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Bernie Sanders Rally Bloomington Indiana

May 5th, 2016 · 17 Comments · Politics, Real-life Adventure Tales

Front Row for The Revolution



Photo by Jeremy Hogan


It all started waking up on New York et al election day in Ken Morris’s house in Cleveland the day after we pre-scouted the city for the upcoming Republican Implosion.  I mean, Repugnant Convention.  There were 3 different messages in my in-box about a just-announced Bernie rally tomorrow in Bloomington — where I just happen to be heading for a major Merry Prankster reunion.

A month ago I had hipped the Wizard of Wonder, who was hosting these blooming festivities, that a Bernie rally might happen when we’re all together, as Indiana was the only state on the primary calendar that week.  Sure enough.  Boom!  It’s the one day before we all decamp to the site of the 3 day Acid Test. {story on that forthcoming 😀 }

Merry Pranksters are pretty much all Berners, and I tell them when I arrive that tomorrow will basically be — just get-up-and-go.  Doors open at 5PM, and it’s in this smallish but gorgeous old 3,000-seat theater.  We’ve all seen Bernie’s arenas-full of supporters, and Bloomington is a giant Greenwich Village, an Austin, an S.F., a packed and passionate town of progressives on the prowl.  So this venue’s gonna be way too small and this thing’s gonna get crazy.  Gotta be there first thing.

True to my woird, I jingle-jangle in the morning maniac music, believe me, but then the ol’ Gets Things Done brain kicks in and I get the hell out of Wonderland and over to said site.

And as I arrive near it around 11AM, the car in front of me is from Missouri.  Then a car cuts in at an intersection from Florida . . . and we’re all in this super-slow line to the only parking lot on the Indiana University campus — and I’m thinkin, this does not look good.

But The Spirits are with me, and I bolt around the parking lot that I got to know when I was here with John Cassady and Walter Salles for the Mid-Western premiere of On The Road, and sure enough there’s an open spot right in the key corner closest to where I’m going.  Boom!

Outta the car quick-as-a-bunny, and power walk to The Auditorium, which I also knew cuz it’s the building right in front of the theater where On The Road was screened.  And this morning there’s all this steel fencing for the incoming crowds, and it’s actually two lines, one going each direction away from the front of the building.

Everybody who arrived, starting with the first person at 7AM (!) had lined up on one side, and there’s maybe 50 people in it as I’m arriving at around 11:15.  But the remarkable thing is, there’s about 6 people just starting to sit down at the front of the other empty fenced-in line.  These two hip chicks, Taylor and Allie (known for the most beautiful eyes this side of Zooey Deschanel) have figured out that this line is equal to the other line, except nobody’s sitting in it yet!  I come right up just as they’re plunkin’ down, and they gimme the lowdown how this gate’s gonna open at the same time as the other — ‘cept there’s nobody here but us!  Boom!  Done!  I’m the 7th person in line for Bernie in Bloomington!

Then a few other people arrive on our side, and pretty soon we got a pretty cool little crew in this 8-foot wide steel-fenced pen, and we’ve got the whole front of it to ourselves.  Of course I start talking to these friendly Berners, and I’m tellin’ ol’ 21-year-Zac beside me how I’m in town hanging with the Merry Pranksters, and how they helped form The Grateful Dead, and how I’m expecting a bunch of them to come to the rally in full costume.  But he’s never heard of them, or Ken Kesey or anything.  Super smart guy, computer programmer or sumpthin, I think he called it Informatics, but I might as well have been tellin’ him Civil War tales.

