A series of events brought me back to Indiana for a short two days, and I found myself (quite unexpectedly) walking the streets of downtown Fort Wayne, looking for a coffee shop to do some work on my novel, but before you could say “Hoosier,” I was marching with a group about a hundred strong, all of us caught up in that Bernie fever.
I actually did make it to the coffee shop, ordering my new favorite coffee drink, something between straight espresso and an Americano — it’s three shots with some water, but go easy on the water, I like it strong.
The place was a little full, but eventually I grabbed a newly-vacated table for four and started getting to it, fueled by the three shots. An older-looking guy proudly displaying his loud, red Indiana University sweatshirt circled the cafe, dismayed.
“You can sit here,” I offer. “Thanks,” he says with good cheer. “You know, it’s like when I was in California. People there tell me that they just share tables. You just sit down with someone.”
I tell him that I just came from California. We leftist hippies all share the love. (I didn’t tell him that last part.)
He’s with an even older lady, maybe his mother, and I soon zone out, busy at work. I tune back in when they get up to leave, after they shared their mutual dismay about young people and how prone the young people are to get confused, what with all the different religions out there.
As they are leaving, the man mentions something to the woman about the hustle and bustle out there, how “there’s a Bernie Sanders thing going on this afternoon, at one.” The man thanks me again for offering the table and before they are out the door I’ve figured out that the rally is at noon, not one. My phone says 12:03, and in another five minutes I’ve left and have all the Bernie supporters in my sights.
It’s a good turn-out, and as time goes on, it just keeps growing. A local politician gives a speech that no one can hear, but he’s a Democrat and a Bernie supporter. Next is a march to the Martin Luther King, Jr. bridge, and by the time we start walking, the crowd is well over a hundred strong, by my estimate. As is typical, there’s a lot of young people. A young woman with blue (or possibly green) hair holds a sign that says “Bernie is the new FDR.”
I just keep pinching myself. (Well, not literally, it’s just an expression.) Northern Indiana is my old stomping grounds, and I wouldn’t have imagined that there would be people lining the streets of Fort Wayne during the Democratic primaries for a truly progressive Presidential candidate to a chorus of car horns honking in solidarity. I mean, Bernie is like an FDR type throwback, and in the Midwest that’s almost a four letter word. Growing up in the Midwest, our political training is simple: there’s good old-fashioned Ronald Reagan conservatism and then there’s a garden variety of foes that go by various names like “liberals” or “socialists,” but they’re basically all commie Soviet sympathizers. It’s all just a distinction without a difference.
There was a time about a hundred years ago when the KKK controlled Indiana politics and it took a rape scandal to break their grip. I’m not throwing my home state under the bus here. I’m only saying that it’s a conservative state with a long history of standing up for some rather harmful ideologies. At the very least, Indiana doesn’t exactly have a reputation as being a hotbed of progressive activity.
I used to be a conservative in this conservative state and even voted for George W. Bush. So, I know the mindset here. I guess that’s why it’s so crazy to be in a Bernie march. That’s why I keep pinching myself. (Again, just to clarify, I’m not literally pinching myself.)
I march with the group. There are some attempts at rallying the crowd with chants of “Bernie. Bernie. Bernie.” There’s a bullhorn and all, but this doesn’t do much for us. It’s the Midwest, and we all feel a little uncomfortable and self-conscious when we raise our voices. But we like to walk, and it’s a beautiful sunny day. We march to the bridge, line up, spanning the full length of the bridge, hang out for a while, smile and wave at cars who honk back at us in solidarity. Then we march back. We march back and time marches on. Time and chance are always at work, whether we notice it or not. And usually we don’t notice it until something weird happens that makes you take note, like a bunch of people in Indiana who are feeling the Bern.
(I’m the tall, skinny guy in the red vest about 5 or 6 seconds into the video.)