Oligarchs and Resisters

By now, we’ve all seen the utter obliteration of Michael Bloomberg in the last Democratic debate, an individual used to a room full of yes-men finally out from behind of his money and into the arena of give and take. And take, he did; if he was a mop, the floor would have been spotless. Relax; I do not think it is inappropriate for a member of the humble proletariat to take pleasure in the humiliation of an oligarch.

A few days after Bloomberg’s Nevada debacle, I volunteered at a Bernie Sanders rally at the Springs Preserve Amphitheater in North Las Vegas. The setting was glorious, a stage backed by an enormous rock cliff with an ocean of green raising slowly around it. At one point during the event, my thoughts turned to Bloomberg’s ashen debate stage face, admittedly a strange thought to be having in that environment.

It happened involuntarily, when out of the crowd two men approached me, white millennial males in flashy business suits wearing expensive watches and too much cologne. One did all the talking. He told me, pointing to my volunteer badge, that he wanted to get in touch with the campaign, that he had a great idea for an app that they would want to buy, that his companies had made millions in the past.

I advised him to find someone wearing a ‘staff’ or ‘all-access’ badge, rather than a lowly volunteer such as myself, or simply to contact the campaign directly.

“I tried that,” he blurted out, exasperated, “but nobody wants to listen to my idea!”

I told him apologetically that I couldn’t help him and turned back to the speaker on stage; I believe at that moment it was Naomi Klein. The man continued to talk, faster as he went. I paid little attention, catching only the odd word – entrepreneur, major brands, big money, tech breakthrough. I glanced out the side of my eye at the man. He was sweaty and wide-eyed, his forehead pursed into a wrinkle between his eyes. It was at that moment that Bloomberg came to mind. Here was a man who, for possibly the first time in his life, could not bend a situation to his will with a flashy business suit or words about technology and wealth. Nobody in the crowd gave a shit about his warped capitalist value system. And he was panicking.

It must be noted that volunteering at a Bernie Sanders event is like a rock concert for the soul. Nearly every interaction is laden with that ‘better world’ energy. However, this wannabe Bloomberg was not the only individual who drew to mind another candidate, or candidates, in this type of setting.

While volunteering days earlier at an afternoon event outdoors on the campus of UNLV, I was assigned to the ‘invited guests’ table – a check-in for surrogate speakers, local politicians, and so on. I was given a list of names, a pen, and a hearty pat on the back. Things went smoothly, until a middle-aged white woman approached holding her phone out in front of her like she was looking for metal on the beach.

“I RSVP’d the event,” she announced, turning her phone to show me.

I asked for her name; it did not appear on the list. I directed her to general admission about thirty steps away and with most of the line already in the event.

“But I RSVP’d,” she wailed, “what’s the point of that if I can’t come in as an invited guest?”

I explained that the campaign uses RSVP’s to estimate attendance, and that occasionally this becomes relevant, as it did only a few days prior in Colorado, when so many people had RSVP’d that they’d moved the event to a larger venue. She sighed heavily and frowned, attempting to process the information. Finally, she turned to the press check-in table next to me and began the same story over again. The young man with the military haircut and aviator sunglasses working at that table was much less cordial than I had been.

“General admission,” he grunted, pointing with a finger. The woman began her ‘what’s the point of’ rebuttal, but he interjected. “General admission. Move along please ma’am.”

“That’s it!” she announced loudly, pointing her phone at the man as though she was jabbing him with a sword. “I’m leaving … and …. and … I’m voting for someone else!”

Look, I do not know this woman at all. I’m sure she is decent in her daily life and that her friends and family probably like her. But here was an individual who, like the man who could not believe his power suit had not given him power, could not imagine a situation in which she did not have immediate access to the front of the line, a white liberal who showed up for the revolution and couldn’t fathom that, in the most diverse coalition in the country, she wouldn’t be given a seat at the head of the table. In seriousness, what type of person is so willing and even eager to throw away healthcare for millions, security for immigrants, A CHANCE TO SAVE THE PLANET, simply because they had not gotten special treatment they hadn’t earned.

But I guess that’s just the point. Some people are unrepentant hyper-capitalists in business suits, and others want to be progressive so long as they get special treatment they haven’t earned.

• Photos by Nigel Clarke

Nigel Clarke is a writer and notorious vagabond. Check out his latest book, 'On the Road in Trump's America'. Connect with Nigel on Twitter - @Nigel_OnTheRoad . Read other articles by Nigel.