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A Revolutionary Campaign Ends in DC Parking Lot


Supporters cheer as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks outside R.F.K. Stadium, in southeast Washington, June 9, 2016.

Supporters cheer as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks outside R.F.K. Stadium, in southeast Washington, June 9, 2016.

Debby Hanrahan isn’t worried about Bernie Sanders.

She wants to know what Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, will do next.

Hanrahan is one of about 1,500 Sanders supporters who turned out to see the Vermont Senator campaign for the District of Columbia primary vote.

College kids in Bernie meme-friendly T-shirts stake out spots close to the podium, while the older, grayer voters who remember other revolutions wait at picnic benches in the shade.

The unspoken reality is that this is Sanders’ final campaign rally. The movement that packed tens of thousands into arenas through the winter and into spring is ending in a skateboard park by a forgotten sports stadium in southeast D.C. on a cool June night.

Delegate count

After a night of primary contests held from New Jersey to California, Clinton secured the delegates needed for the party nomination and declared victory on Tuesday night. Thursday morning, President Barack Obama met with Sanders at the White House and then endorsed Clinton hours later.

But the Sanders supporters gathered here won’t talk about the campaign's ending. They talk about the movement's continuing on and what Clinton will do to address their political revolution.

“I expect that my husband and I, and millions of other people, will not stand for business as usual. We’re going to demand more from Hillary Clinton if she wants out vote,” Hanrahan said.

“I intend to push her as far as I can with letters and questions and talking to her supporters. She has got to change course – she cannot be the pro-endless-war candidate,” she said.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at a rally in a parking lot at R.F.K. Stadium, in southeast Washington, June 9, 2016.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at a rally in a parking lot at R.F.K. Stadium, in southeast Washington, June 9, 2016.

“He’s [Sanders] obviously lost the election, but he’s hopefully started a movement that will keep tabs on Hillary as president or [Donald] Trump as president,” said Don, a voter from Maryland. “Hopefully, the movement will result in better ideas, health care for all instead of Obamacare, having an economic system that’s fair, getting money out of politics – that’s what he’s going to be working for.”

Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

'Force her to change'

Don and his wife, Estrella, said they had no problem voting for Clinton.

“Hopefully, he’ll [Sanders] be a thorn in her side and force her to change her policies,” Don said.

But just as Trump has forced the Republican Party to question its values and identity, Sanders’ candidacy has revealed cracks in the Democratic Party.

“It’s time for a new party, a party that represents working people, poor people and the future,” said Irv, a resident of Washington. “Bernie is right there and represents what the movement is. He isn’t the movement – he represents the movement.”

Irv said the movement has developed because voters are starting to understand the changes in the way of life in the United States, and the political system hasn’t caught up to those changes.

“It’s far beyond the Democratic Party, it’s far beyond the next president. It’s how we’re basically going to change this society,” he said. “If Bernie leaves or drops out of the race, it’s not going to change what we’re going to do.”

For Irv, that makes a vote for Clinton impossible.

“Hillary is the old politics,” he said. “She is essentially for what was and we want something that will build and change and be the future -- and she’s not the future.”

Generational divide

The older Sanders voters seem more resigned to the reality of the loss, worrying about the strength of the movement while the younger voters remain focused on choosing a candidate.

Eli, a younger voter from Maryland, said he would probably sign up to volunteer for the Clinton campaign.

“In the past couple of weeks, since she won New York and the five states the week after, it’s been inevitable, and I’ve had to think about what it’s going to be like hopefully having Hillary as president,” he said. “The more I thought about it, the more I understood her positions.”

But Robin, a voter from Maryland, struggles to put his disgust for Clinton into words. Making a face and rolling his eyes before saying, “I will vote for her if someone kills me, takes my thumbprint, goes into the booth and votes under my name.”

Supporters gather to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak outside R.F.K. Stadium, in southeast Washington, June 9, 2016.

Supporters gather to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak outside R.F.K. Stadium, in southeast Washington, June 9, 2016.

Many supporters waiting in line ignore questions about Obama’s endorsement of Clinton or simply answer that they will vote for Sanders in November anyway.

In many ways, Sanders’ speech echoes that desire.

The events earlier in the day at the White House do little to change the standard themes that have appeared in every Sanders stump speech since he gave a low-key press conference to announce his candidacy last April. He doesn’t mention Clinton at all.

One goal: Beat Trump

But Sanders does set a goal many in the crowd say has to happen: find a way to beat Donald Trump in November.

The Sanders supporters at the rally who will vote for Clinton almost uniformly cannot justify their choice without mentioning Trump.

“If he makes it through, definitely Bernie,” said Daniella, a young woman in a “Feel the Bern” T-shirt.

Reminded that Clinton will be the likely Democratic nominee, she responds, “If she’s up against Trump, yeah, but she’s not my first choice. I’d vote for her just so I don’t vote for Trump. She’s all right I guess.”

There’s a calm in the crowd most of the night. They occasionally chant “Bernie, Bernie!”

But the biggest reaction is to a campaign surrogate warmup line: “They can tell you the stereotypes – black church ladies vote are for Hillary and young people are for Bernie and white dudes are for Trump. The future of America is beyond stereotypes.”

It’s as if the election cycle in the U.S. has forced another broken idea on the voters – a candidate they don’t want.

Standing here in the parking lot, part of a much smaller crowd, they still want Sanders and all that he represents to them.

Outside the rally, supporters picked over a table filled with “Bernie Revolution” T-shirts selling for full price. For the time being, the revolution still needs to be clothed.

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

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