As 12,000 people filed into the San Diego Convention Center with their “Berni-lution” signs and pins that read “Huuuge change,” a gigantic screen blaring MSNBC was announcing Hillary Clinton’s Arizona victory.
Supporters who waited an average of four hours in a line that snaked a mile-long outside the convention center began to chant in unison, “Turn it off, turn it off, turn it off!”
That Bernie Sanders was trailing Hillary Clinton in delegates 1,712 – 1,011 and that Sanders had been given a 10 percent chance of winning the primary by political analysts like Nate Silver, had little effect on the euphoric crowd eager to hear the idealistic Vermont senator whose populist message is shaking up American politics.
Joaquin Gonzalez, an SWC English major, said the experience was worth the wait.
“This is my first rally ever,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. My voice is gone. I was cheering my head off. I waited for nine hours, but honestly I don’t care. It was worth it to me, it was so inspiring to be able to see him in front of me.”
After actress Rosario Dawson introduced Sanders, euphoria crescendoed as the crowd raucously cheered creating an atmosphere more reminiscent of a rock concert than a political rally.
On stage, Sanders played the hits, reciting his now well-known campaign themes of Wall Street corruption, Medicare expansion, campaign financing reform, affordable higher-education and prison reform.
SWC biology major Natalia Rico, 21, said the issues Sanders focuses on separates him from other candidates.
“I feel like he speaks about real problems and he’s just so blunt about it,” she said. “I feel like it’s never been addressed so specifically, like what’s wrong with the government and how skewed it is towards to keeping the rich rich. Bernie is the first political candidate that has gotten me interested politics, despite the fact that I hate politics.”
Sanders’ first visit to California comes a full two months before the June 7 state primary. California’s sizeable 475 delegates (including 71 super delegates) are vital to Sanders’ chances of overtaking Clinton.
Undeterred by the math and energized by the message, dozens of people took to the streets of downtown San Diego hours before the speech to express their support for the Vermont senator.
“There are 11 million undocumented people in this country,” Sanders said, his voice hoarse from the campaign trail. “Many of them are living in the shadows, living in fear, and they are being exploited every day. That needs to end. I am the proud son of immigrant parents and I know a little about that.”
SWC sound engineering major Eric Favela, 24, said he was pleased to hear Sanders address the immigration issue.
“Because of where we are, I thought that what he had to say about immigration was the most important part,” he said. “I’ve never been stripped from my parents, but I know of people who have had that issue before. That really got me.”
Sanders could barely finish his immigration remarks as the crowd erupted into a boisterous “¡Si, se puede!” chant.
Enthusiasm has been a hallmark of the candidate’s campaign and its supporters. Constantly drawing standing-room-only crowds in every city despite his significant delegate deficit, Sanders has often said that large voter turnouts are his best chance at a primary victory. In the last 16 years, an average of only 60 percent of eligible voters participated in the general election and even less in the primaries.
Jeanette Russo, an SWC studio arts major, 22, said Sanders’ campaign has stoked her political engagement.
“This is the first time I felt inspired to vote and it’s because of Bernie Sanders,” she said. “He is in the election for the people. Unlike the others, he has been consistent with his record and hasn’t sold himself to all the corporations.”
Sanders’ campaign has had success appealing to the millennial generation. A report by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that in the last six months, Sanders has gone from polling at one percent with millennials to 40 percent. In the first two primaries that took place in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders won more than 80 percent of the youth vote.
SWC psychology major Stephen Gonzalez said he thinks young people love Sanders because of his progressive policies.
“A soon as I heard he was coming, I called in sick to work,” he said. “To me, Bernie’s campaign is about changing the way we think. He has made issues young people care about, like student loan debt and the 1 percent, a really important part of this election.”
HIP also found that millennials, which now comprise the largest voting block in the country, are unlike any American voting group before them. About 40 percent have no party allegiances and are professed political independents. A personality-based criteria consisting of integrity, level-headedness and authenticity, in that order, are the three traits millennials value most in a candidate, according to the HIP report. Political and business experience were farther down the list.
SWC philosophy professor Alejandro Orozco said he has observed a marked difference in the characteristics of his students over the years.
“My generation believed that people would get married, have kids and own a home,” he said. “I don’t think millenials buy into that. I think that makes millenials greater risk-takers, in a good way. So when you have someone like Bernie Sanders, they’re more likely to take a big leap like that, because their future has so much economic ambiguity.”
The night of his San Diego speech Sanders won primaries in Hawaii, Washington and Alaska, but lost to Clinton in Arizona. In the past two weeks Sanders has won eight of the last nine primaries and claims to be gaining momentum, although it may be too little too late.
Gonzalez, one of the last to leave the SD Convention Center after being one of the first to arrive, said Sanders’ candidacy is more important that just winning or losing this election.
“All my friends that I’ve turned onto Bernie have become way more politically involved,” he said. “This is the first time I can remember where I don’t feel like we are just picking between the lesser of two evils. It’s a movement as much as anything. I’ve been with him since day one and I plan on being with him until the end no matter what happens. The man is just inspirational.”