Early Wednesday evening at a sweaty loft party in Bushwick, hipster clichés sipped all-natural, hibiscus- and mint-flavored soda and admired their host’s artwork: small swaths of canvas stenciled with slogans for Bernie Sanders’s grassroots 2016 presidential campaign, from the traditional (“Go Bernie!”), to the alliterative and playful (“Bernie or Bust” and “Feel the Bern”), to the millennial (“Bernie is Bae”).
The latter was particularly popular among 70 or so young anti-establishment liberals who filed into the Bushwick loft Wednesday night, where Steve Panovich, 36, was hosting one of 3,300 “online house parties” across the country organized by Sanders’s Democratic campaign.
Panovich apologized to guests for the venue’s sauna-like temperatures, but no one seemed to mind much: For refreshments there were Tostitos, nuts, and warm beer.
“Feel the Bern! Literally!” one ebullient Bernie fanboy shouted from the crowd of hipsters-in-uniform: Converse sneakers, crop tops, tattoos, purple hair, and ironic T-shirts.
Everyone laughed, fanning themselves with fliers they’d picked up at the door, their faces shiny with sweat and optimism.
They whooped and cheered as the 73-year-old Vermont senator held forth on income inequality during a livestreamed broadcast, projected onto a white bedsheet Panovich had hung from the ceiling.
“Enough is enough!” the gravelly voiced statesman repeated again and again, reciting his campaign goals: Grow the middle class, raise the minimum wage, create jobs by rebuilding infrastructure, and raise taxes for the “millionaires and billionaires.”
The Bushwick crowd knows his spiel by heart: “It is not acceptable that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”
That kind of zero-sum thinking doesn’t fly in mainstream economics, but there’s nothing mainstream about Sanders—and that’s exactly why young progressives can’t get enough of him.
One woman apologized for “frothing at the mouth” as she gushed about Sanders’s policies with a wild twinkle in her eye, as though he were Mick Jagger or Gandhi.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is too mainstream.
She doesn’t fire up the radicals gathered in Bushwick like Sanders does, though she has a significant lead on him in the latest national poll.
The Brooklyn hipsters are in the throes of what the media has dubbed “Berniemania.”
Much like Barack Obama’s young supporters in 2008, they are drunk on hope imagining what Sanders could do in the Oval Office.
A common refrain in the room was that Sanders didn’t “spout bullshit” like other politicians and that his policies have been consistent over the years.
“He accurately speaks to what America wants and needs!” cried Lauren Irwin, 24, who works in strategy for a digital agency. “And he’s not supported by a super PAC. He tells it like it is: ‘Here are the problems and here are the solutions.’”
Sanders has been criticized by some Democrats for not addressing social justice issues as much as Clinton, but when I brought this up in conversation with Irwin, another guest interrupted.
“The idea that he’s not interested in social justice issues is just a smear from the Hillary campaign,” said Matthew Easton, 27. “It’s like when Republicans speculated whether Obama was a Muslim and said they were ‘just asking.’ It’s a totally false premise. Hillary and Bernie both support #BlackLivesMatter and they both support police reform. Plus economics and social justice are linked, so by virtue of his economic stance I think Bernie goes further than Hillary.”
When I asked 26-year-old Loris Jones-Randolph why she was supporting Sanders, she fired back: “Because I’m a black woman, that’s why. I don’t feel like any other candidate cares about my life. I worry about my life when I walk down the street, and I feel like Bernie Sanders is the only person who’s created a plan to talk about that.”
“The proof is in the pudding with this man,” added Jones-Randolph, who works as an administrative assistant for a church in Bushwick. “It’s not with Hillary. I don’t trust someone who can’t show me their emails. And too much of her money is tied up with people who would rather see me dead.”
Brett Lehne, also 26, was panicked that unless Sanders is elected “we’re going to have an income gap so incredible that we’ve never seen anything like it on this planet. I’m talking flying cars versus digging around in rubbish.”
Lehne, who is employed by a union that builds and designs television and film sets, is also worried that his industry will be obsolete in 20 years as technology replaces manual labor. Sanders, he says, will save the day by raising taxes and strengthening unions.
No one in the group cares that Sanders is a longtime supporter of gun rights. Those who are anti-guns insist he’ll be tough on background checks.
And radical feminists think Sanders cares more about women’s issues than Clinton.
“Hillary has no history of being supportive of women’s rights, but Bernie has been pushing for issues like this since the ’70s,” said Rachel Rosheger, 21, an art student at Cooper Union in New York City who describes herself as an anarchist. (On Russell Brand: “His rhetoric is wonderful” and his book is “a good way of getting your feet into [anarchist] things.”)
But Rosheger is a “pragmatic” anarchist, she added. While she thinks concentrated power is inextricably linked to corruption, she believes Sanders is a step in the right direction toward “re-creating democracy in localized community and economy, and Bernie is the only candidate who has even brought up corporate corruption.”
When I asked if she wished Sanders had more fervently defended Planned Parenthood’s divisive Fetal Tissue Program (he initially told CNN that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards did the right thing when she apologized for the “tone” of the fetal tissue videos), Rosheger declined to answer because the issue is “too sensitive for too many people.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Dani Slocki, a 24-year-old sales manager for a public relations firm, said of the program. “I’ve never given a fuck about politics until now. I got into politics because Bernie is on every single page that I am on issues like police brutality and gay marriage.”
She paused, confessed that she “smoked some very strong weed” before talking to me, then continued: “America is very sensitive right now. Everything is in real time. So the moment someone gets shot or the moment a fucking lion dies, everyone knows about it and everyone wants to be the first person involved. No one is thinking long term. Bernie is thinking long term!”
No loft party in Bushwick—political or otherwise—has ever been so devoid of New York cynicism and snobbery.
By 8:45 p.m., nearly three hours after the doors opened, only a few stragglers remained. They were still talking Bernie, the Iran nuclear deal, and more Bernie.
It felt very un-Bushwick, and a testament to a side of Berniemania that Sanders himself couldn’t have predicted: Somehow, he has transformed Brooklyn’s nihilistic hipsters into a disarmingly earnest group of radicals.