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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

At the Bernie Sanders block party in BK

Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at

Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a Future to Believe In rally at Afton High School on March 13, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo Credit: Getty Images/ MICHAEL B. THOMAS

At the Brooklyn block party marking the opening of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ first campaign office in New York on Saturday, a speaker gearing up for Easter asked the crowd “What would Jesus do?”

“Vote for Bernie,” someone shouted.

The sense of the senator from Vermont as a savior has solidified for many, in his journey from abysmal name recognition and three percent polling to serious contender for the Democratic nomination, though even with expected strong performances today in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii caucuses he will continue to trail Hillary Clinton in the delegate race.

Like the borough in which he was born, Sanders has become a standard bearer for a certain way of life.

That Brooklyn mélange of old and new, young and old, was on display at the kick-off event this afternoon, which featured music, speeches, and an introduction to canvassing.
Supporters could be seen sporting such items as a “Help us Bernie Sanders, you’re our only hope” sweatshirt and a Bernie hat with a small fake bird perched on the brim, an (oh so quick) reference to yesterday’s internet sensation, when an emissary from the avian world visited briefly on Sanders’ podium.

A Gorilla Cheese food truck provided the necessary new-Brooklyn flavor, though a true block party, at least in the Brooklyn neighborhood where Sanders grew up, would have certainly included rows of barbecues and possibly an inflatable bounce house.

The crowd was relatively diverse in the way of some Celebrate Brooklyn concerts in nearby Prospect Park — not a racial utopia, but not entirely homogeneous either; mostly young supporters, but joined by a number of longtime residents smiling at the energy around them.

For many supporters, Sanders is shorthand for a whole host of progressive beliefs, from climate action to anti-gentrification, that go beyond a binary preference for who in particular sits in the Oval Office — beyond, perhaps, even the scope of Sanders’ campaign  and what he could hope to accomplish.

It is this evolving, dynamic package of interconnecting issues and beliefs that the senator has been able to tap into, while his opponent is depicted as the staid, strict propagator of the status quo. Of course, you only become the status quo by retaining support for some time, as Clinton has in New York, the state she once served as senator.

After the festivities, a crowd of supporters picked up canvassing packets and went out into wider Brooklyn, to try their hand at proselytizing too.


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