Bernie Sanders drew a crowd of over 20,000 to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on Saturday, filling the center to capacity, with an overflow of attendees spilling onto the lawn outside to watch the Vermont senator on a projector. They were all there to hear the bids of the candidate, in what was the largest rally for a presidential primary candidate in the city’s recent history, according to The Boston Globe.
Among the thousands were several Boston College students, attending collectively as BC Students for Bernie Sanders, a newly formed student group with the aim of student organization around the democratic presidential candidate. The rally was, in many ways, a fitting launching point for the student organization’s efforts this year.
The club seeks to generate student support for Sanders by promoting an informed dialogue on Sanders within the student political landscape of the University. BC for Bernie was created this summer, the result of the efforts of sisters Chandler and Camryn Hicks, MCAS ’16 and MCAS ’18, respectively. Ameet Kallarackal, CSOM ’18, joined the club’s helm shortly thereafter. Together, the three undergraduates manage the club, which, for now, is largely organized around the group’s Facebook page. The administrators of the club hope to use social media as an organizing tool, where members can learn about upcoming events and stay updated on the candidate.
Still in its early stages of organizational development, the club hopes to gain traction and popularity through its first planned event, a viewing of the Democratic primary debate on Oct. 13. Not a registered student organization, it is largely an organizing effort for student promotion and advocacy of Sanders, who is currently leading in presidential polls among Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire. BC for Bernie hopes to collaborate with other political student organizations on campus in the future, in an effort to create a productive dialogue with representatives from all political leanings.
“The goal would be to have people that have fundamentally different views, and then examine those candidates and see what’s different, why are they different, and how can we come to some better understanding of reality,” Kallarackal said.
Widely known for his brand of “democratic socialism,” Sanders’ platform includes a broad range of progressive social and fiscal reforms, including addressing income inequality through heightened taxation, raising the minimum wage, and introducing legislature to address climate change, among other issues. Sanders has self-defined his socialist platform as endeavoring to create a “government which represents all people, rather than just the wealthiest people,” citing health care, education, decent housing, and child care as basic rights a nation should afford to its citizens, according to The Washington Post.
“Democratic socialism means doing what it takes to give everyone the chance to succeed, and then at that point, giving them the opportunities to succeed and be independent on their own,” Kallarackal said.
While there is still some stigma associated with the “socialist” label, Sanders has garnered widespread support, especially within the student demographic. Sanders’ impassioned rallies have been especially instrumental in the candidate’s campaign trail. Kallarackal noted that Sanders’ speech at the Boston rally elicited very strong reactions from the audience.
“He was just a normal guy, saying very candid things that struck really deep chords.”
“It’s his passion that carries straight through,” Kallarackal said. “You see this guy—a reddish face and light hair—he’s just moving around and so impassioned and so genuine. He was just a normal guy, saying very candid things that struck really deep chords.”
Within the complex political landscape at the University, the club has seen heightened student support for Sanders—an interest that the organization sees as, in part, the result of the progressive political leanings of Pope Francis. Sanders has been outspoken about his admiration for the pope, often citing him in his speeches and campaign emails. For Kallarackal, the pope has opened the conversation on progressive politics at a University with traditionally conservative political leanings, closely associated with its Jesuit Catholic religious identity. In talking about Sanders, it is easy to find common ground with someone in discussing the progressive social views of the pope, which align closely with Sanders’ agenda, Kallarackal notes.
“Whether or not they’re conservative or liberal to begin with, this is a point of conversation—the beginning,” Kallarackal said. “What I find is when I talk to someone—even if they lean conservative—this [the pope] is something we can talk about, this is common ground, and we can build off of that. I think that’s powerful.”
Michael Dwyer / AP Photo