Local man feels the Bern!’
Springfield’s Justin “Hoover” Hillesheim, 33, and his sister, Brittany Hillesheim, 23, were among a crowd of more than 14,000 people who last Tuesday evening heard Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders fire up a crowd at St. Paul’s RiverCenter with populist appeals on issues ranging from raising the minimum wage to public funding of healthcare, elections and education.
The Vermont senator was trying to keep momentum building for his surging Democratic campaign just days from when the first votes of the presidential race were cast in Iowa.
“I’m a big fan of Bernie Sanders, so when I found out that he was coming to St. Paul, I asked my boss if I could leave early that day so I could go to see him,” Hillesheim said during an interview last week. Paul Tauer gave Hillesheim his blessing to leave work early on January 26. “I may not agree with all of his (Sanders’) politics, but I like that you care about politics,” Tauer told his employee.
Hillesheim doesn’t care much about driving in the metropolitan area, but breezed along the freeway, found a place to park, and arrived at RiverCenter at 6 o’clock, an hour before Sanders’ scheduled speech. “When we got into RiverCenter I was surprised by the lack of coordination and the lack of security,” he said. “There were no metal detectors, no checking of bags.” It was a chaotic scene as thousands of people streamed in and moved slowly through long lines with few people offering directions. “I was in line for an hour,” said Hillesheim, but it provided him the opportunity to chat with people.
The size of the crowds showed how Sanders’ populist, anti - establishment message is resonating. The crowds were particularly well-stocked with young people. “It was a diverse crowd with some who called themselves ‘old liberals’ — those who were very liberal during the 60s and 70s,” Hillesheim explained. “Overall it was a young crowd.”
“Springfield is a conservative community. It was kind of weird being surrounded by non-conservatives,” said Hillesheim, who considers himself a liberal.
Sanders’ speech was delayed until about 7:30 to accommodate the people. “We were fortunate to get into the main auditorium shortly before the doors closed,” Hillesheim said. The overflow crowd had to watch the speech in on live TV. About halfway through Sanders’ speech, Hillesheim heard a gasp and noises, and turned around to see that an elderly woman had fainted directly behind him. He helped her up. “She had been standing so long, and it was very warm in the auditorium,” he said.
With a hoarse voice, Sanders said the people in the room can control what comes next: “Real change never takes place from the top down. Real change always take place from the grassroots up.”
“He spoke for over an hour,” said Hillesheim. “He spoke with conviction. I enjoyed his speech. I was glad to see him, and glad to hear him.” Key issues were free college tuition, Medicare for all, drug reform, justice reform, environmental / global warming, income inequality, campaign finance reform. “There was a whole bunch of things I had to look up. I had to educate myself on the issues,” Hillesheim said.
“I would like to vote for Bernie,” Hillesheim said. “He covers issues that the young care about.”
Initially viewed as a long shot due to his quirky style and self-professed socialism, Sanders, 74, has recently risen to near equal or even ahead of Clinton in a handful of polls of Democratic voters. The biggest test of his underdog bid came Monday, when Iowans gathered for their first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Minnesota holds its own caucuses on March 1.
Sanders finished his speech by telling everyone to vote March 1 in the Minnesota Caucus.
“I was happy to leave the big city and come back home to small town Springfield,” Hillesheim concluded.