But then all of a sudden these two 19-year-old babicious freshmen, say, “You talkin’ about The Grateful Dead?!  We like them.”  And then one of them holds up Bob Dylan’s Chronicles!  Like — she’s got it with her in line!  And she’s taking a course in Bob Dylan.  Which is coming right on the heals of her “History of Rock” class!  Kids these days!  And her friend is sitting there reading Naked Lunch!!  I pull out a couple copies of my book to show them, and they freak out.  And while they’re sitting there reading them, the Chronicles girl gets on her phone and I figure I’ve sort of lost her attention pretty quick, but then a bit later when she gets up to hand me the book back, she says, “I just ordered it on Amazon.”  🙂 


And then at some point, me and Jim Canary get together — the guy who preserves Jack’s original On The Road scroll — and he tells me about this huge exhibit happening in Paris later this year and that I really must go to.  Here we were together again riffin’ Jack at the very place we first met — the world-famous Lilly Library as it was co-hosting the On The Road premiere.


And then somewhere in here the freakin’ Secret Service show up.  Word probably got out that Hassett & Canary were in the same place at the same time.


Or maybe it was that Presidential candidate — cuz the next thing you know they’re hauling in metal detectors.


And ol’ Zac sez  — “They can’t be very secret if it says secret service right on their clothes.”

And in this rainy, stormy weather these bastards later confiscated everyone’s umbrellas as we entered! — like the Secret Service couldn’t handle a freakin’ umbrella attack.

And all this other stuff was goin’ on, including these college kids playing cards.  I mean, physical 52-card card cards.  They asked me if I knew how to play Euchre. (!)  They’re all digitally wired and haven’t watched a TV show on a TV in their lives and have phone screens the size of bread loaves — but were sitting there playing with playing cards!  Two different groups of them!

And then there were the light-saber kids fighting around the fountain . . .



. . . and this official Bernie merch tent was set up out front . . . 


with unquestionably the coolest political buttons and shirts that have ever appeared on the campaign trail . . .



And they set up a big screen and speakers for the overflow crowd outside — with the coolest slogan — 


. . .using the postal abbreviation for Indiana . . . 

. . . as the line continued to form, all around the fountain square, then all the way down the street, then around the far corner, and down the hill, and back up the far side, then around the tennis courts, and people were still arriving!  I’m guessing maybe a tenth? of these people got in?


And I’d keep goin’ off on my observational roamabouts . . .


and circle back and hang some more with our killer crews at the front of the line …


That’s brother Zac with the yellow top holding his new merch score with a bunch of his krewe . . .


And here’s Eliza the Dylanhead, with her two besties, front of the line, top of the day.

And on a deeper level, we’re having this debate about what’s gonna happen to all the energy Bernie’s mustered should he not get the nomination.  Will they stay inspired and mobilized and work to elect like-minded Democrats to the House and Senate and continue to steer the party to its proper place on the left? . . . or will they Bern out and fade away.  I’m concerned it’s going to be the latter, and I challenge all of them to not make it so.  But sad proof that I may be right was when the Bernie volunteer coordinators came by, like this woman with this super-cool shirt — 


trying to recruit volunteers from the hardest of the hardcores at the front of the line, and not a single person ever responded to two separate appeals for help.  Mind you, it was finals time on campus.

And then there were the proudly beaming faces of the white supremacists.  I mean, Trumpsters.


x x x x x x x x x x x x x x

After nearly six hours of having the most sidewalk fun I’d had since hanging outside Abbey Road for an afternoon, they finally opened the gates and we dashed up the stairs to the indoor security phalanx — the whole airport security empty-the-pockets / metal detectors / magnetometers wand-scanning routine, including making you hold any buttons you were wearing in your hand to show them (?!), and then as soon as you’re thru that, it was this kind of crazy “festival seating” rush of democracy-loving kids that flashed me back to KISS concerts in the mid-’70s — where as soon as we had our ticket torn at the door — ahh, simpler times — we ran like hell for the front of the stage.  But here we are doing it for a Presidential candidate!

I love life. 🙂

Eliza and her two friends had come through one of the metal detector shoots right at the same time I did, and “Oh, Great! Hey! Ya made it!” as we’re laughing in giddy joy and running to the promised land.  Apparently the ushers had been sending the first arrivees into the theater off to the far side aisles, and as I came in I could see there was absolutely NO ONE down at the front of the stage yet. (!)

