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OPINION: Bernie Sanders won me over in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids



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Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT., speaks at a campaign event Feb. 1 leading up to the Iowa Caucuses at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Tribune News Service

“Here’s how Bernie can still win” became a common enough refrain among the left-leaning faction of the Democratic Party in 2016 that it became a meme. But after a weekend in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa, it became clear to me that despite the confusing results and tight race at the Iowa Caucus on Monday, Sanders and his grassroots movement have a viable shot at the Democratic nomination and maybe even the White House.

I could tell the crowd at the Cedar Rapids rally on Saturday was big — at least as big as the crowd at one of the rock concerts the U.S. Cellular Center ordinarily hosts. But it was not until the next day that I discovered more than three thousand people had showed up, dwarfing the crowds at similar rallies throughout the state that week by Sanders’ fellow candidates.

Like my group of friends, many people at the rally traveled from out of state. One group we spoke to was from California, and while canvassing before the concert I met a young man from Chicago.

As Sanders and some of his more well-known backers addressed the audience, including renowned public intellectual Cornel West, documentarian Michael Moore, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-MN, and Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig, cheers of “Bernie! Bernie!” echoed throught the area. Thousands of people waved campaign signs distributed at the entrance.

Though I had been leaning toward voting for Sanders for months, I was not particularly excited or moved by his campaign. I disagree with some of his positions, including his description of himself as pro-Israel and his history as a congressman of voting for U.S. intervention abroad, such as in Kosovo and Iraq. 

In addition, I worried about his electability and his lack of popularity with establishment Democrats. I initially went to the Cedar Rapids rally as much for the free Vampire Weekend performance as for Sanders’ speech. But after finding myself within a swath of change-oriented individuals, mostly young people like myself, I found myself thinking: “Something big is happening.”

While I am uncomfortable with glorifying any one politician — they are, after all, servants of the people, not gods — the refrains of “Not me, us” and “Find someone you don’t know and fight for them” repeated by Sanders and his fellow speakers on Saturday night truly drove home my respect for the candidate and his message.

The latter quote is what pushed me firmly into support for Bernie. I suffer from chronic health issues, and the fact that many Americans with illnesses like mine do not have health insurance and are pushed into deep medical debt, or even forced to dangerously ration necessities like insulin, is something that deeply disturbs me. 

Despite having health insurance, the costs of my own medical needs are far more draining than they'd be in nearly any other country, and I worry about what will happen if I am unable to find a job with adequate health benefits when I lose access to my parents’ insurance in six years. But I worry less about myself than about those people with no resources and life-threatening conditions like diabetes and cancer. 

Even if I never have to make the difficult choice of rationing a vital prescription or relying on crowdfunding to save my life, I am committed to fighting to prevent these situations from happening to others. Sanders’ message of fighting for others is perhaps the most inspiring and earnest plea I have heard a politician make in my lifetime. 

People like me have a newfound hope that some of the worst injustices in the U.S. might be on the wane.

It was a smaller town hall event I attended in Iowa City the next day that truly cemented my belief that this was a momentous weekend in a powerful grassroots movement.

As a young woman with an acoustic guitar led the crowd in a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” I felt tears come to my eyes as chorus of voices, more varied in age than the previous night’s rally, young, old, multiracial, and hopeful,  sang the refrain: “There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’/It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls/For the times they are a-changin.”

I am not sure what the outcome of this election season will be, but at that moment I truly believed that people-led institutional change was on the horizon.

Serena Fox (she/her or they/them) is a sophomore studying geography and environmental sustainability. She is passionate about climate justice.

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