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Chuck D Fires Flavor Flav from Public Enemy and Fires Up the Bernie Campaign

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Bernie Sanders supporters flocked to the Los Angeles Convention Center for a rally featuring Sarah Silverman, 94-year-old actor Dick Van Dyke, and Public Enemy Radio.

Kevin Winter

LOS ANGELESFrom a distance, if you ignored the cardboard cutouts of Bernie Sanders face, the crowds outside the Los Angeles Convention Center Sunday evening might have looked like a music festival. Thousands packed the venue sporting familiar teesBlack Flag, Rage Against the Machine, Misfits, and, uh, Mary Poppins. The Vermont senator, though intentionally detached from pop culture himself, has well-known musical ties. Hes toured with The Strokes, Vampire Weekend, and Bon Iver; received public support from Cardi B to Kim Gordon to Ariana Grande; and inspired more than one series of music-related merch. But in the final push before Super Tuesday, the standing Democratic frontrunner billed his Los Angeles rally with an especially apt musical guest: hip-hop pioneer Chuck D and his Public Enemy offshoot, Public Enemy Radio.

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Inside the Convention Center, there were clear parallels between Sanders and Chuck D, born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, despite the differences in age, ethnicity, and background. As attendees filed into the makeshift concert hall, most flocked toward the merch stand. The campaign staff had unveiled a new shirt: Sanders silhouette on a black background, fist held in the air. The caption, honoring Public Enemys famous 1989 single, read: Fight the Power. Like Sanders, the lyricist behind the seminal album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, spent years honing a consistent critique of the wealthy, white elite. Both made constant calls for revolution through activism and engagement. Both dropped albums in the 80s. When Sanders introduced Chuck D, he described him as someone who has spoken truth to power for decades.

On Sunday, the rally focused less on the rift between bandmates, than the one Sanders has spent his career talking aboutbetween the rich and the working class. His signature themes appeared throughout the songs and speeches, and even among activists in the audience. One woman, a representative with the group Socialist Alternative, collected emails for an event called Million to Milwaukee, a nation-wide protest planned both in Milwaukee and cities around the country during the Democratic convention. The Democratic party has already indicated they might try to take the nomination from the candidate with the popular vote, she told a couple waiting in line. Can you come to Milwaukee to make sure that doesnt happen?

At 5 p.m. on the dot, the room was packedmostly with young millennials and families. Several kids sat on their parents shoulders. Each end of the concert hall bore a massive American flag. The lights dimmed to black, and French- Chilean singer Ana Tijoux, best known for her hip-hop group, Makiza, tore into a stunning set of percussive agitpop. Tijoux talked between songs, jumping from Spanish to English and back, about expanding access to quality public education. In the speaking portion of the event, Jsus Chuy Garcia, Representative for Illinois 4th congressional district, discussed the importance of electing progressives into local office; Sanders Los Angeles regional field director Scarlett Peralta touted the grassroots campaigns goal to knock on every door in the city; and Executive Director of National Nurses United Bonnie Costillo emphasized the role of unions in delivering vital services like health care. As guests stood within coughing distance of each other, Costillo also articulated a latent anxiety: We have just admitted our first and second coronavirus patients, she said. There will be more.

Two other high-profile speakers appeared on the line-up: comedian Sarah Silverman and actor Dick Van Dyke. Both played defense against common Sanders critiques. Silverman spent her set taking down hysteria over socialism. Bernies a socialist and you know what socialism is? Communism! she said, parroting right-wing and centrist pundits. Okay. Relax. First of all, socialism is not communism. The one percent were actually down with socialism, Silverman continued, in their own way. No ones asking how are you going to pay for it when it comes to endless war, when it comes to trillions in tax cuts for the rich, she said, to raucous applause from the crowd. These people are fine with socialism for the billionaire class.

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Im whats left of Dick Van Dyke, said the 94-year-old actor, taking the stage after Silverman. Van Dyke, who approached the podium amid cries of WE WANT DICK, had come to tackle another issue. I would like to say a word about age, he began. Im 15 years older than Bernie. I think he was born the day I got married or something. The actor laid out a case for longterm political memory, recalling when he voted for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952: I voted for Ike and Im not sorry. Ike said Beware the military industrial complex. People didnt know it then. We sure know it now, dont we?

Van Dykes defense got somewhat muddled when the actor charmingly forgot his speech (Where was I? What was I going to say? Ive lost my train of thought. My name is Dick Van Dyke!). He walked off-stage a few times and seemingly cosigned American use of the atomic bomb. But Van Dyke won the crowd back quickly, breaking into a musical interlude with a warbly verse from Bye Bye Birdie. I want to make a special announcement tonight, Sanders joked later, that we are going to announce for Vice Presidentthe youthful, vigorous, Dick Van Dyke!

Many audience members had not been born when Public Enemys first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, debuted in 1987. But when the hybrid group of Chuck D, DJ Lord, Oakland rapper Jahi and the S1Ws began their set, the crowd surged to the front. Over a 30-minute set, Public Enemy Radio played the hitsBring the Noise, Black Steel in the Age of Chaos, Fight the Powerand stirred attendees into a chant: Build Schools. Less Jails. Between songs, Chuck D talked at length about Sanders, about his fathers healthcare troubles, and feeling disenfranchised from the political system. He reminded the audience to combat that impulse by voting. In California, the primary will be held on Super Tuesday for the first time ever, giving the densely-populated, progressive state a greater say in determining the nominee. Sanders currently leads here by 17 points.

Voting is as important as washing your ass in the morning, Chuck D said. Some people say you dont have to wash. Well, you dont. But then dont go telling everybody how it stinks out here.

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