I don’t know how the hell it went down exactly in the flash of the moment — but I noticed the direction lady usher at the top of the center aisle got momentarily distracted, and I just blew right past her and ZOOMED straight down that muthrpuckin aisle, Dead center, just like I did at Radio City when I snuck into my 2nd ever Grateful dance in 1980.  BOOM!  And Eliza’s keepin’ right up with me, and her two too, and ZOOM!  We make it!  Front row center!  I grab the aisle seat, as is my wont, and they fall in right beside me, and voila!  Front Row for the The Revolution!

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And now it’s the whole pre-show hang . . . in a comfy-seat in a poor-man’s Radio City, but they’re tryin’.  And over the PA they blast Neil Young’s “Keep On Rockin In The Free World” — not once, but twice!  And this fellow Winnipeg Kelvinite is fist-pumping the air to the Beat, knowing that everyone behind me looking at the stage can see this energetic arm punching out the rock that is the core of this revolution.

They also play Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” … twice, refraining the great visual ad from earlier in the campaign; and Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” which always evokes Jack to this booksmith, as Eliza’s telling me about seeing Willie and the now late-great Merle Haggard together in this very venue just a few months ago.

Then somebody texts her that they just saw her on CNN, which, since we were fairly inseparable, might mean I just had my 5 seconds of fame right there and I missed it. 😀

On one of my many walkabouts, I checked out the media row along the mid-house horizontal aisle — and, I know it was the day after his devastating New York loss, but still . . .



there were a lot of empty seats where there shoulda been a reporter.

Shortly before showtime, they brought in 5 rows of people to fill the bleachers behind Bernie’s podium.  I’d seen the bunch of them gathered in the lobby on one of my surveillance scoutings,


and they told me they’d simply been picked out of the crowd as they came through the lobby.  I was there when they were taken through the back door into the theater, and there was absolutely no arranging of them according to age or race or gender.  It was just in whatever way they filed through the door, with no manipulation of who sat in the front row, or right behind Bernie, or in what pattern of faces.

And while on one of these reconnaissance missions, a middle-aged woman came walking down the aisle toward me, looking at me kinda strange, and said, “Are you one of the Merry Pranksters?” (!)

I don’t know how in the hell this world works, but it sure works fast!


Showtime — on the rail

There were only two warm-up speakers — the main student organizer; and the head of the Dems in Indiana, who was a middle-aged black near-Baptist-preacher who did a riff on how he wasn’t into Bernie at first.  But then he looked into his history of fighting for the little guy, “And I started to feel the Bern,” [big cheer], then I learned about his position on banking reform, “And then I was definitely feeling the Bern,” [bigger cheer].  And he does about ten variations on this, and then “I saw him winning 17 states and having the longest line for any event in I.U. history, I now I’m feelin’ the Bern all over!” he says as he shivers n shimmies [crazy cheering].

And finally, about 9 hours after I left the house this morning on this mission, The Man appears!  White hair and all!

No teleprompter, just a variation on a campaign speech he’s been givng daily for the last year.  The only time he’d look down at his notes was, for instance, sharing the specific stats and names of businesses from Indiana that’ve moved to China or Mexico since certain trade deals.

I keep thinking of and referring to his “speech” as “a performance” or “a show” because it really was one.  Including a lot of audience participation. “27 dollars!”  He had the place in the palm of his hand from the standing ovation when he first walked on stage.

The guy has it down.  There was either a laugh or an applause line roughly every minute of the nearly 90 he talked for.

And I have to say it was a helluva speech — a colorful articulation of pretty much every Progressive position.  And in most cases, I’d like every one of them to be the Democratic platform.  Sure wish I could have seen a Hillary speech right after this to compare & contrast.

And speaking of Hillary, at the first and every subsequent mention of her name, a loud boo instantly arose from the assembled.  😀  By about the 5th time, it had become a joke, and people were booing and laughing at the same time at our goofing on our cue.

