For the first time in American history, a National Day of Protest was held for an American presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. Typically activists protest against candidates in order to change their positions and move it toward the Left, but for once activists are rallying behind a candidate that they perceive to be championing their causes. At least 35 cities signed up to take part in the “March for Bernie” (“#MarchforBernie”) National Day of Protest for Sanders on Saturday, January 23, 2016, about a week prior to the Iowa Caucus. According to the Odyssey, at least 25,000 peaceful demonstrators took part nationwide. (The list of cities involved in the action can be seen here.)
But just like Sanders entire campaign, mainstream media blacked-out the event. The U.S. Uncut article the following day (January 24) read, “Media Shrugs as Thousands of Bernie Sanders Supporters March Across the Country.” It was absolutely true the media ignored the national events, which was in complete contrast to the previous national day of protests held the previous year for the Million Student March (11-12-15) and for BLM (Michael Brown/Freddie Grey). What accounted for this besides the obvious answer of the media ignoring a candidate “speaking truth to power?”
On the day of protest, Sanders spoke to potential voters in Clinton, Iowa. Sanders did come out in support of the national protests that night; but instead of leading one of the marches in a major city like MLK or other leading activists might, Sanders was tied down in Iowa because of his electoral obligation. Moreover, in lieu of Sanders leading the marches, activists nationwide were unable to garner the participation of well-known and famous Sanders supporters. This left the marches with only hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of local Sanders supporters without much fame.
Yet the mainstream media had one major excuse for ignoring the nationwide protests: the East Coast Blizzard. From January 22-24, the East Coast region from Mid-Atlantic to southern New England suffered from a Category 4 (“crippling”) snow blizzard, collecting around 20 to 30 inches of snow for millions of people. Several city protests were delayed until the following Saturday, January 30, including Philly, NYC and D.C. But some cities on the East Coast went ahead as planned. Over 500 marched in Buffalo, NY. In Boston, with visible snow on the ground, over 1,000 came out strong in support at the Boston Common.
Since the blizzard largely impacted the East Coast, cities more to the West were able to gain some publicity. The Herald News reported over 1,000 Bernie supporters protested in Chicago. One of the largest rallies occurred in Portland, Oregon, where more than 1,000 demonstrators marched, as reported by the Oregonian. The article wrote: “The top policy issue for many in the audience was the nation’s growing income inequality.” State Rep. Rob Nosse stated:”The bottom 75 percent of us saw a decrease in our real income between the decade of 2002 and 2012.” The Oregonian also captured the “diverse crowd with a creative bent,” which consisted of middle-aged people collecting signatures and young people applying creativity, such as a 19-year old building a “Be the Bern” photo station that had a hole to stick one’s face in to appear as Sanders. In short, the national March for Bernie protests effectively gained local news coverage for some cities, but gained national coverage for Bernie supporters via social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
The Philly, NYC and D.C. rallies were delayed until Saturday, January 30. In NYC, where Occupy Wall Street began in 2011, more than 3,000 demonstrators marched to Zucotti Park and repeated the chants of OWS, including “We are the 99 percent!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” It was undeniable that the OWS movement of 2011 is felt in the Bernie Sanders movement/campaign of 2016. Participants of both movement’s that day included famous OWS activist former Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis. Several hundred marched in Washington, D.C., that day as well, as reported by Fox 5 News.
I attended the #MarchforBernie Philly rally on January 30 at City Hall. In contrast to the week before, the weather was beautiful with a cloudless sky. Overall, roughly 800 persons took part in the march, considered to be a successful big rally in Philly. After an hour of speeches, we marched for almost an hour in the streets throughout Center City. Police were hardly noticeable that day as they escorted the march with only several officers visible, in contrast to the hundreds of aggressive officers that typically invade Philly protests. For this reason I found the rally to be relatively very optimistic and safe. The city’s most popular activist groups were present, including $15 Now and Philly Coalition for REAL Justice for BLM movement. A not-too-surprising speech was made by one BLM activist who denounced Sanders along with the entire DNC, saying black people and black culture couldn’t be saved by a white Democrat. This didn’t receive too much applause, except from veteran activists like Drew Geliebter, who held the Chomskyite view that the purpose of the Sanders campaign is to build a large coalition of various grassroots organizations. I completely agreed with Geliebter’s view, and I spoke with him at length afterward, laying down the foundation of my involvement in the 2nd #MarchforBernie protests.
The Philly rally was filled with progressive people I never saw before at the Philly BLM and 15 Now demonstrations. I was glad to see the Sanders campaign was at least drawing in new crowds of people into activism. In addition, this gave established organizations an opportunity to recruit young Bernie supporters. For example, I received tons of support and positive comments when I carried my 15-foot wide banner that read “Cannabis is Medicine.” Now a Second Sanders National Day of Protests has been called, a.k.a., “#MarchforBernie2”, for February 27. Under the East Coast Cannabis Coalition (ECCC), I have organized a “Cannabis Contingent” to join the second march, thanks to the cooperative effort of Drew Geliebter. NJWeedman will represent the cannabis community as a speaker. Bernie Sanders made dramatic calls that many in the cannabis community supports, including to federally deschedule the plant, but the ECCC is hosting the event not to endorse Sanders, but to push him to argue for full legalization, to criticize his appointments of prohibitionist to lead his state campaigns (such as John Wisniewski in NJ), and to criticize the DNC as a whole for running prohibitionist candidates.