Column: Atmosphere matters at political campaign rallies

The day after a canceled Trump rally in Chicago, Bernie Sanders spoke to a joyful crowd in Springfield, Missouri.

The only time I’ve ever been inside Missouri State University’s basketball stadium was probably the only time it wasn’t full of maroon and white. Instead, it was teeming with blue.

Supporters of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, waved blue signs with “A Future to Believe In” emblazoned across them. The crowd of about 4,800, not including those still waiting in line outside, sported predominantly blue T-shirts, hats and buttons with slogans including “Feel the Bern,” “Talk Bernie to Me” and my personal favorite, “Demo-Cats for Bernie.” Even though the weather was overcast and drizzly, the excitement and cheer provided enough sunshine to make people forget that the sky wasn’t blue as well.

The huge speakers blasted liberation-themed songs like “Uprising,” “Power to the People” and “Rockin’ In the Free World.” Before it got too crowded, audience members danced to “Disco Inferno,” laughing at the not-so-subtle lyrics, “Burn, baby, burn.” People of all ages and ethnicities smiled and chatted, and not one bit of tension hung in the atmosphere. Anticipation, yes, but in an enthusiastic manner, not an anxious one.

The rally was supposed to start at 7 p.m., but the stage was still empty at 7:15. Three campaigners and an MSU student heightened the suspense by speaking before Sanders. Former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who endorsed Sanders in February, told the audience pointedly and proudly, “This is what a rally looks like.”

The crowd roared with approval. They knew what he was referring to before he explained it, and so did I.

Twenty-four hours previously, I watched in awe as protesters in Chicago, an hour and a half from my hometown, flooded a rally for GOP frontrunner Donald Trump and prompted the candidate to postpone it. The triumphant protesters and shell-shocked Trump supporters screamed at each other as tensions rose in the arena. A few physical scuffles broke out, and for a brief and terrifying moment, the Hunger Games seemed to have come to life. Luckily, the violence was minimal, unlike the bloody situation in St. Louis earlier that day, and police intervention led to the evacuation of the building.

Halfway through the showdown, I realized I had a friend on the protest side. I had seen her RSVP to the Facebook event a few days previously, and I checked her page later to make sure she hadn’t been hurt. She was safe, thank God, and posted a status saying, “I’ve never loved Chicago more.”

Love, not political views, is the driving force behind both the protest and the Sanders campaign. Trump, though he denies it, fuels hatred and violence. The protesters, fed up with the hate-mongering, united peacefully against it and emerged victorious. Both Trump and Sanders speak with intense passion, but while Trump’s passion is solely for his ego, Sanders’ is fueled by a deep love for America and its citizens, and you don’t have to support either candidate to see that.

I asked one young woman at the MSU rally why she felt the Bern, and she said, “He’s a really cool guy, and everyone else is so hateful.”

She went on to praise the candidate’s sincerity: “He actually means what he says.”

Another woman, after telling me she appreciated that Sanders isn’t a millionaire, expressed a similar opinion.

“He’s consistent,” she said. “He walks the talk.”

I used to find it annoying that Sanders would say the same things in every speech, such as “rigged economy,” “corrupt campaign finance system” and “broken criminal justice system,” all of which he discussed in his speech at the rally. His earnestness made me realize that repetition is okay, even beneficial, if the intent is to spread a positive and hopeful message.

While the crowd was dispersing after Sanders finished speaking, I encountered a friendly older gentleman, one of the few people his age in the mostly youth-filled floor section. Curious, I asked him why he supported Sanders.

“I’ve been following Bernie for years,” he said, smiling. “He’s the same old Bernie he’s always been.”

Consistency builds not only trust, but also peace. That rally, loud and crowded as it was, is one of the most peaceful environments I’ve ever been in. He might not win the Democratic nomination, but during an election season that makes some Americans lose faith in humanity, it’s nice to have someone come along and restore it.

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