Have you ever been to a funeral where the man everyone was there to mourn was standing upright, speaking into a microphone, and generating applause lines?
It took place Thursday evening at the Maloof Skate Park near Lot 3 of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in southeast Washington, D.C. Mourners included public intellectual Cornel West, who kicked off the event by railing against “Wall Street Democrats” and “male supremacy,” and by calling Donald Trump a “neo-fascist” and Hillary Clinton the “milquetoast neoliberal sister.”
And then came the man the relatively small gathering of supporters and journalists had come to cheer, remember, and observe: Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“We’re still standing,” the 74-year-old Democratic socialist told his adoring crowd.
Technically, he was correct.
During his hour-long speech, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate delivered virtually the same speech he has delivered on the campaign trail for months. He spoke of the need for “radical change” and a political “revolution” for everything from mental-health treatment to tackling income inequality in America. He riffed on police department militarization, campaign finance reform, and Trump’s anti-science positions on climate change. His fans yelled, “We love you, Bernie!” and chanted, “Thank you, Bernie!” and waved the usual paper placards—anti-war, anti-student-debt, “A Future to Believe In.”
It was a painfully ordinary Bernie Sanders rally—except for the one conspicuous elephant in the skate park: the newly crowned presumptive Democratic nominee. Many wondered if this was, as the news media had speculated and predicted throughout the day, Sanders’s final 2016 rally, and last stand, after Hillary Clinton declared victory Tuesday night.
In his speech, the Vermont senator did not focus on the hour-long meeting he had earlier that day with President Obama, after which he vowed to help maintain party unity in the general election fight against Trump. He did not mention how the president and fellow lefty darling and senator Elizabeth Warren had just announced their official endorsements of Clinton for president. And Sanders did not mention how Team Hillary had already trumpeted a total victory in the primary. He instead drew golf claps from the crowd by claiming that “the results have not yet come in from California.” (They have.)
The whole event was the shrugging-emoji equivalent of a campaign stop. And in the mass of Bernie Sanders fans—some of whom were perched atop the fixtures of the skate park to hang on their class-warrior candidate’s every word—many of them knew the campaign was beyond resuscitation.
There was reluctant acceptance. There was plenty of resignation, thinly veiled as denial. They weren’t so much #ReadyForHillary as they were bracing themselves to support her “HISTORIC” run.
For every “Bernie or bust” diehard claiming that he’d bring his revolutionary “pitchforks” to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia this summer, there were 10 Bernie fans of the #GirlIGuessImWithHer variety on Thursday night.
“I’m going to wait to hear what Bernie has to say [before backing Hillary],” Adam Pitts, a 31-year-old former independent voter from Poolesville, Maryland, who has been volunteering with the Sanders campaign “since the beginning,” told The Daily Beast. “It leans on Bernie.”
Molly McFarland, a grad student studying international development at American University, had volunteered for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, in part because of her distaste for Clinton and her liberal centrism. However, the unlikely rise of the latest GOP standard bearer has forced her to put aside her differences with the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“Given the fact that Trump is the Republican nominee, my hands are tied,” McFarland said. “He puts the fear of God in me… so I will begrudgingly support Clinton.”
Similarly, Patricia Chastang, a registered Democrat living in Bowie, Maryland, is anticipating ultimately casting her ballot for Clinton, so long as Sanders and Clinton “work together” to keep Trump from becoming leader of the free world.
Of the contingent of rally-goers who pledged to never, ever pull the lever for Clinton, the gripes were the same: Trump just might be pure evil—but Clinton loves war, money, and power.
Steve Bruns, a retiree from suburban Maryland who’s “gonna vote for Jill Stein,” repeatedly slammed Clinton as a “warmongering” and “corrupt” Democrat.
“I feel it would be a vote for war [and] corruption,” said Maggie Doctors, a D.C. native and one-time Ron Paul voter. “The DNC cheated, she cheated… [Trump’s] just a plant, he’s a freakin’ plant so Hillary can be president.” (Doctors subsequently noted that she was indeed convinced that the Trump campaign has been one massive Democratic plant, and that she did not at all mind being called a “conspiracy theorist” on this issue.)
Asked if Sanders should keep his promise to take his campaign all the way to the convention, she replied, “Abso-freakin’-lutely, and I’ll be there with him.”
When the senator concluded his event, the sun was still out. He thanked his fellow would-be revolutionaries and reminded D.C. residents to get out and vote in the district’s primary in a couple days. Then he shuffled off the stage, to the strains of the song “Starman,” which has been his campaign exit music ever since David Bowie passed away in January.