Pitt feels the Bern

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Pitt feels the Bern

Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

By Kelechi Urama / Staff Writer

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Pitt student Alex Austin “Bern”’d up Oakland on Saturday.

To raise support for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, Austin and other grassroots activists hit the pavement on Aug. 29 for “Chalk the Block,” an event where students advertise Sanders’ campaign platforms on Oakland sidewalks.

Other Pittsburgh residents have also been moved to action by Sanders’ ambitious campaign. In Pennsylvania, where Hillary Clinton already has a strong lead, Sanders’ supporters have been busy organizing rallies and marches to increase momentum for his campaign.

Pitt students are no exception.

Austin, a senior majoring in natural sciences, created a “Pitt Students for Bernie Sanders 2016” Facebook page that has more than 400 likes. Austin also founded a club for Sanders’ supporters to meet offline. Its first gathering at the William Pitt Union drew more than 100 people.

“I’ve never been politically active before in my life,” Austin said. “But Bernie makes you feel like you have to get involved.”

In a separate event, a group of more than 100 people, ranging in age from 19 to 65, carried “Bernie 2016” signs from Squirrel Hill to Oakland and handed out campaign leaflets in a public show of support for Sanders.

In contrast, Clinton’s supporters have been noticeably absent from Pittsburgh’s streets, and there is no equivalent Facebook group for Clinton at Pitt. Despite the lack of publicity, she still leads by a significant margin in the polls.

Advocating for Sanders in a second Facebook group, Joshua Sickels, the creator of the “Pittsburgh For Bernie Sanders 2016” Facebook page and a volunteer campaign organizer, arranged the march on Saturday.

“Pittsburgh for Bernie” also holds a weekly event called “Table the Parks,” where they set up campaign tables in Schenley Park, Frick Park, Allegheny Commons, South Side Park and Point State Park to speak to people about Sanders’ platforms and register people to vote. The Facebook page for “Table the Parks” showed that more than 60 people attended the event.

The Vermont Senator’s decades-long commitment to socialized health care, women’s issues and ending racial injustice energized Sickels.

“I started ‘Pittsburgh for Bernie Sanders’ the day he announced his candidacy,” Sickels said. “It was a no-brainer for me.”

Sanders became an official politician in 1981 when he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont. but had swam in political activist circles before than, marching on Washington, DC with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.

Despite the fact that Sanders has drawn more than 100,000 people to his rallies this summer, Sickels said the media has purposefully ignored Sanders’ campaign. Sickels and Austin both said the majority of people they meet are unfamiliar with Sanders’ policies and achievements.

“There’s essentially a media blackout on [Sanders’ campaign],” Sickels said. “The media wants to see Hillary win the nomination.”

To promote Sanders, Austin and his Pitt group plan to get students involved in a national “Million Student March” event planned for Nov. 12, 2015, though he has not finalized any details. Sanders urged college students to march on Washington, DC to advocate for free tuition, a major part of his platform.

Henry Prine of Sanders’ official campaign through “College Students for Bernie” said Sanders will visit Pittsburgh sometime this fall. Neither Clinton nor Sanders’ campaigns could be reached in time for publication.

Aside from a July fundraiser in the wealthy Pittsburgh suburb, Fox Chapel, the Clinton campaign has paid little attention to Pennsylvania. Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, released an official campaign strategy memo earlier this summer, noting Pennsylvania as a key swing state. The strategy also assumes Clinton will win Pennsylvania, and has her focusing her energy on other swing states Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Although Clinton is confident, an Aug. 20 Quinnipiac University Poll showed that, since March, Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania dropped from 48 percent to 45 percent in March, according to Quinnipiac.

Because of her lead in the polls and funding, analysts like Woon have said Clinton won’t have to put up much of a fight against Sanders in a primary race. Clinton’s $68 million campaign dwarfs the $15 million Sanders has managed to raise.

“This points to a sure-fire victory for Clinton,” Woon said. “At this stage, all indications point to Clinton having the nomination locked up.”

But for Sickels, even if Sanders loses the nomination, the candidate will still walk away a winner.

“The more awareness for Bernie, the better,” Austin said. “As long as we get these issues out there and into the forefront of America’s mind, then that shifts the conversation to the left and makes it more progressive.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said Bernie Sanders was elected as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1941. Sanders was elected mayor in 1981. The story has been updated to reflect this change. 

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