Bernie Sanders rally in Berkeley draws large coalition of participants

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Jessica Gleason/Staff

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The city “felt the Bern” on Thursday evening, as more than 50 ralliers for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders marched through the streets of Downtown Berkeley.

Organized by Berkeley resident Josh Kornbluth and UC Berkeley alumna Sara Soto, the rally is one of numerous volunteer-led events throughout the country to rally supporters of Sanders, who has rapidly gained support among young voters for his progressive policies addressing wealth inequality and institutionalized racism.

“If you’re a young person now, certain things seem like they will never change,” Kornbluth said. “But Sanders is a once-in-a-generation candidate. He represents getting people involved, and he’s not beholden to billionaires.”

The rally drew a large coalition of participants across various ages and races from both the campus and the community. Many of the activists said their political views matched identically with Sanders’ platform.

The rally began at the Downtown Berkeley BART station about 6 p.m., when participants stood on the sidewalk, wielding makeshift signs with “Feel the Bern” painted on them.

Soon after, a small contingent of Berkeley College Republicans approached and chanted, “Don’t believe the B.S.,” standing face to face with dozens of rally participants. The Sanders supporters responded in defense of their candidate.

After 20 minutes, the Republican protesters remained behind as the group marched northbound on Shattuck Avenue toward the Cheese Board Collective. The activists drew support from passersby, with many nonparticipants voicing approval, cheering as they marched and honking their car horns in solidarity.

Others remained quiet on the sidewalks, such as Richard Wayne Willeford, a homeless man perched on the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Vine Street, as the supporters marched past him.

“I’ve never been ignored by so many people in one moment,” Willeford said with a chuckle.

Lorena Niculesa, a single mother and Romanian immigrant on the verge of homelessness, also watched on as she sat with her 1-year-old son, who was crying in his stroller.

“Even if Bernie wins, it won’t change my situation,” Niculesa said.

But the rally participants in Berkeley see Sanders as the candidate who can change the minds of skeptics and bring actual change to the United States.

To Eric Schickler, a UC Berkeley professor of political science, it was not surprising that Sanders resonated with most of the Berkeley community. He said, though, that Sanders will have a tough fight ahead of him to win the nomination against Hillary Clinton, whom he called a logical choice.

Sanders, however, rose to prominence in the first place because he separated himself from mainstream politics, according to Schickler.

“If he affects the discussion and he can build a movement that others can get behind, that’ll be a success,” Schickler said.

Staff writer Brenna Smith contributed to this report.

Contact Haruka Senju and Bo Kovitz at [email protected] .