Bernie’s got the timing and delivery of a professional comedian, and has a lot of sure-fire laugh lines that have prolly worked in every city he’s appeared.  Of Hillary not releasing her quarter-million-dollar speech transcripts — “Getting paid that much, that must be a pretty fantastic speech!  That must solve all of America’s problems.” (laughter) “That must be some Shakespearean prose!” (bigger laughter)

“And then there’s my good friend Donald Trump,” (laughter). “My wife and I were never invited to his wedding.” (bigger laughter)

“Trump has come up with a whole new way to deny climate change. He thinks it’s a hoax . . . created by the Chinese. (laughter) I would have thought he’d think it was caused by Muslims or Mexicans.” (bigger laughter)

“I have a major announcement to make here tonight.  I am now going to release the transcripts of all my Wall Street speeches.  Here they are,” as he dramatically throws an armful of nothing in the air. (big laughter) “They never offered me $225,000 for a speech.  I’ve got my cell phone on.  I’m just waiting for a call from them.” (bigger laughter)


Bernie throwing nothing in the air

But this also kind of manifests one of the problems with his speech / campaign.  Members of Congress are prohibited from accepting money for speeches or any kind of appearance.  He keeps saying it like he’s some pure guy — but since he left Vermont, for the last quarter century he’s held a job that prohibited him from giving paid speeches.  There was this and a lot of other holes in many of his two-paragraph-long diagnoses of our ills and how we would fix them.  That’s definitely a downside I can see his non-supporters seeing.

On the other hand — he rattled off more real and important things that need to be changed — and at least some ideas of how to fix them — than any other candidate I’ve heard over the last year: including passing a law that if a corporation needs a bailout, the CEO is prohibited from getting bonuses; and that marijuana should be reclassified as a schedule 2 drug, and not in the same class as heroin. (big applause on campus 🙂 )


Purchased at the official Bernie merch table

And he talked powerfully about our incarceration problem — and how we have the most imprisoned people of any nation on Earth — spending $80 billion a year to keep 2 million Americans behind bars.  “Criminal injustice is a crime in America,” he Ginsbergianly put it.  And of course this gets another standing ovation.

He talked about how we’re the only industrialized country to not guarantee healthcare for all its citizens, and how seniors are having to split their pills in half because they can’t afford them, and this whole very real plight of the uninsured elderly brings Eliza beside me to tears.


Women are making .77 cents on the dollar that men are . . . public colleges should be free like they were when he went to them in the ’50s and ’60s . . . we have money for wars but not inner cities . . . immigration reform must also include Native Americans . . . we need to live with nature and not destroy it — because it will destroy us . . . (and at this point I can hear Kaiya, Eliza’s friend, sobbing her eyes out) . . . we should be making solar panels mandatory on all government buildings . . . and every one of these points got a separate standing ovation, anywhere from 10–100% of the audience.

At one point during a smidge of silence, what sounded like a 5-year-old girl, squeaked out, “I love you, Bernie!” that got a huge laugh and more applause.

And the whole thing built to this sermonistic climax — “Families looking out for each other always trumps greed.  Love trumps hate.” —> into a jumping-up standing ovation.


This was John Lennon as a politician.

Which I never realized until I sat in front of him for a whole sermon on the trail.  What a religious experience.  Certainly delivered, received and perceived like a prophet.

Even by me — a political pragmatist.  This guy’s special.  I really haven’t seen this before.  He’s got Jesse Jackson or Obama’s oratory skills, albeit in a completely different style; combined with a Lloyd Benson or Joe Biden maturity; a Ralph Nader or Jerry Brown philosophical approach; an early Howard Dean or Gary Hart fervor; an essential Paul Tsongas or Bob Kerry sense of humor; and a Bill Bradley or Dennis Kucinich appeal to college students.

