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As Interest Increases in 2016 Presidential Election, Central Jersey is “Feeling the Bern”

Locals Organize Bernie Sanders Rally and Fundraiser at Pino’s in Highland Park
Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders Michael Vadon

HIGHLAND PARK, NJ—Bernie Sanders, the US Senator and former Congressman of Vermont, is running for Democratic Party's nomination for US President in the 2016 election.

Sanders is running as a member of the Democratic party and identifies himself as a social democrat.

After the first major test of the campaign, the Iowa caucuses, Sanders is neck-and-neck with his only remaining opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Of all the candidates in the election, Sanders appears to have the strongest support from many New Brunswick and Highland Park community members, as a national movement has gradually gained support in Middlesex County.

On January 28, in Highland Park's Pino’s Gift Basket Shoppe and Wine Cellar, about 50 people came out to support Sanders campaign at a "Feel the Bern" rally.

Sanders is building his campaign on grassroots action, and encourages people to organize political rallies in their hometowns.

Sanders' campaign, going strong since May 2015, aims to cause a political revolution in the U.S. by "taking the big money out of politics," creating a liveable minimum wage at $15/hour across the nation, and by helping the ever-increasing middle-class as a whole, according to his website.

Sanders is a firm supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, and of cleaning up the environment, and he believes that to be a healhy nation, the police must demilitarize and the government must create equal opportunity for everyone, including women, people of color, and the LGBT community.

Chris HarrisJim Walsh, who organized the event, is a Highland Park Boro Councilman.

With great enthusiasm, he told the crowd, “I brought this together because I believe in Senator Sanders.”

Sanders began his career in politics running unsuccessfully for several offices as a third-party candidate before being elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont.

From there, Sanders was elected as the state's only representative in the US House of Representatives, where he distinguished himself as the only "independent" legislator not affiliated with the two major political parties.

Sanders went on to be elected to the U.S. Senate and according to his bio, "has now been the longest-serving independent politician in Congress in the U.S thus far."

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Sanders has stated that his campaign will focus on income and wealth equality, something that New Jersey Working Families Alliance (NJWFA) is committed to improving. They showed their support for the event by co-sponsoring it.

According to NJWFA's mission statement, “Working Families is a growing progressive political organization that fights for an economy that works for all of us, and a democracy in which every voice matters."

NJWFA's Matthew Castrol said that their goal is to “help people of New Jersey take part in a progressive movement...anytime we have a swing state, we want to send our workers there for support."

Castrol encourages people to partake in door to door campaigning, including traveling to New Hampshire for the upcoming February 9 primary election, and raising more awareness with rallies like this.

“This is the most exciting election ever," Castrol said.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski

John Wisniewski, an Assemblyman from Middlesex County, also attended to show his support.  Wisniewski is the NJ Chair for the Bernie Sanders Campaign.

Two days earlier, Wisniewski held a campaign kick-off event for Sanders in his hometown of Sayreville at that's town's Democratic headquarters.

So far, he is the highest-ranking elected official in New Jersey to throw his support by Sanders, by all accounts the underdog.

Upon seeing the faces of such a wide demographic of people, he said “Boy, we never figured that this could catch fire the way it had. The reality is that we can get this done. It starts in rooms like this." 

Walsh continued the rally by introducing Seth Hahn, the New Jersey Political director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 1.

“You all might not understand that you’re all optimists. Everyone here who’s life is better is because of an idealist who dreamt too big. If now isn’t the time to dream big and fight back then there won’t be another," said Hahn.

Hahn spoke about some of the concrete goals that the rally aimed to accomplish. First and foremost is getting Senator Sanders on the ballot and raising enough money to keep the campaign afloat.

So far Sanders has raised about $20 million, with an average of $40 per donation.

Walsh noted the positive enthusism the crowd brought to the rally, saying, “We’re looking at a political revolution. We have somebody running for president protecting our people and public health…[the momentum] continues to grow and develop."

Director of the NJWFA, Analilia Mejia, recall the same positive energy she felt with the 2007-2008 Obama campaign, “I’m totally excited about the momentum...It was a long shot before," she said.

The rally ended with the fervent “Feel the Bern!” chants. 

While the Pino's event was the culmination of months of movement-building, it was far from the first local event organized in the name of the campaign.

On July 29, New Brunswick residents, including many former Rutgers University students, joined together to watch Sanders speak in a "live-stream" speech.

The speech was seen in over 3,500 househoulds and local meeting places in every state across the country organize to watch and support Sanders in his campaign.

"Enough is enough" Sanders said in the speech, "This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires, their Super-PACs and their lobbyists."

In New Brunswick an event was put together to watch the even, with a private residence on Hamilton Street drawing a young crowd of curious supporters.

The group in New Brunswick was part of over 100,000 like-minded supporters watching Sanders speak from their own locations.

Following the live-streaming on Hamilton Street, the schedule was to go to the Ale n' Wich Pub in order to discuss Sanders' policies and a to make a plan of action that will enlargen the community of supporters first-and-foremost in New Brunswick, but in the surrounding areas too.

The "'wich" was happy to host the post-viewing meeting, saying, "They are not a government-affiliated association and would be happy to host any number of people for an event like this, as long as there are no signs or posters brought, and the event is not claimed as an Ale n' Wich sponsored event."

The fledgling community of Sanders supporters, mostly young white males, went on for several hours about their opionons on the upcoming election and, as it was deemed more important, the plan for the future.

The people who joined together in July realize that Bernie Sanders is a white man from Vermont, and thus, may be disassociated from the issues of race in America.

Jacquelyn Gray, a reporter for New Brunswick Today who was one of the few persons of color in attendance, said, "It is important to not marginalize the issues Bernie Sanders brings up as white-only issues that only white people can speak about.  We must keep in mind to aim to include other voices in this cause."

Since that day, the movement continued to build support, with some members attending City Council meetings, and others passing out flyers, or taking other actions to spread the word about the campaign and organize within the New Brunswick community.

On the evening of September 22, volunteers were handing out flyers in front of the Alexander Library at Rutgers.

One of the flyers listed Bernie's past accomplishments as reasons to support him for president including voting against the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq.

The flyer also states that Bernie has fought for civil rights for the past 50 years including getting arrested for supporting the Student NonViolent Coordinating Committe (SNCC) protests for civil rights, as well as equality for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community, and opposing the war on drugs.

The flyer also listed policy positions that Sanders will fight for which include:

  • opposition to trade agreements like the [Transpacific Partnership (TPP) which would outsource jobs overseas
  • promote and make it easier for people to join unions
  • embracing green energy to combat climate change
  • a massive jobs program to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure
  • breaking up the big banks
  • tuition free public college
  • health care as a right of all citizens
  • a $15 an hour minimum wage 

Dan Larkins hosted the event and handed out flyers and Bernie 2016 stickers as new recruits began to show up to display their support for Bernie Sanders who is runnig for president as a Democrat for the 2016 election.

Larkins made it clear that Hillary Clinton's campaign and supporters are underestimating the Sanders campaign. "The Clinton campaign doesn't have the enthusiasm that we have," said Larkins.

For more information on how you can get involved in the political revolution, text “njforbernie” to 313131.

Editor's Note: The organizers of the January event at Pino's paid for advertising in New Brunswick Today. The middle three photos were taken by Chris Harris.