Chances of defeating Clinton may be fading, but momentum hasn’t as some supporters say candidate created a ‘political moment’ fit for history books
The stage was set for a crescendo. Bernie Sanders, the most successful socialist in modern US politics, was due to appear in front of the fog-shrouded Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.
Thousands had amassed beside the bay on the eve of California’s huge Democratic primary, a contest they hoped would bring about the downfall of a candidate many have grown to resent: Hillary Clinton.
Like every rally since the Vermont senator launched his presidential campaign, this was a crowd filled with young, articulate, inspired supporters, dedicated to a democratic political revolution they believed could upend the status quo.
Then phones started beeping with news alerts.
Clinton had been anointed the Democratic nominee, courtesy of a count of superdelegates by the Associated Press.
People in the crowd were wiping tears. Some decided to leave. In scenes reminiscent of Donald Trump rallies, some turned on reporters, furious the media outlets, not voters, were declaring the outcome.
“You’re not reporting, do your job!” yelled Chris Einfeldt, 54, an attorney in a baseball cap, jabbing his fingers toward the TV cameras. “You have a sacred duty to democracy to do your job – this is advocacy!”
Sanders’ famously loyal supporters could be forgiven for feeling distraught after investing so much hope in the grassroots movement. Einfeldt gave up his job last September to volunteer in phone banks.
But the downbeat faces and the sniping at reporters only told half the story.
Sanders’ rallies, like those on the opposite end of the political spectrum hosted by Trump, have become a phenomena, filling stadiums and amphitheaters, for events that have felt more like rock concerts than campaign events.
Attendance has not diminished as his chances of defeating Clinton faded – if anything the crowds have grown. On Thursday, two days after Sanders was convincingly defeated in the California primary and Clinton claimed the mantle of the Democratic nominee-in-waiting, around 3,000 people turned out to hear the senator speak in Washington, DC.
Much has been written about those “Bernie or Bust” supporters who insist they cannot back Clinton in November. Many of them indeed appear unwilling to budge, even in the face of a Republican nominee like Trump.
“I’m not going to vote for a lesser of two evils, I’m still going to get an evil,” said Wesley Stewart, a 19-year-old at Sanders rally in San Francisco.
Trump also believes his populist, outsider, campaign could lure some disaffected Sanders voters, although it is rare to find fans of the Vermont senator who countenance supporting the billionaire. An exclusive poll for the Guardian on Fridayindicated that as many as six times as many Sanders supporters are prepared to swing behind Clinton than Trump in November.
For now, at least, Sanders supporters are far more animated in discussing how to harness and move forward the movement for a democratic revolution than how they might in November.
“He has ignited something – it’s not going to burn out in four years. This is something that is only going to grow and grow and grow,” Stewart said, adding that he hopeful the leftwing momentum created by the campaign would translate into local and statewide electoral victories.
“This is the awakening of a political moment,” said Michelle Allen, a 45-year-old fashion designer. “Children in the future will be reading about this in the history books.”