It’s quite a blend.  And I love a good blend.

see, also: Dead, Grateful



The speech is over, and people flood the front of the stage because he walks forward and not to the wings.  And I’m right there, “on the rail” as my live concert practitioners say — and the whole front-of-stage area becomes packed with people who rushed in to feel the Bern, not unlike the joyous sardine end of any great rock concert.

Bernie comes down into the orchestra pit and walks the wooden rope-line barrier, and I actually get to shake his hand at a nice slow long pace, giving him the double hand wrap around his one, and looking right through his glasses into his eyes, telling him, “Thank you, brother.”

And within moments I’m singing, “I shook the hand, that shook the hand, of Abbie Hoffman, and Charlie Chan.”


And right after he passes, and heads back up the stairs and waves a final farewell, the guy we were hanging with in our front row foursome is suddenly bawling his eyes out!  Apparently Bernie not only shook his hand but gave him a bit of a hug, and the guy’s totally losing it, sitting and shaking face-in-hands on the orchestra pit divider, with his girlfriend consoling him, and I’m kinda like, Whoa!

That made it all three out of the three people sitting next to me being overcome with emotion to the point of tears.

It really was that good.  I wonder if three out of three people next to me at a Hillary rally would be moved to tears?


And in the It’s-Not-A-Real-Adventure-If-You-Don’t-Get-Chased Dept.:

As I’m looking at my three new BFFs in their hyper-dramatic state, this security woman I’d interacted with earlier, and had been standing along the side wall with the other various types of cops, was suddenly leaning over the orchestra barrier into the open space of the pit about 15 feet from me, with two tall white uniforms behind her.

“Excuse me, sir,” she says, leaning out into the open pit to catch my eye and pointing full-arm directly right at me.

These were the last words I’d ever heard anyone say to me for quite a while . . . . . and they’re still echoing.

I’d had my eye on the wall-hanging Blue Meanies who had their eye on me as I was, clandestine as I could, shooting the hell out of the show with my you’re-not-supposed-to-use-it camera.  I knew there was every chance they were gonna come for me at the end . . . and at minimum erase the pictures — or maybe worse.

But there was no way I was gonna let this night end badly!

Without saying a word of goodbye to my linemates, I grabbed my coat from the seat, and booked it up the aisle, with a kinda slight crouch to make myself smaller.  I got half-way up and hit the back end of the exiting crowd that were snail-inching their way out.  I lingered and pretended like I was just gonna hang there in the line for a while . . . feeling their surveilling eyes and approach behind me; and as I know so well — do not turn around and look behind you.  Pretend like you don’t know they’re after you.  Then after a few seconds fake-out delay in this aisle, I cut over thru an empty row to the next aisle to the left, and snail along with those people for a few seconds, again acting that I’m just naturally slowly leaving, not running or anything, suddenly stuck in the cattle-call crowd.  Then I break and cut thru another empty row, now getting to the nearly last aisle, which is fairly open, and speed-walk it to the top of the audience bowl, and Boom! — spot the lower hidden exit in the dark, zip down those steps cuz now I’m in an unobservable tunnel, thru the next doors, into the lobby with hundreds of other departing Berners.  Again — don’t look back to any other exit where they might be coming towards me, but power-walk thru the lobby to the nearest exit to the outer lobby, and finally see the nighttime darkened glass doors, with one last line of black uniformed Secret Service staring us down as we leave.  I listen for walkie-talkies’ going off — “Stop that long-haired guy in the jean jacket!” — but I hear / see / feel nothing, and just blast past the bullet-proof jest — into the blooming raining Bloomington night, heart racing a thousand miles an hour, and heart beating even faster for democracy.



You can read this and 50 other Political Adventure Tales like it in my 2020 book Blissfully Ravaged in Democracy — Adventures in Politics — 1980–2020.

Here’s a whole book with these kinds of Adventures — although with a more literary rock star bent — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.

Here’s the story of the last super-exciting election night — at Barackefeller Center.

Here’s some more Adventures in Democracy — at Obama’s first Inauguration.

