Less than a mile from the birthplace of conservative icon Herbert Hoover, the only Iowan ever elected president, more than 300 people gathered on Monday afternoon to see Bernie Sanders, the only presidential candidate who identifies as a democratic socialist.
The campaign event — an ice cream social — was held in the backyard of Dave Johnson and Jennie Embree’s West Branch home. It’s not the first time the couple has welcomed Sanders to their backyard. Johnson, a former West Branch City Councilmember, was one of Sanders’ earliest Iowa supporters during the senator’s previous run for president, and in 2015, the couple hosted a Sanders campaign event.
This time, Sanders brought not only ice cream — Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, Phish Food and Half Baked (Ben Cohen is a co-chair of the Sanders campaign) — but also a high-profile supporter, Susan Sarandon.
Casually holding her dog Penny, Sarandon briefly addressed the crowd before introducing Sanders.
“It’s very clear, in terms of economic justice, racial justice, social justice, health care and especially the environment, that this is the make-it-or-break-it election,” Sarandon said.
The Oscar-winner and longtime Sanders supporter said that Iowans, “as people who live off the land,” understand “that this is the moment you need to stand up and be counted.”
The crowd warmly greeted Sanders as he crossed the backyard to take the mic. West Branch is divided between Johnson and Cedar counties, and Sanders carried both counties in 2016 caucus.
Sanders started with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible, until it is done.”
According to Sanders, “that is the story of history in America.”
Guaranteeing the rights of workers, racial minorities, women, LGBTQ people and others was once called “impossible,” Sanders said.
“It is always impossible, until millions of people stand together,” he said.
It’s a point that Sanders has been making in speeches since his first Iowa campaign event of this election cycle at the Iowa Memorial Union in March. In fact, Sanders’ speech in West Branch was a condensed version of his IMU speech, during which he highlighted how ideas considered “impossible” when he was running in 2016 — a $15-an-hour minimum wage, Medicare-for-all, tuition-free public universities — are now common among Democrats.
“Now we have to take our struggle to fruition,” Sanders said in West Branch. “We made a good start, now we’ve got to take that ball over the goal line.”
After the West Branch stop, the Sanders campaign headed to Dyersville for a softball game on the Field of Dreams baseball diamond. The game was originally supposed to be a friendly competition between members of the media and the senator and his campaign staff. According to the Sanders campaign, it was intended as a public display of goodwill at a time when “members of the media are demonized by the president.” It was scheduled before Sanders accused the Washington Post of writing negative stories about him because he’s criticized Amazon.com, which is owned by Post publisher Jeff Bezos.
At an Aug. 12 campaign stop in New Hampshire, Sanders asked the audience if they know how much Amazon paid in taxes last year. It’s a standard part of his stump speech. An audience member answered, “Nothing.” That also is a normal part of the senator’s campaign events. (The answer is correct if you define “taxes” as only meaning federal corporate income tax. Amazon paid other federal, state and local taxes last year.)
In New Hampshire, Sanders did something new and connected his criticism of Amazon to the Post’s coverage of his campaign.
See, I talk about that all of the time. And then I wonder why the Washington Post — which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon — doesn’t write particularly good articles about me. I don’t know why. But I guess maybe there’s a connection. Maybe we helped raise the minimum wage at Amazon to 15 bucks an hour as well.
Sanders repeated the accusation at his next stop in New Hampshire.
The Post rejected Sanders’ accusation, calling it a “conspiracy theory.” The following day, Sanders told CNN that despite what he actually said, he was making a general point about the limits of acceptable discourse in the national media.
I think my criticism of the corporate media is not that they are anti-Bernie, that they wake up, you know, in the morning and say, ‘What could we do to hurt Bernie Sanders?’ — that’s not the case, that Jeff Bezos gets on the phone to the Washington Post. There is a framework of what we can discuss and what we cannot discuss, and that’s a serious problem.
According to Sanders, because he is taking on the power of big corporations, and the major national media outlets are owned by big corporations, those outlets will almost always produce coverage biased against him. It’s a critique reporters covering Sanders have been hearing since the 1990s, as Sanders went from local politician in Vermont, to the U.S. House of Representatives, to the Senate, to becoming a leading presidential candidate.
Sanders did not repeat either version of his complaint about the media during his West Branch stop, but Susan Sarandon did.
“I’m heartened by the fact that so many people are on the ground [in Iowa], knocking on doors, and giving information that the mainstream media either is suppressing or corrupting or misrepresenting,” she said.
Sarandon accompanied Sanders to Dyersville for the softball game. The game, however, almost didn’t happen.
Ten members of the national media who were scheduled to participate withdrew, not because of the senator’s media criticism, but because the campaign began using the game to solicit donations. It’s considered unethical for reporters to knowingly participate in fundraising activities, although that didn’t stop reporters from the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, the Gazette and other Iowa-based media from taking the field.
To celebrate tonight's softball game at the iconic Field of Dreams, we made these limited-edition baseball cards!
Donate any amount to get yours now. https://t.co/t6YJWoixmc
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 19, 2019
The Sanders campaign was able to find last-minute replacements for the missing media by recruiting teenagers and staffers from Leaders Believers Achievers Foundation (LBA), a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit that helps develop the leadership potential of young people.
The Sanders team, which called itself “the Revolutionaires,” was beaten by the LBA/local media team, 14-8.