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AOC’s Endorsement Rally Revealed a Committed Sanders Movement

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LONG ISLAND CITY, NEW YORK – The basis of the “Bernie bro” trope was difficult to source in the sea of humanity gathered in Queensbridge Park Saturday for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders for president.

Almost on cue, attendees in the crowd scoffed at the stereotype of the Sanders supporter as a young, white, straight, socialist man. “Just look around, there’s a mix,” said 28-year-old Rodrigo Bastida, a dental technician from Long Island. Indeed, the crowd of nearly 26,000, as estimated by the Sanders campaign, stretched into the street adjoining the park and appeared to represent the full range of observable identities.

The presidential candidate most lauded for her crowd sizes, Elizabeth Warren, held a rally in the adjacent borough last month that compelled an estimated six thousand less adherents.

New York City’s diverse population was undoubtedly reflected in the crowd, but recent data suggests that Sanders has a truly broad coalition. An August poll from the Pew Research Center showed that white voters make up a smaller percentage of Sanders supporters than any of the other leading candidates: 49 percent of Sanders supporters are white compared to 56 of Biden’s voters and and 71 percent of Warren’s.

“I think it’s a wide coalition and an even wider one than back in 2016,” said Steve Alvarez, 37, a school psychologist from Astoria, Queens. The increasing racial diversity of Sanders supporters this time around may be true, as data shows Sanders favorability among black voters rises in direct proportion to his name recognition.

Even more of a blow to the “Bernie bro” stereotype is The Economist’s recent finding that Sanders has more women supporters in the under-45 age group than men.Sanders still trails in national polls—the latest from Quinnipiac University showed Warren at 30 percent, Biden at 27 and Sanders at 11 percent. But perhaps more tellingly for the candidates’ future prospects are the fundraising reports from last quarter and which Sanders triumphed, raising $25.3 million in the third quarter from a vast grassroots network who donated an average of $18.07.

Warren fell close behind Sanders, raising $24.6 million, while Biden, who unlike Warren and Sanders focuses his fundraising on courting wealthy donors, raised a relatively meak $15.2 million and has a surprisingly low amount of cash on hand. Saturday presented a stark contrast between these two strategies: A few hours after AOC and Sanders spoke to a crowd of 26,000 next to the largest public housing project in the country, Biden addressed a mere 280 people at a high-dollar fundraiser across the river in Manhattan.

Contrary to popular belief, Sanders and his campaign is far from its deathbed—and, in fact, appears to be building a strong broad-based coalition of American voters. The diversity on display at Saturday’s rally and differences among the attendees was not as striking, however, as the remarkable similarity in responses supporters gave for why they support Sanders.

“I’m here because everything I stand for I realized Bernie does too. Free healthcare, education, women’s and immigration rights” said Raquel Moren, a 42-year-old hospital patient advocate from Queens.

The connection between personal political beliefs and Sanders’s platform was the most repeated justification for support voiced by the over two dozen rally-goers interviewed. Of these attendees, healthcare was far and away the most important issue.

Student debt and the Green New Deal were also primary reasons attendees said they support Sanders. Thomas Gabriel, a 30-year-old conductor for New Jersey Transit who lives in the Garden State, said he graduated college with $93,000 of student loan debt and even though he’s paid into it, the balance has not gone down because the interest rates on his loans are so high.

Corruption is out of control. No one is going to fight for us the way Bernie will,” said Gabriel.

The idea that corporate and political corruption undergirds all of other issues—

inequality, healthcare, and climate, to name the most cited—was espoused by almost every supporter interviewed. Student loan rates are exorbitantly high. The pharmaceutical, insurance, and for-profit hospital companies make healthcare unaffordable, and thus inaccessible to a large chunk of Americans. The fossil fuel companies and their lobbies hold the green energy sector hostage, said Sanders supporters.

This conclusion about the root of corruption, many attendees said, led them to be skeptical of capitalism. “I don’t like capitalism, because I think it’s just greed,” said Moren.

Sanders, countless rally-goers said, has stood up to corporations and promoted policies to regulate them and lessen wealth inequality, with a longer track record than any other candidate in the Democratic primary field. “He’s the only candidate that will get things done. He isn’t lying or pandering and doesn’t take corporate money and wasn’t a Republican in the 1990s,” said 21-year old New York City resident Alex McKay, a glancing reference to Warren (who hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since Gerald Ford, as she told The Intercept’s Ryan Grim).

Sanders’s consistency was cited time and again as inherently tied to a commitment to people. “He just wants a better quality of life for all people,” said Moren.

Like the centerpiece of a Russian nesting doll, Sanders’s commitment, in his own words, to a “government of compassion and justice and decency” for all people is why attendees said they support Sanders, and also why his message captures such a diverse audience.

In 2016, Alvarez, the school psychologist, said he was excited about the chance to support the first potential woman president. But when he examined both candidates’ policies, Sanders came to the forefront because of his consistency in promoting progressive policies. This round, Alvarez said he again examined all the candidates. “I’m always looking to support diversity and people of color in elections, and thought Bernie should maybe sit this one out, but when I looked at all the policies his really stood out again,” said Alvarez.

Many attendees voiced the belief that supporting Sanders was not a repudiation of identities— important ones involving race and gender and sexual orientation—but a claiming of a shared one, as human beings. The idea of a common humanity that deserves respect, quality healthcare, a healthy planet was repeated by both AOC and Sanders in their respective speeches.

“We have to change the fundamental logic of a system and a politics that puts corporate profits ahead of all human and planetary costs,” said AOC. This movement to put people and planet above profit will require a multiracial, multi-gendered, multi-generational, and multi-geographic movement she said.

Sanders repeated the message of shared humanity amidst diversity: “Unlike Donald Trump, we are not going to divide the American people up based on the color of our skin, our gender, where we were born, our sexual orientation, or our religion. In fact, we’re going to do exactly the opposite. We’re going to bring people together.”

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