I was at Bernie's San Francisco Campaign Rally. It was mediocre as hell.

"Sister" Nina Turner leads SF Bernie crowd in what appears to be an almost religious ritual. I have been told this is NOT a cult.
Bernie Sanders ended his swing through California yesterday with a rally in San Francisco. I was there to cover the rally for Vetting Bernie 2020. My observation is in line with that of several news organizations, which said the rally was attended by "thousands" of people, but not tens of thousands, or the 17,000 the campaign claimed. I have not yet seen any local reputable news organization independently verify the campaign's claim.

The other reason my instinct tells me the crowd was thinner than campaign estimates is the drive up. There was no extra traffic going into the city for this time on a regular Sunday. There would have to be quite a bit of traffic if 17,000 people showed up with any significant portion of them from outside the city. The AT&T Park in San Francisco has a capacity of 41,000, for example, and whenever there is a game, freeways coming into the city are absolutely bottlenecked for hours, not just the streets. A crowd of 17,000 should cause a little less than half that traffic, but nope, nothing.

The crowd was white.

But crowd size wasn't Bernie Sanders's only problem, at least not in San Francisco. In an area that is majority minority, the Sanders rally was characteristically and largely white, and mostly male. The greater San Francisco bay area is almost 60% non-white, and Bernie's rally-goers were anything but representative of the area population. Now, the city of San Francisco itself has backslid in terms of diversity thanks to the gaping problem of gentrification and is becoming whiter while every other bay area county is becoming less so.

Which, incidentally, would raise another issue. Did Bernie Sanders choose San Francisco knowing it is becoming more white, and therefore, more comfortable for him? I can't say for sure, but if not, I must interpret the rally as having been intended for all bay area residents, and judge it against the whole Bay Area demographics.


It's not that there were no people of color at the event. They were just very few relative to the number of white attendees. And in my observation, the people of color at the event were decidedly less enthusiastic than white supporters. I was standing toward the back of the crowd in front of the stage but still inside the checkpoint, so admittedly, I can't speak to the crowd right in front of the stage, which the campaign likely "staged" to look more diverse and more fired up. But since I was toward the back, I had a wider view and observed more people overall (you know, larger radius and all that, do the math). And it was so white, you could think it's a Trump rally. To get an idea of just how white the rally was - and understanding the limitations of photos, I can always be accused of cherrypicking the white people in the crowd, others not - watch this video of people streaming out once the rally ended.


And here, actually, are a couple of photos posted on Twitter by Bernie fans.


The crowd did not look particularly young to me, either. There were plenty of young people, and youth was not nearly as underrepresented as people of color, but the overall age of the crowd was much older than what we have been led to believe about the usual Bernie rallies.

Quite subdued relative to Bernie's 2016 rallies

Perhaps it's a corollary to the noticeable drop in the proportion of young people, but the crowd was not nearly as boisterous as Bernie's rallies used to be. Sure, the crowd hooted and chanted, cheered and applauded at all the right places during the speeches from Bernie Sanders as well as those from the lead-up acts, but the thunder, the rock-star concert type electricity, is gone. The section of the crowd in front of the stage was much more excited than those further toward the back, but I have been in campaign rallies where you could not hear the person standing next to you even if you were in the back of the crowd, and this was not that.

During the speech from the candidate himself, the most lukewarm response came when Bernie Sanders talked about race (you can verify from his own campaign video on Twitter, he begins talking about racial justice around the 56:45 mark). Sanders lacks passion on race - as do his crowds - and his attempt to make it up by throwing out a few statistics is a poor substitute. Bernie Sanders refuses to apologize for mocking southern blacks for living in the deep south, for finger-wagging at Black Lives Matters protesters, for trying to dump his state's nuclear waste on a poor Latino community, or for berating non-white, non-male candidates for making their identities part of their campaigns, and Sunday was no different. Bernie Sanders has never acknowledged that institutional racism is reflected and exposed by statistics but it is embedded and perpetuated by attitudes. His sucks.

At any rate, my point here is not to rail about Bernie's lack of racial empathy. My point is more to demonstrat why, I think, Sanders and his crowds simply do not feel all that comfortable talking about race. It is much more a "gotta do it so we don't get called racist" CYA than a demonstration of how strong the candidate feels about it.

Other parts of the speech, covering a range of topics from free college to economic hardship to climate change got much better responses, but once again, nothing near the response we saw last cycle.

I quite suspect that this is a point on which the campaign would secretly agree with me. During her introduction of Bernie (she was not the only one to introduce Sanders), she suddenly asked attendees to put up both their hands in an act that appeared to me very much like a religious cultish behavior (photos at the beginning of this essay). I do not think it is entirely unreasonable to believe that Turner had to explicitly ask for a response from the crowd because she didn't get the spontaneous response she was expecting.

The local official parade was third class.

Perhaps not all of the crowd's lack of enthusiasm can be blamed on Nina Turner, however. Before Turner and Ro Khanna - Bernie's see-I-have-POC-friends shields - spoke, the campaign brought out some local politicians to speak on behalf of the campaign. Tom Ammiano - a San Francisco supervisor in the 1990s and an assemblyman from 2008 to 2014, compared Bernie Sanders to Harvey Milk, before Nina Turner anointed Bernie a mix of Teddy Roosevelt and Barbara Jordan. I quite suspect the reason people love comparing Bernie Sanders to dead heroes is that the heroes won't dispute them, which they would if they were alive.

The chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party also spoke, but he conceded he was not speaking for the party. Just out of curiosity, what was Bernie Sanders supporters' position when party officials endorsed Hillary Clinton during the last primaries? Funny how the establishment is very much welcome among Bernie's spheres, as long as they support Bernie.

The only remotely interesting pre-intro speech came from the head of the remnants of the Bernie campaign in San Francisco from 2016, now known as the San Francisco Berniecrats, Claire Lau. Lau spoke with passion and seemed to truly believe in a message.

Bernie's base is not expanding.

But Lau's presence, as well as those of almost everyone on stage, combined with a relatively older crowd (older compared to Bernie's 2016 rallies that is) also points to another reality: Sanders has gained very few, if any, new supporters even in liberal cities like San Francisco. Few outside his 2016 contingent seem to be jumping on his 2020 train, and as we all know, in 2016 Hillary Clinton beat Sanders badly in California.

All in all, the San Francisco rally wasn't the worst thing a campaign could see 10 months before anyone votes, but for someone whose entire claim to fame is adulent crowds and someone who's famous for running for president, the event was mediocre as hell.



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