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With the dust still settling after Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s glitzy fundraising trips to Hollywood this week, Clinton’s first official Democratic rival — Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — slipped quietly into town Saturday for a pair of low-key events that didn’t raise seven-figure sums, but did warm the hearts of two overflowing crowds of Hollywood progressives.
Sanders’ supporters might be called the entertainment industry’s irreconcilables — the left flank of the Hollywood Dems’ most progressive faction, with activists deeply disappointed in Obama, who they supported, and unwilling to sign on to a Clinton presidential campaign. In the former Secretary of State they see another moderate waiting to happen.
Early Saturday morning, they filled the already blazing front yard of actress Mimi Kennedy’s Van Nuys home, and — at midday — the living room of long-time activists Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum’s sprawling Brentwood Park mansion, to hear the program of a candidate they see as everything Hillary is not.
“I’m here with my wife and my friends because we believe Bernie is providing us with the opportunity to have a voice and a role in the Democratic process at a time when progressives are on the rise,” said former California state Senator Tom Hayden, who introduced Sanders at the Van Nuys event.
“Bernie has launched a very critical campaign in several states,” Hayden said. “He’s actually doing well in the early polls. He has an opportunity to change the conversation in the country. He has an opportunity to be an effective debater (against Clinton) in the primaries. He has an opportunity to attract Libertarians and Republicans, as well as Democrats and Socialists. It always was a motley crew — the progressive coalition.”
With Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren definitely out of the race, Sanders — a self-described Democratic socialist — is the candidate who checks all the progressive boxes, earning him a devoted Los Angeles following. About 300 people turned out for Sanders’ two events on Saturday. Attendees included Days of Our Lives actress Deidre Hall, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas producer Richard Foos, Sister Act producer Cindy Gilmore Asner, filmmaker James H. Stern and actress/producer Sheila Emery.
In Van Nuys, Sanders told the crowd that the best part of running for president is being able to talk about the issues the other candidates are avoiding.
“Our campaign is catching fire,” he said. “It’s for one simple reason: We are telling the truth. And I think that’s what the American people want to hear. The truth may not be necessarily pleasant, but we can’t go forward unless we have the courage to take a hard look at where we are today. And where we are today is not in a good place.”
Income inequality and working conditions are one of his major concerns, and he recently put his views to one interviewer like this: “What we have seen is that while the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, we have seen a huge increase in income and wealth inequality, which is now reaching obscene levels. This is a rigged economy, which works for the rich and the powerful, and is not working for ordinary Americans. You know, this country just does not belong to a handful of billionaires.”
Since declaring his candidacy last month, Sanders has pointedly rejected the usual stump speech ambiguities. His style seems to declare that when you’re clearly on the attack, you don’t need room to maneuver. He has declared himself against free-trade agreements and the Keystone XL pipeline. He wants higher taxes on corporations and investors’ capital gains to finance universal healthcare and free college educations for all qualifying students. He has introduced legislation to require paid leave and vacation time for every American worker.
He wants more regulation of Wall Street and the big banks and a rollback of the Citizens United decision that ushered in the era of Super PAC’s. “I don’t believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where billionaires own the political process,” he said. Sanders, in fact, refuses to accept Super PAC contributions, and several millions that his campaign has taken in so far came from donors whose average check was $43.
“Look, we knew from day one that we don’t have any Super PACs, and I don’t have too many billionaires putting a lot of money into the campaign,” Sanders told supporters gathered in the Sheinbaums‘ living room. Promoting laughter, he added: “In fact, we have no billionaires.”
But he said that he believes he’ll have enough money to run a strong campaign. In fact, Sanders has declared himself “stunned” by the crowds his campaign stops have drawn. On Saturday, the Kennedy and Sheinbaum events were no exception.
Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum are as close as the progressive Westside comes to a first couple. (She’s Jack Warner’s daughter, and he’s a former economics professor turned anti-Vietnam War and civil liberties activist.) Their light-filled Brentwood Park living room has hosted generations of liberal Democratic politicians and progressive foreign leaders. Some of Bill Clinton’s first introductions to Hollywood occurred there.
Daniel Ellsberg’s defense in the Pentagon Papers case was planned there, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California founded around the fireplace before which Sanders spoke on Saturday.
“In this country, when we stand together there are extraordinary things we can do,” Sanders told the overflowing crowd. “We can provide health care to all of our people. We can create decent paying jobs for all of our people. We can lead the world in terms of combating climate change. We can end racism and sexism and homophobia in the United States. We can end the disgrace of having the highest rate of childhood poverty. All of that is possible. This is not a poor country. This is a rich country. So work with me please in bringing about this political revolution.”
Amid rousing applause he added: “Let’s stand together and let’s do what needs to be done to make this country the greatest country in the world.”
Following his Brentwood Park appearance, Sanders was off to Denver to address a huge gathering of supporters eager to drink from the cup of unadulterated progressive conviction.
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