By Abigael Sleeper
On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, the Bernie Sanders campaign made one final effort to encourage UNH students to exercise their right to vote.
On Monday night, the Whittemore Center hosted the “Commit to Vote Concert,” a free event which featured several musical performances as well as Sanders himself. Despite the snowstorm that had resulted in curtailed operations at the university, students and community members began lining up outside the Whitt around 3:30 p.m. to await the event.
“I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter; I’m feelin’ the Bern,” said UNH junior Sam White as she waited to enter the building. White said that she was excited to see a Sanders rally, especially the night before the primary.
Secret Service officials reminded the bundled-up supporters to be ready to empty their pockets for the TSA security checkpoint inside. Once spectators had passed through security, they gathered on the floor of the arena where a small stage had been set.
Burlington-based musicians Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band kicked off the evening. The blues-soul group paid homage to their home-state’s senator with a rendition of “This Land is Your Land.” In addition to inviting spectators to sing along, front woman Kat Wright encouraged them to build up the crowd as the night continued.
“You guys need to get on your cell phones and tell all your friends to get down here,” said Wright, “Everybody text five people; we’ve gotta fill up this place- Bernie’s gonna be here soon.”
After a brief speech by model Emily Ratajkowski, blues-roots artist Fantastic Negrito took the stage for a second musical interlude. Between songs, the musician emphasized the importance of exercising one’s right to vote and voiced his belief in the young voters of America. Pointing out at the student-heavy crowd, he said, “I’m lookin’ at the future, and I feel alright.”
A celebrity advocate or member of the Sanders campaign staff followed each musical performance with a brief speech. Speakers touched upon major platforms of Sanders’ campaign, such as health care reform, the raising of minimum wage and reduction of student-debt. Each speech ended on a similar message, encouraging the youngest generation of voters to make it to the polls the following day.
“I will in fact go out and vote for Bernie tomorrow,” said 22-year-old Dover resident John Reynolds. “I was actually planning to even prior to this event.”
As the time for Sanders to speak drew nearer, bands Big Data and Young the Giant brought up the energy levels of the crowd. Big Data excited spectators with their electronic beats, and many students could be heard singing along to Young the Giant’s popular “My Body.”
As the final performance before Sanders’ speech, indie-folk group Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros played a slightly longer set. Lead singer Alex Ebert was very casual with the crowd, taking requests for songs and joking with the students closest to the stage.
Ebert let the crowd sing the first verse of the band’s well-known song, “Home.” He paused in the middle of the tune and invited spectators to share a “story” about why they were there or why the evening was important to them. Sentiments such as “I’m here for tomorrow” and “I’m here because I’m voting for Bernie and I’m proud” were heard before the band returned to the song.
Finally, Ebert announced to an energetic crowd that Sanders was on his way up to the podium. Chants of “Bernie, Bernie” could be heard as the presidential-hopeful took the stage.
Sanders spent a brief time discussing his political agenda, mentioning affordable health care, higher minimum wage and greater civil rights as the crowd cheered and waved American flags in approval. When Sanders turned the conversation to reducing college tuition and student debt, a voice cried out “You tell em’, Bernie!”
Like the speakers before him, Sanders quickly reached the matter of young voters.
“The decisions made in Washington effect every generation, but they’re going to effect the younger generation the most,” he said.
Sanders emphasized that America’s political system depends on its citizens exercising their right to vote, saying, “Democracy is not a spectator sport… all people have a right to determine the future of their country.” He urged the crowd to make the trip to the polls on Tuesday, stating that it was important to him that America’s youngest generation of voters get involved in the voting process, whatever their affiliation.
“What is most important is that we don’t have an election like last November, where 80 percent of young people did not vote- that can not happen again.”
The night ended with a group performance, as the previous acts and joined Edward Sharpe onstage for Ebert’s song “Feel the Bern.” The lyrics, “ain’t it time to vote your minds” echoed the strongest message of the evening, and Sanders’ own words reminded students and community members of the importance of the following days presidential primary: “The eyes of America will be on New Hampshire tomorrow.”