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Takoma Park Feels the Bern

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

TAKOMA PARK, Md. — Thousands of “house parties” gathered throughout the country Wednesday night to collectively #feelthebern.  

Huddled in living rooms, basements, coffee shops, libraries and anywhere else they would fit, more than 100,000 people united for the change they’ve craved since at least the last Bush administration. They started as strangers, but they left as a fledgling grass-roots campaign network for 2016 Democratic hopeful, Bernard Sanders. In Takoma Park, the liberal bastion of Montgomery County, a predominately white group of approximately 30 Bernie enthusiasts of mixed age, gender and sexual orientation sat around TVs in a picket-fenced home, listening to the 73-year-old independent senator from Vermont.  

The city is known informally as the People’s Republic of Takoma Park. There’s a farmer’s market and corn-burning stoves are a thing. Sixteen-year-olds can vote in municipal elections. The city imposed a bottled water ban. And years ago it went “nuclear free.” In other words, it was made for a self-described socialist such as Sanders.  

The attendees aren’t angling for spots in the Sanders administration. These are true believers. And while many couldn’t immediately remember the themes of his Internet speech centered on social and economic opportunity they had heard moments ago, they said his authenticity separates him from other candidates.  

Conventional wisdom would suggest that Brooke Williams is #readyforhillary. But instead, the 21-year-old sees Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, as too “back and forth” on issues.  

“Sure, you evolve,” Williams said. “But Bernie’s been the same for years.”  

Juli Sandberg-Bernard, another millennial, doesn’t like Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, calling the former New York senator a “big-business person.”  

Others felt betrayed by President Barack Obama, who they said ran as a liberal and then abandoned his base after becoming president. Particularly problematic is Obama’s support of the  Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.  

“I liked Obama at first, but then I just felt tricked,” said 24-year-old Noah (a federal employee who spoke on the condition of surname anonymity).  

The group is divided over whether Sanders can actually win. Many recognize the realities of Clinton’s substantial lead in fundraising, organization and support and most said they’d support Hillary if and when they have to.  

But Noah blames the “mainstream media” for perpetuating a narrative that Sanders is unelectable, while Ed Edwards — who joked that his namesake was Edwin Edwards, the Louisiana politician who famously said the only way he’d lose an election is if he was “caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy” — doubts Clinton is progressive enough to win.  

“Hillary lost to a fake progressive last time, so I don’t see how she could lose to a real progressive this time,” the 72-year-old said.  

Edwards, with a long, gray ponytail and a shirt that read, “Get the 1% off my back,” is a veteran of the Occupy movement. Edwards first noticed Sanders years ago, when he heard the senator say (in what was Edwards’ paraphrased recollection), “It’s bullshit that Medicare doesn’t cover dental.” Edwards also likes Sanders’ stance on gun control, which accounts for the different needs of rural and urban gun owners.  

While Sanders was compared to and contrasted with Clinton all night, it was who he wasn’t compared to (other than by a CQ Roll Call reporter) that was particularly telling: former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.  

Edwards said O’Malley, another progressive 2016er, is the “right guy, wrong time,” and it’s Sanders’s message the country needs now. Edwards said he voted for O’Malley for governor, but he’s “too much of a politician” compared to Sanders.  

The group sees Sanders as a known commodity. He has a record of more than three decades, dating back to his days as mayor of Burlington, Vt. — what you see is what you get.  

And part of that record is support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and supported Burlington’s first pride march when he was mayor in 1983. Ryan Tauriainen, 29, anointed Sanders “the gay candidate.”  

The president is the commander in chief and the face of the nation, so Sanders’ speech was noticeably missing military and foreign policy. But Tauriainen said Sanders is just getting people to bite on his domestic policy first.  

However, Tauriainen’s husband, who was not in attendance, is reportedly disappointed and wishes Sanders would talk more about foreign policy.  

The point of the evening was to organize a network of volunteers. Several people at the Takoma Park group texted the campaign their interest, while others filled out forms. Over seltzer water and sweets there was a lively discussion following the speech about what needed to be done and who would be willing to do it.  

And just like that, a Bernie 2016 group was formed.  

Correction, August 6 An earlier version of this article misstated the location of a pot dispensary. It’s actually in D.C. in Takoma.

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