This is a sentiment you might hear shouted aloud during an argument over cell phone carriers. You may have even shouted this aloud while waiting for the cable man to show up at your home. But it is not typically something that is shouted from the stage of a presidential rally before tens of thousands of people. Except last night, it was.
The rally was in Washington Square Park, near NYU, where an estimated 27,000 Bernie Sanders fans had filed in a raucous but mannered way into every last open inch of the park’s expanses and pathways. The crowd looked like the entire population of NYU including professors, plus the contents of a couple hundred subway cars chosen at random. It looked like New York. The speaker was a vice president of the New York City Transport Workers Union, which just this week endorsed Bernie, helping to close his gap in union support. In the crowd, near the stage, were hundreds or possibly thousands of other unionized Verizon workers who just that day had gone out on strike. On stage, the speaker inveighed in a pleasing accent against “god damn millionaires” out to cut the working man’s benefits. Then he leaned in and declared, “Fuck Verizon!”
The crowd cheered. We all cheered. The palpable, honest detestation of a big bad corporation was a refreshing feeling to behold on the campaign trail. We basked in it.
Chris Shelton, the head of the Communication Workers of America, the Verizon workers’ union, got a warmup speaking slot to further the Fuck Verizon them. “There are lots of candidates who cause strikes,” Shelton growled. “There’s only one who marches on picket lines!” That would be Bernie. To be fair, Hillary Clinton also made a brief appearance with Verizon workers yesterday, but then people pointed out that she has also taken whopping amounts of money from Verizon itself, so the love came out in the wash.
The last warmup speaker preceding Bernie was Spike Lee, who is not a great public speaker but who does have the “Is Brooklyn in the house?” thing down pat, which is the important part. “Are you tired of the okey doke?” yelled Spike. “Are you tired of the rooty poops? I got some Mike Tyson—skullduggery! Hoodwinked! Bamboozled!” Spike did fine.
Bernie Sanders took the stage to the sort of applause that would have accompanied a Biggie Smalls resurrection. In the past decade-plus, this city has seen plenty of major protests, but it has never seen an actual presidential campaign being conducted seriously within its borders. New Yorkers are used to thinking of themselves as the center of the world. Presidential politics is one of the only arenas in which we can’t make this claim. Campaigns are conducted in Iowa and New Hampshire and other decidedly non-New York City places like that. This city raises the money for politics; this city turns out the largest crowds to yell angrily about political issues; but this city is not often paid genuine attention by presidential candidates. It is a nice feeling. On top of that, we get a candidate from Brooklyn. This sort of thing causes paroxysms of pride in native New Yorkers. And amid his talk of corporate greed, and income inequality, and the folly of the Iraq War, and Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speeches, and the modest size of his average campaign donation (“TWENTY SEVEN DOLLARS,” the crowd chanted, without a hint), Bernie Sanders last night paused to call out the Stonewall Inn, just a few blocks from where he was speaking, where gay patrons rioted in 1969. I imagine that it felt unlikely then that a presidential candidate would be paying them respectful homage nearly 50 years later.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hand of God.” So reads the inscription atop the handsome marble arch in Washington Square Park that framed Bernie Sanders’ stage last night. I don’t really know what it means, but it sure looked dramatic if you were standing out there. New Yorkers are often accused of being too harsh, too cynical. But they are also prone to periods of teary, runaway sentimentality about Our Fair City. This emotion is usually prompted by 9/11 memorials or the New York Mets, but now Bernie Sanders has triggered it again. This emotional pendulum, though, will never swing too far for too long. It is held in check by the reality of living among other New Yorkers. After the rally was over, in the West 4th Street subway station, a middle-aged man and a college-aged girl covered in “BERNIE” stickers revved each other up with increasingly angry assessments of Hillary Clinton, culminating in the girl screaming, “I think she’s a fascist!!”
It is nice to know that, at least for a few weeks, the rest of America is being forced to listen to New York City’s hysterical, grating, and accurate political voice.