Chattanoogans are feeling the Bern

Chattanoogans are feeling the Bern

February 21st, 2016 by Emmett Gienapp in Local Regional News

Supporters cheer during a rally for Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders held at Renaissance Park on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Supporters then marched across the Market Street Bridge to show their support.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Chattanoogans are feeling the Bern

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When a Bernie Sanders supporter bellowed "Feel the Bern!" through a megaphone in Chattanooga's Renaissance Park on Saturday, a crowd of hundreds roared back and rattled their campaign signs in feverish excitement.

Teachers, musicians, welders and college students swarmed en masse to the rally ready to cheer and stomp in support of the democratic Socialist who has captured the hearts of voters with his relentless message of social and economic equality.

"We are part of a movement," Anna Grabowski shouted to raucous applause.

Since the Vermont senator announced his candidacy for president almost a year ago in May 2015, his campaign has lauded that "movement" as a grassroots campaign.

For voters like Grabowski, Sanders' platform has inspired them to not only vote for him, but to run for office themselves.

She announced she run as a Democrat in the August primary for Tennessee House District 22, which includes Polk and parts of Bradley and Meigs counties. Republican Dan Howell, of Cleveland, is the incumbent.

Two other "Berniecrats," as they called themselves, also jumped into state races. Katie Cowley said she'll seek the Democratic nomination for the District 30 House seat in East Ridge, now held by Republican Marc Gravitt, and Alice Demetreon said she'll run for the District 16 Senate seat. The district includes Coffee, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie, Van Buren and Warren counties and the incumbent is Republican Janice Bowling of Tullahoma.

But the grassroots movement goes beyond voter participation — Sanders boasts that his entire funding apparatus, which outpaced Hillary Clinton's by several million in January, is fueled by small donations averaging $27 each.

Sanders' campaign takes no funding from corporate donors and super PACs, relying instead on individual donations from people wanting to end what he calls a rigged economic system that benefits a wealthy few at the expense of the many.

That message resonated at Saturday's rally.

"The real bullies in the room are the elitist corporations and their greed," said Chattanooga comedian Larry "Kerosene" Donaldson. "They are the ones who have a foot on all of our necks."

Greg Stone, a fierce Bernie supporter, believes in his candidate so strongly that he drove up to Iowa before the caucus two weeks ago to spread the word.

Concerning the economic equality that is a pillar of Sanders' stump speeches, Stone said, "He knew there was a problem before people were even talking about it."

But political pundits say Sanders still has a long way to go to claim Democratic nomination, much less the White House. Clinton's campaign has been banking on a so-called "Southern firewall" for months, saying Sanders can't catch up with the former first lady in states like Tennessee where she holds a commanding lead.

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lee said Friday Clinton is 20 points up throughout Tennessee.

She released her first two television ads in the state last week, airing in Memphis and Nashville but not Chattanooga.

Annie Hall, Hamilton County regional lead for the Clinton campaign, said via email there are no plans to open a campaign office in Chattanooga but Clinton volunteers "have a strong grass roots base" in Chattanooga are working the phones hard.

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at or 423-757-6731.