Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders swept through North Florida, holding rallies in Gainesville, Tampa Bay, and Kissimee (outside of Orlando), with turnouts in each rally exceeding 5,000 people each. I attended the rally in Gainesville.
“I know that Florida is a big football country, right?” Senator Sanders told the crowd in Gainesville, home of the University of Florida Gators. “But unless you are on the playing field, football is a spectator sport. Democracy is not a spectator sport.”
In Florida, voter turnout, especially for Democrats, is a big issue. There are more than 300,000 Democrats registered in the state of Florida than Republicans. Despite Democrats consisting of the majority of voters in the state, Republicans hold majorities in the State Senate, State House, the Governorship, and 17 out of 27 congressional districts. A Florida Democrat, besides U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, hasn’t won a statewide election since Alex Sink was elected CFO in 2006.
The rally in Gainesville was filled with all sorts of different people. A trio of Native Americans dressed in traditional garments sat in one of the rows in front of the press box. College kids screamed with excitement as though they were at a Justin Timberlake concert. Veterans cheered with signs of support. A local punk band warmed up the crowd in anticipation for Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to introduce Senator Sanders. At the end of Sanders’ speech, supporters stormed towards the stage desperately trying to get a selfie with Bernie or at least get close enough to shake his hand.
Normally, this excitement is reserved for Justin Bieber concerts or NFL football games, but all over the country apathy and disenfranchisement from the American political system is losing out to Americans, young, old, and every demographic in between, getting excited about having a voice, and being heard on issues that affect us all. Whether you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, a Hillary Clinton supporter, or like them both, what Senator Sanders’ presidential campaign has done for the Democratic Party by not only rejuvenating progressive ideals, but inspiring voters to actively participate again, is something every Democrat can take pride in.
Featured image via Chelsea Skojec