Photograph by Marlena Raines
Berkeley High School’s (BHS) Community Theater has been a stage for countless icons, such as Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and even the Dalai Lama. On October 27, once again, the theater welcomed two iconic progressive politicians to the stage: Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Thousands of people surrounded BHS, waiting to attend the much-anticipated free event. Among the crowd were three high schoolers from San Mateo who said they came to the rally not only to see Sanders speak, but to be in the presence of like-minded activists. “I think it’s nice to see people fighting the good fight, fighting for our health care, fighting for our rights,” said one of the students from San Mateo, Josette Thornhill. “It’s really comforting in a time when you feel the government isn’t supporting you.” Like many young people, Thornhill struggles to feel like she has the ability to make change or have a voice in the government when she does not have the ability to vote in the upcoming midterms, which is why Josette Thornhill and her friends came out to the event. “We felt the closest thing we could do was to show support for candidates like Barbara Lee and Bernie Sanders,” she said.
Josette Thornhill mentioned that, currently, many young people, women, and people of color are looking at Congress and the President and are saying “these people [in the government] don’t reflect our beliefs and they don’t represent us as who we are.”
One of the main purposes of the rally was to encourage people to vote in the midterms, and as Lee said, “Promise me to not only vote, but to bring 25 more of your friends to the polls!” Alyce Thornhill, a high school student from San Mateo, said that people who willingly chose not to vote are “making a huge mistake.” She said that every eligible voter has the power to be heard and if they are choosing not to have that platform then they are wasting their voice and their potential to be involved in democracy.
Alix Abrahams, a junior at BHS, came to the rally because she wanted to see Sanders in person. Abrahams mentioned that “it’s wild he [Sanders] is coming to our school. I realized that if I didn’t go, I might regret it later.” As someone who is not old enough to vote, Abrahams especially feels that if a citizen does not vote, they are being irresponsible. Because United States politics is in “such a time of turmoil and polar conflict,” the saying “political apathy is privilege” strikes Abrahams as relevant to today’s voting culture. When “irresponsible citizens” do not vote, Abrahams thinks “it is a disgusting show of privilege and just not caring.”
During the event, Lee touched on many issues such as gun control legislation and the Pittsburgh shooting, but she mainly focused on the midterm elections. On November 6, there will be many opportunities for funding education, preserving parks, protecting the environment from wildfires, ensuring hotel workers fair pay, and creating vital services for the homeless.
However, in order to pass any of these measures, Lee says, “We need to use our voice and progressive message to voters and when we do this, we will win.” She explained that the Bay Area needs to “help take back the house and elect a Congress that works for the people,” and in order to do this, everybody should talk to their neighbors about important ballot measures and walk the streets protesting for one’s beliefs. After Lee rallied up the crowd, Sanders stepped out from behind the curtain and was greeted with a thunderous applause that included many chanting, “Bernie 2020!”
“California can make a difference … we are not going backwards to more discrimination, we are going forwards to a nation that creates equality for all people,” said Sanders. 2014 had the lowest voter turnout in 70 years with two-thirds of eligible voters not going to the polls. However, Sanders emphasized that 2018 must have the highest voter turnout in order to “change the national priority.” From gun legislation, medicare, fossil fuel industries, criminal justice systems, marijuana, DACA, to public schools, Sanders touched on many issues that not only directly apply to voters, but specifically young people.
Throughout the rally, both Lee and Sanders created a sense of unity and empowerment in BHS’s community theater that seemed to energize and motivate many attendees to go out in their community and encourage people to vote.
As Sanders said, “Our views don’t matter unless we elect people who stand with us.” Voting is crucial to the midterm election, and Lee and Sanders agree that in order to shift the government, one must take advantage of their voting privilege. With record voter turnout this midterm, it is clear their message got through.