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Michael Stipe was the lead singer of R.E.M., one of the biggest rock bands in the world, for over 30 years. However, on Tuesday night in Poughkeepsie, New York, Stipe was just another supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders, who was clearly the rock star.

On the morning of April 11, it was announced that Senator Sanders would hold a rally at Marist College on the following night. Enthusiasm on campus immediately went off the charts, regardless of political ideology. The RSVP list on BernieSanders.com filled up in a matter of hours, and thousands of attendees began to line up at 10:30 a.m. for the 7 p.m. rally.

Dr. Dennis J. Murray, outgoing President of Marist College, spoke about how proud he is of the Marist community for stepping up for an event like this. “Marist, because of the Marist Poll, has always been involved in presidential politics. So it is great that our students, whoever they’re supporting for President, get to see a national rally like this….And you can see the turnout, which I’m particularly pleased about, is a great Marist turnout. This is really terrific, and it really turned into a Marist event!”

Thousands lined up in front of the McCann arena.

Thousands lined up in front of the McCann arena.

The arena filled its maximum capacity of slightly over 4,000 within a matter of hours. A few thousand people were left outside, unable to get a spot inside the overcrowded gymnasium. However, these supporters did not leave empty handed, as the Senator gave an impromptu speech to those who had been turned away outside.

After hours of anticipation and excitement, about about 5 repetitions of the song “Burn Baby Burn,” Stipe entered center stage of the McCann arena. Five minutes of passionate oration later, he introduced the Democratic presidential hopeful with this rousing sentiment, “In order for the people to be heard the people have to speak up. This is our moment…It is my honor and privilege to introduce the next president of the United States, Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders took in the scene of wildly supportive college students, local members of the community and county officials, smiling and waving as most politicians do, but then triumphantly pumping his fist into the air to start the night.

He wasted little time going right into his message of equality and justice, starting with the problem of poverty in this country. “Poverty is a death sentence,” he said bluntly, referring to a recent study on the discrepancy in life expectancy between socioeconomic statuses.

The Senator then related his campaign promises to the ideologies of former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who is a major figure in the Dutchess County area. He recounted his visit to the Roosevelt Estate earlier that day, which is just minutes from the Marist Campus.

Senator Sanders at the Hyde Park home of FDR. Photo courtesy of berniesanders.com.

Senator Sanders at the Hyde Park home of FDR. Photo courtesy of berniesanders.com.

FDR, who became President during a time of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in American history, led the fight against big business and monopolies, trying to break them up. He wanted decent jobs available with decent pay, and basic human rights for all Americans. Sanders argued that whenever anybody has tried to challenge the status quo throughout history, as FDR did, they were called radical or crazy by many. Yet those “radical” people always seem to be on the right side of history, according to Sanders.

“This campaign is not just about selecting a President, it is about transforming America….When people stand up and fight back, change can and does happen,” he urged.

Sanders also heavily criticized his opponent Hillary Clinton for not releasing the transcripts of her speeches on Wall Street. He tickled the audience’s funny bone on the subject saying, “If you get $350,000 for a speech…It must be a speech given in Shakespearean prose.”

However, just as Sanders appeared as meek and kind-hearted as a puppy in this one moment of levity, he went to vicious attack dog mode when he turned his eyes on Wall Street. If you’re not familiar with Sanders relationship will big banks on Wall Street, well, it’s not a loving one.

“[The big banks’] greed, recklessness, and irresponsible behavior has done incalculable harm to the American People. Now is the time to break them up. These are the most powerful financial entities in the country, and their entire business is based on fraud. This is scary stuff!” he contended.

As he mentioned during the speech, Sanders is in favor of a heavy speculation tax on Wall Street. He has proposed that this tax would go toward funding free public college education. Sanders went back to the values of his old friend FDR to say that a great nation is not judged by the millionaires and billionaires living in it, but by the quality of life for those at the bottom, i.e. those who are disenfranchised and cannot afford higher education, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty. It is when Americans are marginalized and feel powerless that special interests and people in positions of wealth and power stay there, according to Sanders.

Sanders also spoke about the similarities between the inequities that Americans face today and those we have faced in the past, mentioning the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the formation of unions and more, saying “We still have not achieved that goal [of equality].”

Sanders speaking at the rally at the McCann arena.

Sanders speaking at the rally at the McCann arena.

Although divisive words such as “fix” and “change” permeated the speech, it was the underlying message of integrity, compassion, clarity and sympathy towards others that rang out. The unassuming youthful energy of a 74-year-old man made everybody in the room feel the Bern for at least an hour or so.

All of the populist ideas that Senator Sanders mentioned throughout the night, whether it was getting the special interests out of politics, raising minimum wage to $15 an hour, or the average donation he receives of $27 (which the audience knew by heart), were met with ground-shaking applause. But the biggest roar of the night came when Bernie mentioned one man.

“Donald Trump will not become President of the United States.”

Although getting Democrats to hate Trump is like getting a 2-year-old to hate broccoli, Sanders knew that this was his bread and butter. “He will not become president because every national poll has me beating him by double digits,” he said with a sly smile.

“The American people understand we are a great nation because of our diversity. Coming together always ‘trumps’ dividing us up. Supporting each other always trumps selfishness. And love trumps hatred,” he bellowed to a roaring audience to finish off his speech on a positive note.

Whether or not Sanders will be able to complete his upset Hillary Clinton’s lead in New York remains to be seen. But what the Sanders campaign has done, if nothing else, is nothing short of politically epic.

Sanders’ message of fighting for socioeconomic equality has clearly struck a nerve among a wave of frustrated Americans who feel they’re getting the short end of the stick. His campaign has sparked an unstoppable interest in the kind of “political revolution” that hasn’t been seen since circa-1800’s France. Sanders has brought Democratic socialism, a taboo word in politics, to the forefront of the American political discussion, a place it hasn’t been since Woodrow Wilson’s large scale public works projects in the 1950’s. He has tapped into a very raw set of suppressed emotions in the American public, and is using that raw emotion to rocket his grassroots movement toward the top.

When you walk away from a Bernie Sanders rally, you may not agree with all of his views, and you may not even think that he will be the next President. But one undeniable fact remains; it was a hell of a lot of fun to “feel the Bern” for a night.

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