It would be difficult if not impossible to gather 18,000 people for a rally in the Bronx and not have it called diverse. Compared with Sanders’s base of young, white college kids, this event was unrepresentative just by how representative it was. “There’s this whole talk about the Bernie Bro. I just don’t see it,” joked the campaign’s state director, Nadya Stevens, as she warmed up the crowd. “Apparently, all of you are white,” the actress Rosario Dawson said to cheers. “There must be something wrong with my eyes.”
Certainly not everyone there shared Jabul’s visceral distaste for Clinton, and many Sanders supporters said they would vote for the former New York senator over Donald Trump if it came to it. But this was no undecided crowd. The thousands who gathered around the main stage in St. Mary’s and the thousands more who stood in an adjacent overflow area were not there merely to get a look, to size up a political curiosity. They were all in for Sanders, chanting his name and frequently booing Clinton’s.
“She’s not honest,” said Tracy Moore, a 25-year-old Afro-Cuban New York University graduate who lives in the Bronx. “People in communities like this can’t trust her.” Moore said she was unemployed and described herself as politically apathetic before this election. “I love how authentic he is,” she said of Sanders. “He seems like the old man in his kitchen who will bang his hand on the table and really talk about these issues.”
Others in the crowd looked and sounded more like the young, white, politically liberal, and economically distressed voters who have helped propel Sanders across the country. Jessica Moisa, 28, is a waitress who works two jobs on Long Island, both of which pay less than the minimum wage and offer no benefits. “It’s really a no-brainer,” she said. “He’s the only one who actually cares about the real issues.” Clinton, Moisa said, was “a puppet. I don’t think she cares about changing any real problems.” She was at the rally with, Brett Polera, 22, a student at Suffolk Community College who noted that Clinton was “under investigation” and repeated a Trump canard that she “might not be allowed to run.” “I don’t know exactly what’s true,” Polera said.
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When Sanders made it to the stage shortly after 7 p.m., he followed Dawson, Spike Lee, and the Grammy winner Residente. His voice was hoarse—he had actually spoken first to the overflow crowd down the other side of the hill. He paused frequently to gulp from a bottle of water, and each time the crowd chanted his name, as if doing so would keep Sanders from losing the rhythm of his speech. “I am, as you know, the very proud United States senator from Vermont,” Sanders began, “but I am very proud that I was born here in New York City.” The crowd roared.
Sanders often sounds as if he’s on autopilot, and his fans have taken to finishing his most famous lines. Thursday night was no different. The South Bronx wanted to hear the classics, and Sanders gave it to them. “What this campaign is about is creating a political revolution,” he said. “You are the heart and soul of this revolution.” He mentioned the unacceptably high asthma rates among children in the Bronx, and he made sure to beef up his sections on criminal-justice reform and immigration. But the speech was pretty much the one he has given dozens of times before. When he talked up his pledge for a $15 minimum wage, he cited California and the many cities that had passed it into law. He didn’t bother to note that New York was on the verge of doing the same. Sanders did catch himself when he told the New Yorkers, as if they weren’t already aware, that Goldman Sachs was “one of the largest financial institutions.” The crowd booed loudly. “I gather you know about Goldman Sachs,” Sanders joked.