqui

You didn’t have to feel the Bern to be awed by the sheer number of people who turned out Saturday for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ post-debate presidential campaign rally on Venice Beach — more than 14,000 packed onto the boardwalk a block behind the Venice Sign, according to a fire marshal’s estimate.

The energy felt more like a rock concert than a political speaking engagement, with firebrand New York progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and surprise appearances by public intellectual Cornel West and actor Tim Robbins (a Venice local) whipping up the crowd to make the case for not just a political campaign, but an expansive new progressive agenda in American politics.

And if 78-year-old Sanders is the architect of that movement, 30-year-old Ocasio-Cortez — greeted with chants of “AOC! AOC!” — is taking the reins as its spokeswoman.

“One of the things that makes this campaign different is that we know we can’t go back to the way things were before. Because the way things were before is how we got to where we are now,” she said, attempting to draw a line in the sand between Sanders’ progressive credentials and those of his opponents.

Exploiting the viral moment of Thursday’s presidential debate at Loyola Marymount University — Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “wine cave” attack on South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Buttigieg’s rebuttal admonishing late-in-the-game “purity tests” excluding wealthy campaign donors — Ocasio-Cortez took a swing at them both on Sanders’ behalf.

“For anyone who accuses us of instituting purity tests, it’s called having values. It’s called giving a damn,” she said. “We cannot go back to a world where the rich are put first and working people are put last in Washington. … If we’re measuring success with stock prices and not wages, we have a problem.”

(Notably, when interrupted by a heckler near the podium, she responded: “It is fascism, what we have, what we’re evolving into.”)

West, who introduced Ocasio-Cortez, used his time to argue a moral imperative for shifting federal policies from emphasizing economic and military might to the well-being of its citizens — an agenda, he said, built on love.

“Justice is what love looks like in public,” said West. “That’s why we’re here in solidarity. At the level of our humanity. And we don’t see a lot of hate, but we know a milquetoast neoliberal liberal politician when we see one. We’re looking for a serious critique of Wall Street — not hating rich folk, but hating greed, greed, greed!”

Discussion of housing affordability and homelessness was notably absent from the Democratic debate, and Sanders appears to be capitalizing on these issues. Prior to the rally, Sanders met with local activists inside the nearby Hotel Erwin to announce that he would sign on to the Housing Guarantee pledge to support universal rent control, increase public housing investments and commit to eradicating homelessness.

“Virtually every place I go the discussion about gentrification, about high rents, about homelessness, is at the top of the agenda. This is an issue that Congress has ignored. When we are in the White House together we will not ignore this issue,” Sanders told the gathering.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes Westside neighborhoods, was the first at the rally to raise the local housing affordability and homelessness crises in early remarks endorsing Sanders.

“We stand near neighborhoods that have been ravaged by [real estate] speculators and conglomerates pushing people out. This is a neighborhood that is home to 1,000 refugees from a rigged economy, from a failed health care system, from a broken criminal justice system, from a racist society and from a corrupt political system,” Bonin said.

In his first public announcement to endorse Sanders, Robbins spoke of “a raging discontent in this robust economy” in which voters are “asked to take sides to define ourselves by our differences … to distrust the other, to hate the other.

“As long as we buy into that,” Robbins said, “we will never unite against the ones profiting from this division.”