Bernie Sanders, a current front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary, gave much the same speech at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center on Sunday as the one he delivered there four years earlier. Just like his crowd in February 2016, Sunday’s estimated 11,000 rally-goers roared as he called for higher wages, aggressive climate action, and universal health care.
It is the consistency of his stances as much as the stances themselves, many told The Independent, that has retained the confidence of longtime backers and earned the admiration of new ones.
“Bernie does not change his positions. That’s what makes him different,” said Bryan Blakely, a retired lawyer from Fort Collins.
“There’s an authenticity to him. He does not wave in the wind,” added Sophie Doss, 25, of Colorado Springs.
“You just know, year in and year out, that Bernie stands firm, regardless of what else may be going on in politics,” said Fiona Matthews, a call center worker from Berthoud.
Matthews, 28, like many at Sunday’s rally, said she was “hardly involved in the Democratic process” until “Bernie energized me, mobilized me” and “woke me up” in 2016. She campaigned for him that year in Nebraska and got involved in the Democratic Party there as a result of that activism.
Since moving to Colorado, Matthews said she has been living paycheck to paycheck working in tech support for Constant Contact, a job she describes as a “prime target for automation.” She said she is unable to buy a home, let alone rent one without a roommate, and adds that she has health insurance, but the high deductibles and extra costs make her reluctant to use it.
Sanders, she said, speaks to her now more than ever.
“I went to college. I have a full-time job. You’d think I’d be doing way better than barely getting by. Bernie is the only candidate who gets what working folks are going through in this country. He knows how many of us are struggling,” she said.
Matthews made the two-hour trip to Sunday’s rally largely to marinate in the presence of others like her, and to remind herself she’s not alone.
“This is just the dash of hope I needed. It has been a rough month,” she said not only of her own challenges, but of the President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Attorney General William Barr’s intervention in federal criminal cases, and a nagging anxiety that Trump may occupy the White House for four and a half more years.
Supporters came by light rail, bikes, scooters, skateboards, church buses, and carpools to cheer the candidate who won the popular vote in Iowa and snagged a victory last week in New Hampshire. Millennials in hoodies, farmers in overalls, women in hijabs made their way through the blocks-long convention center hallways flanked by hundreds of Sanders volunteers with clipboards.
A group of Metro State students in “Bernie 2020” shirts crammed for a biology test as they waited for Sanders to take the stage. A man in a “Make America Smart Again” cap took a selfie with a man in a Bernie yarmulke while a boy in a “Unidos con Bernie” shirt looked on.
Grandchildren brought their grandparents in hope of turning them into Sanders’ voters. And parents brought their kids, saying they hoped to instill a faith in grassroots politics in a time of data mining and dark money, foreign election interference and fake news.
“I support Bernie for my kids and my grandkids, if I have them, as an investment in their future,” said Mona Cedillo of Aurora whose 19- and 22-year-old children live with her because “they’re not even close to affording their own places.”
The health care administrator said she also supports Sanders also in solidarity with the people she sees “every day who have to make decisions between getting life-saving surgery and going bankrupt.” And, as a Native American, she said she appreciates the Vermont senator for his willingness to hand the microphone to native people and his eagerness to “actually… hear them.”
Cedillo’s friend, Suzy Koehler of Denver, is in equal parts a Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporter.
“I’m not a cultist,” said the part-time English tutor and caregiver who said she has spent the last several months trying to “make peace” between friends backing one or the other candidate. “A lot of people on the Bernie side, well, it seems that if you don’t accept him as the Lord and Savior, you’re kicked out of the camp,” she said.
Although Koehler has doubts about Sanders’ electability, she joined the crowd Sunday in waving her “Bernie” sign when he spoke of raising “starvation wages” and providing health care for all. She waved it when he called for closing private prisons, ending cash bail and fixing “a broken and racist criminal justice system.” And she waved it especially high when Sanders spoke of ending what he called “the demonization of undocumented people.”
Across the room, Magdalena Estrada was waving with one hand a “Bernie” sign the candidate had autographed for her in 2016 and a flag from her native Mexico with the other. The 45-year-old postal worker and legal permanent resident said she drove alone from Guernsey, Wyoming, to support the candidate she would vote for if she were a citizen.
“People tell me that I don’t matter because I only have a green card. But that doesn’t keep me from sharing with everyone I know, everywhere I go, information about Bernie, who was recognizing people like me years ago and who actually, genuinely saw us.
“A candidate who is firm in his beliefs, consistent, is what I want for this country. And that is what I hope this country will want for itself.”