When presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders addressed a Dececember 21 California campaign rally he railed against “more extreme weather - Venice, Italy is underwater.” But with an overflowing crowd of more than 14,000 people assembled on the sand and boardwalk, the democratic socialist’s supporters flooded that other Venice - L.A.’s bohemian beach known for weightlifters, tattoo parlors, skimpily-clad sidewalk skaters and street performers.
Beneath a sunny sky the masses listened for about three hours to the candidate and his advocates, including local musicians, activists, politicians, Prof. Cornel West, actor Tim Robbins and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the “Squad’s” socialist superstar. The Grammy Award-winning Mexico City-born brother/sister duo Jesse & Joy performed original songs and covered John Lennon’s “Imagine” in Spanish and English. They urged people to “vote hate out of office, together we’re stronger.” Joy insisted: “Remember to register.”
The Irvine-formed alternative rock band Young the Giant played their hit “Superposition” and a song especially for Bernie. The Silver Lake-based indie band Local Natives also performed, with the music serving to enhance the uplifting vibe of the campaign event that posed itself as a movement for unification as opposed to Pres. Trump’s campaign for division. In between speakers the Youngbloods’ classic 1967 song “Get Together” was played over the P.A. system, epitomizing the crowd’s upbeat mood.
L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, a Democrat who represents Venice, recognized the Native Americans from what is now the 11th District and “celebrated diversity in a neighborhood with 1,000 refugees.” He raised a number of Sanders’ campaign standards, including taxing billionaires, Medicare for All, rent control and rising oceans. Another Democratic councilmember, former State senator Gil Cedillo, reiterated many of the same themes and stressed a pro-immigrant message. “Whether you are with or without papers, work has dignity,” the third generation Mexican-American proclaimed.
A multi-cultural female trio of speakers from the Brooklyn-based Center for Popular Democracy Action network went on to address the masses, in Spanish and English. Board chair Christina Livingston announced that Center for Popular Democracy Action (CPDA), which she said has 600,000 members in 34 states, is endorsing Bernie, who “advocates bold solutions [to the affordable housing crisis]…It is shameful that in [California] 130,000 brothers and sisters…are living on the street every night.” Immigrant rights organizer Anna Maria Archila - who’d confronted Sen. Jeff Flake in a Senate elevator during 2018’s Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation struggle - told the multitude Bernie would “end the ICE raids” and repeated the United Farm Workers’ time-honored slogan: “Si se puede!”
CPD’s Jennifer Epps-Addison declared: “What we have to understand…is another world is possible…Black people in this country deserve so much more than just not being killed by the police. That is not freedom! …Our immigrant brothers and sisters deserve so much more than to just not have their children separated…I ask you to believe 100% in your soul that this political Revolution has the power not just to defeat Trump but to build a country where we all have the freedom to thrive…When we say ‘We are unstoppable,’ you say” - and in the call-and-respond tradition the throng picked up the chant: “Another world is possible!”
African American Assemblymember Reggie Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr. confessed in 2016 he was “a Hillary person” and until recently backed Sen. Kamala Harris until she withdrew from the presidential primary contest. Now, Jones-Sawyer admitted he has “started to feel the ‘Bern,’” and announced his endorsement of Sen. Sanders.
So did Oscar winner Tim Robbins, who spoke movingly about the drama program the Culver City-based Actors’ Gang, which Robbins is Artistic Director of, brings to train prisoners. The co-star of the 2004 prison classic The Shawshank Redemption revealed how the ability of convicts “to overcome hate” inspires him to resist “hateful division and raging discontent” to “hate each other,” fomented by Trump. Robbins lauded Sanders, who was “elected because of his spirit of inclusiveness - it was not money that got him there. It was in service of the people. Bernie has stood up for the oppressed for years. He’s been arrested and spent his entire life marching on picket lines. He’s what my grandfather called: ‘The genuine article.’”
Citing John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” Professor Cornel West also rousingly endorsed Sanders for president. “We know milquetoast neo-politicians when we see one. We look for anti-greed politicians,” the leftwing academic thundered, then asked the thousands of rally-goers: “Are you ready for the Revolution?” as he introduced the youngest U.S. Representative in American history, 30-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, card carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Clad - appropriately - in red, the charismatic congresswoman took the stage immersed in a sea of cheering voters, declaring: “Justice is what love looks like in public!” AOC went on to outline her socialistic vision of what a “loving” and “advanced society” would look like: It “guarantees healthcare to all people. Education of equal quality. Education for the century to come. Tuition-free public colleges. Make sure the planet we give our kids [is sustainable]. We can’t continue an imperialist foreign policy. Human rights are the central focus here and abroad…We can’t go back to the way things were before - that’s how we got to where we are today. The rich are put first and the workers last in D.C.”
Ocasio-Cortez went on to say: “The military explodes our budget. Nobody’s talking about [the Pentagon budget] is $120 billion more now than it was during Obama’s last year in office. Not once was I asked whose taxes will pay for this? They only talk about taxes when it comes to kids, saving the planet, healthcare It’s the ultimate hypocrisy. Do we want a wealth tax? Yes! Do we want a Wall Street transaction tax? Yes! Budgets are moral documents…We need a radical realignment of priorities,” to which the Puerto Rican socialist received an ovation.
