Figures could be seen moving along a path through the trees, as if as on a day more than two centuries ago when the first great battle of the American Revolution was fought and nearly lost in this same patch of Brooklyn.
These figures emerged in a constant stream to reveal themselves as supporters of another revolution, the one that has been proclaimed by Bernie Sanders. They were coming for the big campaign rally in Prospect Park on this sunny Sunday before the New York primary.
But as they reached the roadway leading to the gathering, something held them up. The procession turned into a long queue leading up to a row of 13 metal detectors crewed by uniformed Secret Service agents along with TSA officers such as normally work at airports.
“If you have a bag, you have to go this way. If you don’t have a bag, you go that way,” called out a Sanders volunteer wearing a tag reading “A Future You Can Believe In.”
The people with bags went to the left, where the contents were inspected. They then went through a metal detector, as did the ones who went to the right.
All this is standard procedure for rallies in which presidential candidates who are eligible for Secret Service protection appear. The big difference about a Sanders rally is that this self-proclaimed champion for social justice remains unapologetic about having voted in favor of a law that gave the gun industry immunity, making it, in Hillary Clinton’s words, “the only business in America that is wholly protected from any kind of liability.”
Another, smaller difference about a Sanders rally came as a woman with a seemingly inordinate number of piercings as well as tattoos stepped up to the first metal detector on the left. She required considerable checking with a handheld metal detector and then a polite manual frisk.
There also were more strollers than might be expected at other rallies, certainly more than at a Donald Trump gathering, but also probably more than at one for Clinton, who has attracted fewer young women than might have been expected. Everybody with one stroller was directed to the far right.
“Take everything out of your pockets, everything out of your stroller,” a uniformed Secret Service agent told the next up in that line.
Diapers bags and formula bottles were inspected, as were the children themselves. One of the Secret Service agents crouched down before a 3-year-old boy and held out his arms.
“Like this,” the agent said with a reassuring smile that made him look hardly intimidating despite his heavy bulletproof vest and sidearm and handcuffs.
The boy held out his own arms, and the agent quickly checked him with a handheld detector. The boy continued on, and another youngster toddled up, passing a Sanders poster on a table that read, “The Revolution Is On!” The scene repeated with this youngster no doubt have would horrified those long ago patriots who crossed these very grounds at the start of a true revolution to face the British. This could not have been the future they believed in.
“OK,” the agent said after the next child was checked.
A dozen people wearing green wristbands approached, and the agent turned to the people still waiting with strollers.
“Folks, will you hold on for one second, we have some VIPs,” he said. “Technically, this is the VIP entrance, so we have to let them go first.”
The VIPs could have been Clinton contributors as they passed through without appearing to think that cutting in front of a line of people with strollers was anything but their due. They could not have received those wristbands by writing big checks, so some other sort of currency must have been at work. A few seemed to be veterans, more appeared simply to have connections.
The stroller people remained remarkably patient even after the Secret Service agent announced that so many people had filled the immediate rally area that the FDNY fire marshals had barred any more people from entering. That did not apply to late coming VIPs, who continued trickle through.
“Green wristband, you can go ahead,” the Secret Service agent said.
One woman with a green wristband arrived accompanied by a man who lacked one. He was barred until she could find a Sanders campaign person to give the OK.
“Folks, unless you have a green wristband, they’re not letting anybody in,” the Secret Service agent told the others.
A man and a woman without the magic accessories approached.
“We were put on the VIP list,” the man said
A campaign person again gave the OK. The stroller folks kept waiting. A fidgeting baby about a year old tossed her floral floppy sunhat from the stroller to the pavement. The Secret Service agent retrieved it and gave it to a parent. The agent gave the child a delightfully squiggly wave with his black leather-gloved fingers.
“No crying, there’s no crying at the checkpoint,” he said, not at all sternly.
An arrangement was then made to allow all those who remained to proceed on in to an area securely on the far side of the metal barricades and cops ringing the rally site.
“No scan,” the agent said.
The screening done, the Secret Service contingent began to dismantle the metal detectors and pack them away in long gray boxes. They left the one farthest on the right up in case any more VIPS arrived.
