By 7 p.m., the battle lines were drawn — not inside the Navy Yard’s Duggal Greenhouse, where Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would face off just two hours later — but outside the gates, where crowds of supporters of both candidates, and a few people there to oppose both were showing, in no uncertain terms, what Brooklyn democracy is all about on the ground.
Clinton supporters were lined up behind police horses close to the gate; Sanders supporters, anchored by Communications Workers of America members currently in a dispute with employee Verizon, across the street in the shadow of the Farragut Houses. In between, there was a small army of cops, there to keep order and make sure that only the lucky few with their names on the list entered the Navy Yard to access the debate location.
Both sides were excited to witness a piece of history in the borough, which suddenly has become very important in the race for the White House, with neither candidate having enough delegates yet to claim the nomination.
“He’s been fighting for the rights of people, all nations and colors,” said Sanders supporter Joel Navarro, whose toddler son clutched a Bernie sign, sitting nearby in his stroller. “He’s trying to raise the minimum wage. He knows what he is talking about, and he gets you into what he has to say.”
For Nilda Marquez, it’s Clinton’s support for immigrants and her years of experience that speak loudest. “She has been in the White House,” Marquez said, stressing Clinton’s support for Latinos as well.
Her daughter, Judith, concurred. “When she’s questioned, she doesn’t talk about herself like Trump does. She talks about what she plans to do when she becomes president. She plans to help seniors.”
CWA member David Doran said he was “With Bernie because he supports me, he supports the CWA.”
Adding that he was a Sanders supporter even before the Vermont senator showed up at a CWA rally in downtown Brooklyn on April 13, Doran said, “I believe what he believes. I believe it’s time for middle class America to take the country back from the economic elite, the one percent. I think the quality of life has gone down. I don’t think I have the same quality of life as my parents did, 30 years ago, even though I work just as hard.”
Daniel Hepner pointed to his tee shirt that said “Love,” when explaining his support for Clinton. “She talks about a campaign of kindness,” he said. “She is building bridges, not walls. Hillary is for the people. She’s with the people. It’s not just a philosophy or ideology, but action in creating change. Sanders is the outsider candidate, anti-establishment, but he’s been in politics forever, so he’s not that anti-establishment.”
“I’m voting for her because she will become the first woman president,” added Sharon Blocker. “She will go down in history.”
Evan Siegel harked back to the economic disparities prevalent right now. “I support Bernie,” he said. “I think the country is heading for a real kind of economic feudalism, a big plantation. Most of us are stuck at the bottom, and a tiny sliver is at the top. We have to turn that around.”
But, a small group was there to protest what they said were both candidates’ warmongering. “Hillary’s warmongering is no secret,” said one protester, who identified himself only as John, a veteran activist. But, Sanders, too, is too willing to go to war, John contended, citing his support for the Afghan war, his vote in favor of funding the Iraq war, and his support of military action in both Libya and the former Yugoslavia.
“Neither one of them will talk about cutting the war budget and redirecting the money to housing, schools, health care, etc.”
Their view, however, did not seem to dent the enthusiasm of Clinton and Sanders supporters who periodically tried to outshout the other group.
And, they were all but unnoticed by the small group of people making their way in to the debate arena itself. Most went in, in support of one candidate or the other.
However, at least one was there to make up his mind.
“I’m not supporting a candidate yet,” said a rushing Kenny Mack. “I’m here to listen.”