However, someone in the crowd heckled AOC to which she responded: “It is fascism, what we have, what we’re evolving into.” The generally poised young congresswoman was momentarily flustered and admitted to being “a little thrown off” by the disrupter. I tried to find out who the heckler was and what he/she said that caused Ocasio-Cortez to briefly stumble and inquired via email with several members of the Sanders media team - but no one bothered to respond. Suspecting someone from the far left had challenged AOC I likewise made two inquiries by email and two via phone with the militant Refuse Fascism movement and received replies to my emails stating they did not know. One response said I’d be informed if anything was found out, but I did not get any additional info.
Nevertheless, AOC showed herself to be a thoughtful, gifted orator - the youthful, beautiful new face of American socialism, or what passes for it. She urged people to contribute what they can for the movement, from donating small amounts of money to volunteering to knock on doors and, she repeatedly said, making art for the cause.
Our campaign is not only about defeating Trump but about a political Revolution! To bring about a government and economy that works for all the people, not just the 1%!
The U.S. Rep for part of Queens (where I grew up) and the Bronx was quoted by the national media when AOC criticized Sanders’ rival contender Mayor Pete Buttigieg over his fundraising tactics and comments he made during the last Democratic Party debate, which took place Dec. 19 at L.A., when she stated: “For anyone who accuses us of instituting 'purity tests' — it’s called having values. It’s called giving a damn." Of course, this is what the bourgeois press picked up from AOC’s lengthy speech because it fits in with the media’s “horse race” narrative of the presidential race.
Ocasio-Cortez asserted the Sanders campaign is “not funded by billionaires but by the people.” And referring to the people Alexandria said: “This is what the Revolution looks like,” before introducing that man of the people, Bernie Sanders, who - as John Lennon’s ode “Power to the People” played over the P.A. system - took the stage along with his wife Jane, who delivered a heartfelt testimonial for her husband (but then again, what would you expect a political spouse to say in public about their partner?).
Sounding vigorous, the Senator denounced Trump as “a pathological liar, corrupt, racist, sexist, homophobe, religious bigot.” This was music to the thousands of ears listening, but Bernie added: “Our campaign is not only about defeating Trump but about a political Revolution! [To bring about] a government and economy that works for all the people, not just the 1%!” This received another thunderous ovation.
Piggybacking on AOC’s comments Bernie contended, “Our campaign has received more contributions than any other [presidential] campaign in the history of America. And we don’t go to wine caves,” the people’s candidate quipped, ribbing his more moderate rival from Indiana.
Bernie rhapsodized about education and teaching as a noble profession that a Sanders administration would value, ensuring every educator in America would earn no less than “$60,000 a year. Young people should think about becoming teachers. No job is more important.” The moral underpinnings of his candidacy were also evinced by Sanders’ comments on the U.S. healthcare system, which he criticized for being “extraordinarily cruel. 87 million are under-insured or have no insurance.”
The independent senator from Vermont vowed to “take on the drug companies and the Democratic establishment,” which caused an eruption of “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” chants. He proceeded to focus on climate change, saying “We’ll tell the fossil fuel industry” - at which someone in the huge crowd shouted: “FUCK YOU!” (that is, what big oil should be told). Bernie ballyhooed “the Green New Deal” AOC inspired in order to solve “the global crisis…Instead of spending $2 trillion on weapons of destruction we’ll pool our resources to fight climate change.”
The Green Mountain State’s 21st century incarnation of Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys went on to discuss a number of hot button topics, including legalization of marijuana; gun policy; defending women’s reproductive rights; and denouncing the fact that the U.S. “spends as much as the next 10 nations do on the military - instead we’ll prioritize the working class.”
The Vermont visionary quoted South African leader Nelson Mandela: “It always sounds impossible until it happens.” Sanders added: “We’re told ‘don’t dream big, that you can’t make fundamental change.’ But change comes from the bottom up, like in the union, civil rights and gay rights movements. The status quo just is not working. Don’t tell me we cannot!... At the end of the day, the 1% is 1%. If we in the 99% stand together and don’t let us be divided, when we stand together there’s nothing we can’t do!”
Bernie’s grand finale sparked another ovation among the jubilant masses and the Youngbloods played him out on the public address system, singing:
“Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
During his stump speech the longtime self-described democratic socialist had said: “This is a campaign by the working class, for the working class. It’s bringing people together.” In essence this was the theme of the presidential race as it unfolds: Will solidarity triumph over the politics of division sown by the racially divisive Trump campaign? The 14,000-plus people at the rally seemed to be predominantly young, with whites, Latinos, Asians and a few Blacks in attendance.
To be sure, the Bernie for president rally was inspiring. It showed that large numbers of Americans can be mobilized to fight for a “political Revolution” and socialist ideas. But can those equalitarian ideals be realized through the corporate dominated Democratic Party? Why not just create a new party that doesn’t have to compromise with DLC centrists and their corporate donors? And can socialism be achieved through the ballot box? (Ask Salvador Allende how that worked out in Chile.) Or will a “political Revolution” require - like, you know - a REVOLUTION?
In any case, from Venice, Italy to Venice Beach, global warming and unequal distribution of wealth are heating up the class struggle.
Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based reviewer, journalist and author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.
Photos by Ed Rampell