By Boyd C. M. Hayes
Just after the dust settled on Super Tuesday, University of Kentucky students and Lexingtonians alike gathered to organize volunteers for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign at Al’s Bar on Wednesday.
The barnstorm, or “Bernstorm,” as the campaign calls these events, was the second hosted at Al’s in two weeks, with Sanders’ supporters coming together to share their political testimonies and sign up to host phone banks.
Both events were organized by Dr. Stephen Davis, a college history professor, who joins legions of volunteers across the country putting time and money into raising local support for Sanders, according to the campaign.
“Lexington is a great place to organize for Bernie because people here care so much about the issues he’s fighting for,” Davis said Wednesday. “I’m new to political campaigning, but I can’t tell you how many wonderful folks I’ve met attending and organizing events around town. We’re a motivated bunch and the turnout to our events over the past eight months has been really exciting.”
Joseph Thompson, a local writer, photographer and Sanders campaigner, expressed his appreciation for the power of events like these to bring people together in the community.
“Everybody’s got their own little group of Bernie-supporting friends – but with the barnstorm, you’re introduced to people in your neighborhood,” he said. “A wide range of people come to these things, including an 81 year-old woman, a neighbor of mine, and a 6-year-old girl, who didn’t make any calls, but nevertheless, it’s a wide range of folks. And they’re people I had not met before. And of course it’s handy to not have to drive all the way across town.”
Al’s central location, on the corner of West 6th Street and North Limestone, and its local popularity help make it the perfect venue for these events, according to Davis.
“Al’s has always been a welcoming place, so it was a natural fit for us when folks started looking for a place for our first rally. And Al’s has kind of been our hub ever since,” he said. “Most of the clientele there are already Bernie supporters, or Bernie curious, and the attitude of the place really works well with the DIY ethos of this campaign. It also doesn’t hurt that it happens to be the best bar in Lexington.”
UK freshmen Liam May and Celia Gray were among the roughly 40 locals to take part Wednesday. They also expressed appreciation for Al’s atmosphere.
“I think it’s a really cool bar. It fits the scene and it’s in a cool part of town,” Gray said.
Gray and May represent a contingent of voters on which Sanders’ campaign has focused much of its attention: millennials. A Kentucky Kernel survey published Wednesday found that of 894 undergraduates from 112 majors, 36.7 percent claimed to support Sanders, the most for any candidate.
“I’m here because I support Bernie Sanders, and I think that he’s the best candidate in this election. And I don’t think he can be elected unless everyone gets involved,” May said. Gray added she thought it was important for college students to lead by example through voting and encouraging others to vote.
However, both students felt that UK did not do enough, if anything, to encourage students to get involved in the political process.
“We both volunteered for the Allison Grimes campaign our senior year of high school, and we’re both in the College Democrats club at the University of Kentucky, and the club encourages involvement. But you have to find the club and take it upon yourself to get involved. UK doesn’t really do much,” Gray said.
Of the university’s policies restricting political speech and advertising on campus, May was critical.
“I think it’s a terrible idea. It’s oppressive. I mean, even if people are going around putting up Trump posters, at least they’re part of the political process,” he said.
As the campaign continues beyond campus and beyond Kentucky, with Sanders trailing his opponent Hilary Clinton in delegates, Davis said Lexingtonians should expect even more events like these.
“This race isn’t anywhere near finished. Really, it’s just getting started. In terms of pledged delegates, we’re only behind by a very small margin,” he said. “This campaign has beaten expectations again and again, and been written off by the media again and again, but no one I know is ready to throw in the towel. In fact we have a clear path to victory and the means to make that happen.”