Exclusive: A sampling of Bernie Sanders backers at a Washington D.C. rally found many ready to vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump but others still angry over how the Democratic establishment sabotaged their cause, reports Chelsea Gilmour.
By Chelsea Gilmour
At a Bernie Sanders rally ahead of Washington D.C.’s last-in-the-nation June 14 primary, I wanted to get a sense of how his supporters would vote in the fall with Hillary Clinton now the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Based on media accounts of how “unruly” Sanders supporters are supposed to be, I was, frankly, somewhat surprised by the number of attendees who said they would vote for Clinton, although this could partly stem from the fact that the rally on Thursday took place in Washington, D.C. which is, by definition, more comfortable with establishment politics.
Many stated they would have no problem voting for Clinton in the general election especially in contrast to the Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump. “I will vote for Hillary in the fall as a vote against Trump but also as a vote for Clinton,” said one young woman from Maryland.
“I have no qualms voting for Hillary Clinton,” said another young woman from D.C., but she added, “I think Sanders’s campaign has been very important to the country during this critical moment.”
“I’ll absolutely vote for Clinton in the fall,” said a government employee originally from Iowa and now residing in Virginia.
Some people were more hesitant about Clinton, such as Kevin Hensler from Maryland, who said he would vote for her, but less enthusiastically than he would vote for Sanders.
Others were not yet ready to commit to voting for Clinton. “I’m an Independent voter. I have a preference towards Hillary at this point but I’m undecided,” said a middle-aged government worker who was attending the event with his 14-year old son, Ryan.
“If I could vote, I would vote for Jill Stein [from the Green Party],” said Ryan. “I think the mainstream media and the DNC [Democratic National Committee] have done a very unfair job” of covering the Democratic primaries.
“I’m still undecided,” said a 22-year old man. “I think the media has not been fair towards Sanders. They showed a preference towards Clinton and Trump.”
Still others completely rejected the idea of voting for Clinton in November. “I would rather eat my own hand than cast a vote for Hillary Clinton, and you can quote me on that,” said Nikki Diamantopoulos from Baltimore County, Maryland.
A socialist since she was 17, Diamantopoulos said this was her first time getting actively involved in a presidential campaign. She started a Facebook group called Forward Movement to facilitate a nonpartisan civil discussion about political and social issues. She also designed a Bernie Sanders T-shirt which she gave away to people who made a donation to the Sanders campaign. Through this exchange, she helped raise $2,000-$3,000 in donations to Sanders.
Diamantopoulos said she has been verbally advocating for Sanders in her rural part of Baltimore County, where a number of her neighbors and family members are Republicans and Libertarians. Through open and civil conversations, she said she shared Sanders’s platform and many of her neighbors have switched to supporting him. If he were to get the nomination, her lifelong Republican mother has pledged she would vote for Sanders.
Although rejecting Clinton, Diamantopolous did not indicate whom she might favor in the fall, but she did not seem to support Trump either.
One young man named Adam, who recently moved to D.C. from Virginia, told me that he would vote for Trump if Clinton becomes the nominee: “The way I see it, either Bernie fixes it, or Trump breaks it. I’d rather it be broken than continue on with the status quo under Hillary. … We need a change so people realize the system is broken.”
“My game plan in November is exactly the same as before [if Clinton takes the nomination] — I’m voting for Bernie Sanders,” said Sean Simmons, 27. “We fought to protect a democracy that isn’t even a democracy. … Maybe I’m being stubborn, but I couldn’t vote for any candidate who thinks it’s perfectly okay to cheat in elections. I know people who died for that.”
Sean said he would write in Sanders. He said he wouldn’t be badgered into voting for the so-called lesser-of-two evils, adding: “The American spirit is not one run by fear. This is a revolution — I’m not afraid.”
In a speech to the rally of several thousand supporters, Sanders repeated his warnings about income inequality and the need for fundamental change to put the government back on the side of the people. He also called for D.C. residents to turn out and vote in the primary on June 14.
“It would be extraordinary if the people of Washington, our nation’s capital, stood up and told the world that they are ready to lead this country into a political revolution,” Sanders said.
Sanders made no mention of his meeting with President Barack Obama earlier in the day or the President’s decision to endorse Hillary Clinton. That prompted Huffington Post to criticize Sanders’s speech for being “divorced from reality.”
But Sanders was making a larger point, that real change always happens from the bottom up, never from the top down — and requires commitment and determination: “What seems radical today will seem mainstream tomorrow, if we stand together and make those changes.” He referenced past fights for women’s suffrage and gay marriage and his current call for a $15 minimum wage, adding:
“What people also understand is that no president, not Bernie Sanders or anybody else, can do it alone. That what we need in this country are millions of people standing up, fighting back, and demanding a government that represents all of us, not just the one percent.”
While Sanders never mentioned Clinton by name, activist and academic Cornel West’s opening remarks alluded to the likely choice ahead: Clinton or Trump.
“In regard to this election, we know that brother Trump is a narcissistic neofascist,” West said. “And don’t let corporate media convince you that simply because you’re not crazy about the milquetoast neoliberal Sister Hillary that something’s wrong with you. But we know the difference between a neoliberal and a neofascist so you make your own decision.”
Other Sanders supporters looked at the bigger picture as they reflected on Sanders’s extraordinary campaign which excited millions of Americans, particularly young people. Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP, said in his opening remarks, “The future of America is represented by Bernie Sanders and his run for the presidency.”
At several points during the rally, attendees started chants of “Bernie or Bust” and “Stay in the race.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Simmons as a veteran.
Chelsea Gilmour is an assistant editor at Consortiumnews.com. She has previously published “The Mystery of the Civil War’s Camp Casey”; “Jeb Bush’s Tangled Past.”; and “The Clintons’ Paid-Speech Bonanza.”]