On a cold November afternoon a few days before Thanksgiving, I waited in line for two hours outside the Fox Theater in Atlanta, Ga., surrounded by a throng of young people excitedly chattering among themselves. Rather than waiting for a Taylor Swift concert or a locally beloved stand-up comic's set, though, we were all gathered for Bernie Sanders' rally in Atlanta, where I was just one of more than 4,000 attendees who turned out to see Sanders speak. I hardly expected a dark horse presidential candidate's campaign rally to draw such a crowd — especially when that candidate is a democratic socialist speaking in the deep South. Atlanta may be a progressive dot in a sea of Republican red, but surely it's not that progressive, right?
Wrong. Attendees came from all over the South, traveling from as far as Tennessee to as close as Georgia Tech's campus down the road. Unlike many of the supporters at the rally, however, I had yet to make up my mind regarding the Senator from Vermont. Call me shallow, but I just can't bear to give up on the idea of having a female POTUS, whether or not I wholeheartedly agree with Hilllary Clinton's policies. That being said, I was hardly going to turn down the opportunity to see Sanders speak in person. Let him try and win me over, I thought. I still like to think of myself as neutral, at least until the election draws closer, but there's no denying that Sanders is a feminist's dream come true — for reasons far beyond the fact that he publicly identifies as one, although that certainly helps.
I'm hardly out to change anyone's vote, of course, but if women's rights are a deciding issue for you, Sanders is a candidate worth considering. Just take a look at six lessons I learned as a feminist at a Sanders rally:
1. He's Older, But His Supporters Aren't
With each stop on the way to the rally, the train car grew increasingly full — oddly so, considering it was only 3:30 in the afternoon, and most of the passengers looked like they should still be in school. By the time we joined the throng waiting outside the Fox Theater, it became clear that we all skewed young. This was further confirmed by nearly everyone I spoke to: The large group of college freshmen behind us in line, the Georgia Tech student who sat next to me during the rally, and a sea of people in their early 20s (including yours truly), Snapchatting and Instagramming as far as the eye could see.
Of course, this all merely anecdotal evidence. However, polls have shown that Sanders has garnered the support of a disproportionate share of the under-29 demographic, and judging from his speech during the rally, it's not hard to see why. His campaign emphasizes issues which often benefit the young directly: Free college education, a focus on environmental sustainability, and anachronistically progressive views like LGBT equality, which he has fought for since long before they became as widely accepted as they are today.
2. He Understands Feminism Isn't Just For Women
As part of his platform for "real family values," Sanders spoke out against the painfully backwards state of American family leave, calling it an "international embarrassment" and pointing out that we're virtually the only industrialized country to have no mandated paid leave. However, he didn't stick to the typical subject of maternity leave; he made sure to repeatedly include fathers as well, who are often overlooked in the discussion of family values.
3. He's Careful To Be Inclusive
One of the most notable aspects of Sanders' rally was the aura of inclusivity. Not only was the crowd diverse, but Sanders himself was careful to use inclusive language even when it came to gender-neutral pronouns, which many people still can't seem to grasp. Rather than "he," Sanders never failed to use "he or she," or the more neutral "they." Furthermore, he made sure to reach out to his LGBT and minority supporters as often as possible, even when speaking on subjects that weren't directly related to these identities. (Almost like we're people who care about more than just one aspect of our identity! Crazy, right?)
4. He's Just As PO'd About The Pay Gap As We Are
Sanders has often spoken out about the pay gap in the past, and his rally in Atlanta didn't fail to deliver. "I hope that every man in this room will stand with the women and fight for pay equity for women workers," he said to thunderous applause, going on to cite the standard statistics concerning the wage gap: On average, white women only make 79 percent of what a white man makes, and it only gets worse for most women of color. Not only did Sanders make sure to mention the pay gap, but by calling on men to help close it, he challenged the notion that it's up to women to get equal pay by themselves. #Bless.
5. He's A Marxist Feminist's Wildest Dream
Of course, Sanders couldn't spend the entire rally discussing directly feminist issues. However, his campaign largely focuses on economic equality, and he made sure to note how these issues disproportionately affect women and minorities. Considering that Sanders has publicly stated that he's a feminist, perhaps this shouldn't have been surprising, but it was a welcome change from political candidates who fail to note how intersecting identities compound inequality.
6. He Has Excellent Taste In Music
OK, this isn't exactly a feminist observation, but as an Atlanta native, I have to give credit where credit is due: Noted Atlanta rapper and activist Killer Mike was an excellent choice for his opening speaker. Plus, look at what a cute pair they make!
You can't tell me that didn't make your heart melt a little bit.
Images: Claire Warner/Bustle (4)