Or here’s a piece I had published years ago on Bill Clinton’s first Inauguration.

Or here’s the part where Michael Lang quoted my Inauguration coverage in his book about Woodstock.

Or here’s how I first got involved in politics.

Or here’s another primary story from 2016 — with the Democrats Abroad in Toronto.

Or here’s a poem about Wall Street greed — The Ballad of The Profiteers.


by Brian Hassett


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17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Eliza Goehl // May 5, 2016 at 4:23 PM

    Wonderful writing of an incredible story, I’m glad I have this to remember the highlight of the first election season I get to vote during.

    I’m feeling inspired to write for fun now that schools over and I’ve enjoyed the way you reminisce on and share your adventures.

    My favorite part of the intro to your book was “He writes the way he talks and he lives the way he writes!”
    I figure that was a great way to sum up what I’ve witnessed this past week.

    Quite honored to be such a memorable character on a day like that one! Thank you.

  • 2 David Stewart // May 5, 2016 at 4:52 PM

    Awesome piece Brian!
    Even though I’d heard you tell me the story, reading about your mad dash out of there still raised my pulse.

  • 3 J.H. Mendenhall // May 5, 2016 at 5:11 PM

    Killer riffing! Felt like I was right there with ya the whole time reading!

    I will be making my run on Desolation late June and will be writing and snapping shots along the way and will make sure to post em all up.

  • 4 Brian // May 5, 2016 at 5:51 PM

    Love you, brother! You’re SO and still On The Road!

  • 5 Dawny Alexandra Halliday // May 5, 2016 at 6:41 PM

    Nice one, Brian. You got to see the future President in the flesh 🙂
    Feelthebern !!!

  • 6 Dale Topham // May 5, 2016 at 7:16 PM

    Felt like I was right with you, rebel rebel!. Love how you get in and out of places. And to find beautiful youth with Dylan & Burroughs! Priceless!!!

  • 7 Melissa Steele // May 5, 2016 at 7:21 PM

    Looks like you had fun. I take issue with you comparing his oratory skills to Prez O, however. If you want to compare, check out this Obama speech from Nov. 3rd 2008 that I attended. Now that was f-in Woodstock, my friend. It’s the last part of the speech where he really blows everyone’s minds.

  • 8 Brian // May 5, 2016 at 8:09 PM

    I already compared Barack’s happenings to Woodstock — and got quoted by the show’s producer for doing so. 😉

    And I guess if you haven’t been in a room with Bernie on the stump it’s probably pretty hard to compare them.
    And besides — this isn’t a zero-sum competition. They’re both oratorical champs in my book. 🙂

  • 9 Philip E. Thomas // May 5, 2016 at 11:44 PM

    Lovin it!

    Bernie has a pretty spiritual message as far as politicians go about creating more inclusiveness and not resorting to our tribes in the face of fear and insecurity.

  • 10 Rob Fitch // May 6, 2016 at 8:52 AM

    Bravo! Well done, sir!

    I love the irony of playing euchre at a Bernie rally, what with all the trumping and such… 😉

  • 11 Nomi Herbstman // May 6, 2016 at 9:07 AM

    I loved the end with you getting out of there away from security Brian, you can be quite the bandit!

  • 12 Brian // May 6, 2016 at 9:56 AM

    Good one!! 😀

  • 13 Karyn Nantes // May 6, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    What a great read! I love this! Thanks, Brian Hassett, for sharing your cool adventures!

  • 14 Ashlee Rosko // May 6, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    I felt like I was there with you.

  • 15 Shelly Musgrove // May 6, 2016 at 4:10 PM

    Thank you for sharing. I can only HOPE to get so lucky. Feeling the Bern in CA.

  • 16 Jeanne Masanz // May 6, 2016 at 6:51 PM

    As always, a tale worth reading.

  • 17 Trevor Cape // May 7, 2016 at 11:14 PM

    What a grate tale! Love it!

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