For many of the Bronx residents who lined up outside St. Mary’s Park to hear Sen. Bernie Sanders speak, Thursday was the first time in decades that the South Bronx community was considered an important factor in presidential politics.
The line that stretched from the park and wrapped around over three blocks, included Sanders supporters from New Jersey and even California. But many of the 15,000 or so who attended the rally were Bronx residents who, interviews indicated, were hopeful that the event held in their own backyards could translate into change for their community.
One of the thousands of rally-goers was South Bronx native Shavonne Bell, 26,who said “I feel like Bernie sees people who need a voice and who need people to fight for them. There’s a reason he did not hold the rally down at Wall Street because those are not the people who need him.”
Sanders, who was received by a wave of cheers and applause, appealed to the working-class of the Bronx by beginning his rally with an anecdote of his childhood. “We lived in a three-and-a-half-room, rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn so I learned a little bit about what it means to grow up with a family that has no money,” he said, describing a part of his childhood that matches the reality many Bronx residents face today.
“Senator Sanders is from Brooklyn. I’m sure he’s woken up without any hot water in his house before. He should understand our struggle here in the Bronx,” said Adonis C., who works as a teaching assistant, is also hopeful that a Bernie presidency could help repair the education system in the Bronx which he says is broken and dysfunctional.
Calle 13 rapper Residente, actress, Rosario Dawson and Spike Lee spoke at the rally. Dawson and Spike Lee fired up the crowd before Residente took the stage. He expressed his discontent with Puerto-Rican and American relations which appealed to the many Boricua rally-goers holding up signs saying things like “Puerto Ricans stand with Bernie!” He highlighted the fraught and one-sided relationship between the Puerto-Rico and the United States and invoked the concept of self-determination.
One of the Boricua rally-goers was Nilsa Sincron, a 61-year-old secretary, who expressed her discontent over what she said was clique-like behavior by the Bronx Democratic establishment. Sincron expressed her frustration with Bronx officials who she called sell-outs because “all but one of them support Hillary Clinton,” support she said is motivated by money and favors. “You don’t see Hillary over here. She went to Westchester because that’s where the money is. After the rally, a lot of Democrats are jumping ship,” Sincron said.
Sincron was happy to have Bernie—who she believes is the best candidate—in the Bronx. “We love it that he’s here. He hasn’t changed his platform in over 30 years since he was in office and he’s giving a voice to those who don’t have one. Finally, the young and the old, the gay and the straight, we’re all standing together,” she said.
Other Bronx residents used the Sanders rally as a learning experience, like Moises Ortiz, 39, who brought his son and daughter. “I came to the rally to see how the kids take it in. I don’t tell them who to like. I just try to explain each position as best as I can and see what they tell me,” said Ortiz. He added, “At first I was a little skeptical about Bernie’s position because a lot of things politicians say today don’t seem realistic. I wasn’t going to vote for him early on. But now he seems to have some momentum going. Hopefully the super delegates don’t shy away from him.”