Why my children demanded to attend a Bernie Sanders rally

This Norfolk, Va., mom couldn't get her children to go to any political rally – until Bernie Sanders came to town. 

Steve Helber/AP
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (l.) poses for a selfie with a supporter after a speech in Norfolk, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016.

For many, the 2016 presidential campaign is a bit of an enigma. Some find it inspiring. Others find it disturbing.

This week I discovered that before you give up on American politics, you might want to attend a Bernie Sanders event with your kids as a kind of cheap vacation – or civic education. 

While other rallies I’ve attended for various political parties over nearly 30 years have had a sense of gravitas, pomp, or iconic messages of hope, a speech from Mr. Sanders is kind of an old school, low budget, 1960s love-in.

I’m a journalist and mother of four boys ages 12 to 22, with an 18-year-old girl added into the mix. Trying to navigate this presidential campaign with them has been a challenge because, while I want to shield them from the ugliness, I want to empower them to be part of the set that survives it both socially and spiritually.

Over the years, I’ve often taken my kids with me when I cover major events so they might get a taste of history up close.

Sadly, the 2016 presidential campaign has often exposed a coarse, disenfranchised, and vindictive side of American society. Perhaps that’s why my kids have shied from my invitations to see Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and others who passed through Virginia.

Until now.

This week, the kids came to me asking to attend Vermont Senator Sanders’ speech. Avery, 16, Lizzie, 18, and Quin, age 12, were adamant about seeing Sanders. The teens threatened to cut school if I refused to take them.

Quin has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and hates crowds, but even he insisted that we go.

“Everyone is talking about [Sanders]. I want to see if he’s really real,” Quin said stubbornly. “I can’t tell from TV. I need to see him in the flesh.”

Quin soldiered through the Norfolk Scope Arena and about 5,000 cheering "Feel the Bern" supporters to a second-row seat where I could watch him from the press staging area nearby. Someone gave him a sign, which he bent over his head like an umbrella against the sound deluge.

The warm-up acts included a guy in a bacon suit, a gaggle of girls with rainbow hair, the happy-go-lucky “Grannies for Bernie,” and a guy in a cowboy hat with a hand the size of Texas who just about bear-hugged everyone he showed to a seat.

Rather than blaring the expected, “We are the Champions,” the sound system poured out the theme from "Doctor Who."

Then, like a balm, came the voice of David Bowie crooning “Magic Dance.”

From the press area, I saw Quin wave and shoot me the thumbs up as Bowie sang about the Sanders "revolution":

You remind me of the babe
(What babe?)
Babe with the power
(What power?)
Power of voodoo
(Who do?)
You do
(Do what?)
Remind me of the babe

Then, Sanders spoke.

For me, as a jaded veteran, the speech was well paced, passionate, and often clever. No new ground.

But to my kids, it was a revelation – not because of the words, but the mutual respect between the speaker and his audience. He connected. The arena became one closed circuit with a low-key energy that lit the listeners from within.

“He’s so kind,” Quin said later. “He’s like a really good teacher because it’s not like he’s way greater and looking down on you. He’s like you and you know that. So I understood everything he was saying.”

Quin added, “He was so real, he made my hope real."

“It’s not about if he wins,” Avery said. “It’s about how much better you feel after that experience.”

As an American citizen, no matter who your candidate of choice may be, my hope is that he (or she) leaves you with that same clean, clear, kind feeling of being uplifted. 

As a mom, I've been reminded once more how much my children can teach me.

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