At 4:17 p.m. Sanders took the stage.
“Welcome to the political revolution!” he began.
He harked back for a moment to his Brooklyn childhood, when his parents would take him to the Prospect Park Zoo.
“Do they still have the seals?” he asked.
A number in the crowd knew enough to shout in the affirmative, though those who were from Brooklyn most definitely seemed to be new arrivals. Many were likely kids living on some suburb and distant burg in the days before the NYPD made Brooklyn safe for hipsters to move in.
Sanders himself was away for many of the years when his home borough was a kind of war zone. He was off getting elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981, when a 17-year-old kid was shot to death over a sheepskin coat outside James Madison High School, his alma mater, a two-minute walk from his childhood home.
But Sanders’s absence makes it no more forgivable for him or for his supporters to seem so little concerned about the gun violence that continues to claim so many lives in America.
Why is he so incensed by Wall Street and so little concerned about the violence in so many other streets?
Why is he so little disturbed that even toddlers who ride up in a stroller to a political rally have to be screened?
The crowd cheered as Sanders voiced his outrage over income inequality and the criminal behavior of the big banks and fracking such as Clinton has wholeheartedly supported.
“We have to stand up to the fossil fuel industry!” Sanders declared.
But he never said that about the firearms industry to which he had helped grant immunity. He decried that “people are dying every day” of heroin overdoses, but he did not mention the victims of gun violence—and certainly not the children of Sandy Hook whose parents have demanded that he apologize for having voted for the law that is making it so difficult for them to hold the maker of the murderous AR-15 accountable.
At one point toward the end of Sanders’s speech, he did speak of a visit earlier in the day to Brownsville, a violence-torn part of Brooklyn that is as overwhelmingly black as the crowd at the rally was white as well as young. The mention of Brownsville elicited precious few home hood hoots, but Sanders seemed to speak with genuine passion about the young people from there who have “no hope getting a job.”
“Unfortunately, they do have hope—and means—of getting guns,” he went on. “Our job is to get kids jobs and not guns.”
Here was where he should have spoken about standing up to the gun industry as well as the fossil fuel industry. He instead spoke in general terms about “listening to our African-American brothers and sisters” and about lead in water and about forming a “new relationship with Native American people” and about income inequality for women and about universal health care and about climate change.
He also spoke of the importance of diversity and inclusiveness, though the rally might have caused you to think Brooklyn is 90 percent Caucasian. The actual number is around 35 percent.
Visible beyond the park where he spoke were the apartment buildings that rose in the place of Ebbets Field, where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947. These 70 years later, the makeup of even such an avowedly progressive crowd marked how far we have to go.
Sanders would have done better invoking the storied stadium rather than the zoo.
At the end, he returned to the big banks and the greed on Wall Street.
But he said nothing about the firearms industry and the killing on those other streets.
Maybe his crowds would actually be diverse if he spoke about bullets as well as banks, gunshots along with big shots.
In not speaking out, in not apologizing for a shamefully misguided vote, he is only giving money mad Hillary Clinton the means to call his revolution into question.
Throughout the speech, the Secret Service had continued packing up the metal detectors. They carried the big gray boxes just as they might coffins to a U-Haul truck.
When the last box was in, an agent closed up the back and the truck rolled away, passing near a plaque marking the site of the Battle of Brooklyn on Aug. 27, 1776.
On that day, the original American Revolution had almost been lost in its first big test. Gen. George Washington and his army had seemed trapped, facing all but certain defeat when a unit of Marylanders repeatedly charged straight at the British, giving Washington the opportunity to escape to Manhattan.
Most of the Marylanders were young, younger even than many of the Sanders rally centuries later. They no doubt would be greatly heartened to see this latest generation spending a splendid Sunday afternoon in the free and passionate expression of their political beliefs, in exercising the liberty for which so many have died, including the 400 Marylanders.
But those young founding sons would surely be dismayed at the silence on a gun industry that has used a right to bear arms born of the fight against the British as a pretext to flood the country with so many guns that even kids in strollers have to hold out their arms to be screened.
Shame on all of us.