“In Iowa, we were in an area that is basically white, Christian, working-class and they liked his message,” said Oak Parker Bill Barclay, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America who was in Forest Park on Feb. 5 protesting with temporary workers in front of a Ferrara Candy Company factory.
“Bernie is going to carry Oak Park, without a doubt,” Barclay said.
His fellow DSA demonstrator Peg Strobel, who has also traveled to Iowa to campaign for Sanders, wasn’t quite as confident, but nonetheless noted the candidate’s support among young people.
“Bernie is attracting lots of young people — way more than Hillary,” Strobel said. “We need to bring new people into the electoral process.”
Barclay and Strobel might have summed up the foundation of Sanders’ support both in the Oak Park area and nationwide — that is, young, idealistic and left-leaning.
“I think a lot of our supporters have been involved in other controversial issues, like water fracking and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — issues that resonate with people who then become motivated because they think Bernie is the better choice on those issues,” said Galen Gockel, who heads up Oak Park for Bernie Sanders and who has canvassed, circulated petitions and knocked on doors in Iowa and the Oak Park area.
Most Sanders supporters interviewed said they’ve witnessed more excitement, and more grassroots support, for their candidate than for his challenger, Hillary Clinton, whose candidacy, some said, would rely more heavily on the state’s Democratic machine — helmed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“I would say the support for Bernie Sanders tends to be quite enthusiastic,” said Cheryl Pomeroy, Gockel’s comrade in enthusiasm, who has also trekked to Iowa to campaign for Sanders.
“We’ve seen no grassroots activity for Hillary, no yard signs, no literature,” said Gockel. “In all probability, [Clinton’s campaign] is relying on party organization.”
Jerry Delaney, the committeewoman for the Democratic Party of Oak Park, would beg to differ.
“Yes, there is a great amount of enthusiasm for Bernie. He is very inspiring and many feel this is a make or break election for the direction of our country. On the other hand, there are Hillary supporters who feel very strongly that she is the most qualified candidate and respect her deeply for all of her involvement over the years supporting Democratic values.”
Delaney said she’s been communicating with “many grassroots Hillary supporters in the suburbs and in Chicago who are quite passionate.” She said that many of those supporters were also active in President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.
Oak Park Trustee Adam Salzman, who interned on Clinton’s campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in New York and who described himself as an “enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter,” said that Clinton enthusiasm exists — it just may not be as easily detected as that among her opponent’s supporters.
“I have several friends and neighbors in Oak Park who are supporting Hillary. I think that support is just expressing itself in a more diffuse, less organized way at this point in the primaries. Some people are making the case on social media and some are supporting her financially.”
Although many area residents who were interviewed seemed to reinforce the stock characterization of Sanders’s base as young and/or radical, some factors have complicated that characterization — at least on the local level.
For instance, not all local political players are for Clinton. State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th) is a Sanders supporter who is running on the candidate’s 7th Congressional District delegate slate.
And Delaney noted that DPOP has decided to remain neutral in the Presidential primary and that the group’s membership “seemed to be fairly divided between Bernie and Hillary.”
In addition, although many Oak Park and River Forest High School students who were interviewed observed that many of their peers were Sanders supporters, the number of respondents who expressed a preference for either candidate was fairly evenly split between the two Democratic candidates.
Some OPRF students, like 15-year-old sophomore Graham Wielgos, who said he’d vote for Clinton if he were old enough, seemed to echo the calibrated concerns of much older voters.
“Although I agree with all of Sanders’s ideas and goals, I do not support him because I don’t believe that he would accomplish them.”
For the much older Pomeroy, however, that way of thinking manufactures something of a Catch-22.
“To paraphrase [someone else], Clinton is the most qualified candidate to head the current system and Sanders is the most qualified candidate to head the system we should have. The [latter] is what the majority of people, when polled, say they want. Why can’t the people just have what we say we want? If the answer is because we don’t think we can get it, then it’s not going to happen!”