When I crossed paths with a Democratic campaign consultant in Austin last March, I suggested he come to the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall to hear Bernie Sanders speak. The Vermont senator, I added, was pondering a presidential run.
“You gotta be kiddin’ me,” he snorted. “Bernie Sanders? Let me tell ya,’ his chances are slim and none, and Slim don’t live in Bernie’s precinct. First of all, no one south of Greenwich Village ever heard of him. Second, who’s gonna vote for some old senator from a tiny state of Birkenstock wearers damn near in Canada?”
He was a no-show, but we didn’t have room for him anyway. The hall was designed to seat 200 — but nearly 500 Texans showed up that night to hear the undiluted populist message of this senator “no one ever heard of.”
Austin was one of the stops on a cross-country trip that Bernie was taking to assess whether an unabashedly progressive, movement-building presidential campaign could rally any substantial support. If he ran, he intended to go right at the moneyed elites who’ve thoroughly corrupted our politics and rigged our economy to squeeze the life out of the middle class.
The big question was: Would anyone follow? Sanders wasn’t sure. Even if it might work, he assumed it would be a slow build.
I was to introduce him at the Austin event. As we worked our way from the parking lot, waving to the overflow group gathered outside, shaking hands with people standing in the hallway and stairwell, then squeezing through the jam-packed crowd in the auditorium — I said to him: “Something is happening here.”
Bernie nodded and said in an astonished whisper, “Something is happening.”
That surprisingly big night in Austin was a precursor to what would soon become the “Sanders Sensation,” a people-powered movement that has already shattered the Democratic establishment’s holy myth that corporate centrism and Super PAC money are the only means to victory. By going straight to the people, Bernie is proving that another way can work.