The Comeback of the «Original»
Democratic Socialist darling Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proves she has the magic touch. After endorsing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at his comeback rally in Queens, New York, the irascible renegade is gaining fresh momentum.
It’s an October, Saturday afternoon in Queens, New York. Vermont Senator and Long Island, NY native, Bernie Sanders, could not have chosen a more auspicious day, or symbolic location, to launch his 2020 campaign comeback. The temperature is a sunny 11 degrees Celsius — the kind of ideal, fall, New York City sweater weather showcased in romantic comedies. Twenty five thousand cheerful, mostly young, Sanders supporters spill out of the public park wedged between the East River and the biggest public housing complex in New York City. The towering steel and glass Manhattan skyline glints across the watery chasm dividing the moneyed elite and working class of the sprawling metropolis.
After a long procession of warm up speakers — last and not least, superstar Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — Sanders strides onto stage to AC/DC’s rollicking “Back in Black” guitar riff.
Zohran Mamdani, a scruffy bearded, 28-year-old Bernie bro sitting next to me on a scattered riser, and I spontaneously turn to each other with wide grins. The iconic rock anthem may have been released before many in the crowd were born, but even Millennials, particularly these Millennials, appreciate a classic. I gently tease the young Democratic Socialist that AC/DC is very, very rich. We both laugh.
I then ask him the question of the hour: Is Sanders, fully a half century older than he, too old? Zohran pauses for a moment. “What I value is the clarity of the positions he holds.” Zohran’s father is from Uganda and his mother is from India. He was raised Muslim and earned his US citizenship, last year. He believes Sanders’ foreign policy is “heads and shoulders above everyone else.” As for Sanders’ recent heart attack which necessitated the 78-year-old’s display of rock and roll vigor, Zohran replies, “It didn’t shake my belief in him and his ability to win.”
“Jesus! Four and half hours on my feet!” Sanders campaign volunteer Gustavo Segredo collapses on the bench next to me. This is the first day the 66-year-old has ever volunteered for his Democratic Socialist hero.
Gustavo is wary when I ask if I can interview him for a Swiss magazine. “I’ve been to Switzerland for work. Switzerland is expensive!” He loosens up after I demonstrate that I can spell his first name without asking. Gustavo is a “survivor” of the 1961 Cuban Revolution and regards himself a “political refugee.” He prefers Sanders over progressive rival Senator Elizabeth Warren because, “There’s only one original.” Years of observing American politics has taught him, “Go for big! You might get less. But you gotta go for big!”
Joyce Goodman, an earlier bench-mate before she leapt to her feet for AOC, agrees. The white haired 59-year-old retired housing lawyer dismisses Warren. “Bernie takes it one step further.” She adds, “The strength of his convictions is revealed by his opponents taking on his talking points.”
Her second favorite politician in the rally line up, maybe even first, is AOC. “You’re going to see the crowd erupt when AOC comes on!” The Democratic primary field has spent months courting the former downtown bartender turned DC power broker. With her star power, massive online following, and vast Millennial appeal, AOC has become one of the most coveted endorsements in the party. Arguably, Sanders needs her more than she needs him.
OC tells the rapturous crowd, “It wasn’t until I heard of a man named Bernie Sanders” four years ago that she began to question the status quo. She points an accusatory finger at the skyscrapers across the river. “We need to change the system that prioritizes buildings like those over buildings like these” — the public housing next door. “He fought for these aims when they came at the highest political cost in politics. He fundamentally changed politics in America!”
I mention to Zohran that I’ve heard very little Trump bashing from the stage. He’s not surprised. “It’s more than just beating Trump. Trump is the natural occurrence.” He echoes many of the speakers, including AOC and the candidate, himself, when he tells me, “If you want to stop Trump, you have to stop the political reality in this country.”
Go big, or go home — something even Trump might say.