Everything old is new again.
Hundreds of young hipsters packed into Greenpoint’s Transmitter Park late on Friday afternoon to hear presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vermont) deliver his democratic socialist sentiments. The silver-haired septuagenarian may not share their fashion sense or social media savvy, but one local pol says his blunt-tawking old crank image really speaks to the kids, who hate nothing more than a poser.
“Young people really value authenticity,” said Nick Rizzo, the 30-year-old male Democratic district leader of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, who has been volunteering with the campaign. “Whatever you say about him, he’s really real — he’s said the same critiques for 30, 40 years.”
The Midwood-born senator played to the youthful crowd of around 2,000, speaking about student debt, queer equality, the environment, and marijuana decriminalization — which elicited particularly strong cheers from the bearded masses — just hours after reminiscing about playing punchball as a boy at a rally outside his childhood home.
The audience then mobbed Sanders as he left the stage to the strains of David Bowie’s “Starman,” chasing the 1950s James Madison High School track star for selfies as he shuffled towards his awaiting sports utility vehicle to jet off for a performance of hip-hop musical “Hamilton.”
Beforehand, actress Susan Sarandon and 31-year-old Councilman Rafael Espinal (D–Bushwick) — one of the few elected officials in New York to have endorsed Sanders over rival Hillary Clinton — warmed up the audience members, who lined up down the block for hours and gathered on rooftops and fire escapes to catch a glimpse.
Rizzo said it was the youngest crowd he has ever seen at a political event, and attributes the generation gap in part to the fact that 20-somethings didn’t grow up during the Cold War, and don’t have the same concerns about Sanders’ red-tinged rhetoric as their elders.
“We’re not afraid of the word ‘socialism,’” said Rizzo, who works as a bartender and ran for low-level office touting his devotion to bike-riding and roll-your-own cigarettes.
One young creative at the rally said she hadn’t been planning to vote at all a year ago, but Sanders had since won her over with his Millennial-friendly message of free higher education and healthcare.
“As an artist, he’s speaking to me and my generation,” said Madalyne Geraldine, 29, who came with a spray-painted sign featuring Sanders sporting a third eye.
But it wasn’t all youngsters — many older fans also showed up to cheer on their peer, with one saying the candidate’s message of compassion and equality is a quality oldsters can get behind in their advancing years.
“A lot of people my age don’t have many more tricks left in their hats and have to focus on who will care about people as president of the United States,” said a 74-year-old Brooklyn Heights man who identified himself only as Sunny. “He cares about people.”
— with Ruth Brown