Stetsons and the Sixties: Among the Bernie Bros in Texas
Our writer catches up with Sanders supporters and finds them jazzed with the spirit of a decade gone by.
“Bernieee Yo-da! Bernieee Yo-da!” So said a man holding up a T-shirt with Baby Yoda dressed in a blue cape with “Bernie” on its chest, above “Feel the Bern 2020.”
Then came a commotion to my side, as seems foreordained at these sorts of political rallies.
A young man in a Stetson holding a microphone was haranguing a white-haired man playing a guitar emblazoned with a big “Bernie” sticker.
“You could never play that under communism!” exclaimed the Stetson wearer, as two other men similarly dressed in black circled, videoing the scene. “It wouldn’t be allowed!”
A short distance away, another man, going red in the face on a bullhorn, continued an even more belligerent tirade about communism, surrounded by a phalanx of heavies.
Is that Alex Jones? Sure enough, the team behind InfoWars, the far-right American conspiracy theory and fake news website, had come to stir the pot before Bernie Sanders’ Sunday rally in downtown Austin, Texas.
Having filmed their clickbait, the InfoWars mob headed in the opposite direction, towards the estimated 12,000 people arriving to root for Sanders at the end of his weekend spent barnstorming across Texas, with previous rallies in El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston.
While Jones was out for a stunt, he is not alone in playing the communism card or accusing Sanders of being extreme—similar criticisms are coming from within the Democratic Party. But Sanders’ brand of populism is clearly working. He has garnered the highest number of votes in all three caucus/primary states so far.
Hence, despite an uncharacteristically dark Texas sky, there remained a palpable sense of the 1960s revolutionary spirit that had been evident the night before during the pre-rally Austin Bands for Bernie music festival.
While the Nevada results came in, a lady strummed her guitar and sang about traveling out of state to New Mexico for an abortion. Next, a “psychedelic six-piece ensemble” played against a video screen backdrop of trippy swirling colors.
“Bernie’s anti-war platform is what first put me onto him,” said 41-year-old Lucas Diercouff, a Texans for Bernie volunteer wearing an “Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran” baseball cap (he spent five years as a combat medic). “He’s going to slash the defense budget to fund these great plans. I don’t want others to be in the same position as me of not being able to afford college.”
As the evening progressed and the bands played, I kept finding myself talking to highly articulate women in their early twenties exuding great gusto. I couldn’t tell if it was the senator’s effect or my own biases.
“I’m only 23, and I have so much energy,” said one. She spends 25 hours a week volunteering for Sanders and other local Democratic candidates on top of her job as an Accenture analyst.
“This is a movement, not just an election,” said one 24-year-old, as a gentle smell of marijuana enshrouded us. I suspect she was a little high herself: she managed to drop “ameliorate” into the conversation without batting an eyelid over her intense dark eyes beneath a tomboy haircut.
“He is going to change the way people think permanently,” she said, “so this country can catch up with other developed countries.”
The spirit of the ‘60s was certainly alive at the rally for one aging hippy, who drew comparisons between Sanders’ efforts and those of George McGovern, another liberal maverick who ultimately failed to win the Democratic nomination in 1968. McGovern’s subsequent, long-shot, grassroots-based 1972 presidential campaign split the Democrats ideologically.
“Elite Democrats: Is fighting for racial, environmental, social and economic justice really that radical??” asked a placard. The rally crowd testified—as would be proven in Nevada—to Sanders’ ability to assemble a multiracial coalition of younger black voters, Muslim mothers in hijabs, Latinos, white liberals, and moderates.
“For so many years, people have been saying that the Latino bloc just needs to rise up, and now that they are doing it, people are downplaying it,” says a 35-year-old man. “We are seeing more young students and Latinos mobilized than in any other electoral cycle I have seen since 2000.”
“Have you noticed how the mainstream media undermines every win of his?” asked 23-year-old Anthony Dilizia, dressed in a snazzy stars and stripes-themed jacket and tie. “Bernie is challenging both Republicans and the Democratic establishment.”
That’s exactly what the 78-year-old senator did once onstage. He took to task every industrial complex going—cue lots of booing—while reaffirming—cue cheers and clapping—Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free college tuition, erasing college debt, legalizing marijuana, and much more.
At the end, as the crowd dispersed, I heard a woman opine to her young friends that she “wasn’t sure with some of the things he said…” and then she was out of earshot. I set off in search of what could prove a dissenting voice.
“Oh, I am very much aligned with all he said,” she explained once I caught up with her. “What I meant was that when he was talking about all the terrible things that we need to sort, I didn’t know whether to clap or boo.”
James Jeffrey is a freelance journalist and writer who splits his time between the U.S., the UK, and further afield, and writes for various international media. He previously served in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan with the British Army. Follow him on Twitter @jrfjeffrey and Instagram james_rfj.