In the 22 years that she’s been eligible to vote, Elizabeth Hewitt was never motivated to cast a ballot.
“I didn’t like either candidate. I didn’t care who won because I felt it didn’t matter,” Hewitt said.
But the 40-year-old Blount County resident is no longer apathetic about politics, now that independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is running for president. Hewitt said Sanders’ platform on income inequality persuaded her to get off the sidelines in 2016.
Hewitt was one of some 300 people who attended the first Alabama for Bernie Sanders meetup Sunday at Good People Brewing Company in Birmingham. The gathering was a way for Sanders supporters to organize and spread the word about the senators’ Democratic campaign for president.
Sanders has seen a surge in interest since he started his campaign in late May. Packed crowds have come out to hear him in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and about 250,000 people have contributed to his campaign.
The event was organized by three strangers — Mallory Anderton, Jared J. Vanderbleek and Jess Mathieu — who found each other on social media after discovering they all hailed from Alabama and supported Sanders. When they first began organizing the event, they expected 30 people would show up.
“We decided we’re kind of going to put our money where our mouth is and have an event here,” Anderton said. “We are just networking and really just putting our feelers out.”
Alabamians showed their support for Sanders with “Bernie for President” t-shirts and stickers. One supporter sported a temporary Sanders tattoo on her cheek.
The meetup brought out people like Peter Stuart, 56, of Lincoln, who has been observing Sanders’ campaign for about three weeks and found the Vermont senators’ platform resonating with him.
“He’s got me excited in politics again,” Stuart said. “He’s not just in it for the money or his own career. To me, he’s what politicians should be.”
Stuart said he never volunteered for a campaign before, but has donated to Sanders and plans on giving “a little bit each month.” He said Sanders’ democratic socialist views are aligned with his Christian beliefs.
“I think Jesus was a socialist,” he said, adding that Republicans “talk Christian values and family values, but they don’t do them.”
Marty Colby, 27, of Pelham, said he was impressed by the turnout, especially for Alabama. “For a state that’s so red, it’s exciting to see [hundreds] of people for this. It sticks to the grassroots theme,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, said on “Face the Nation” that his Democratic campaign for president would be a grassroots effort that “will bring more people into the [political] process,” in part by campaigning in areas that Democrats have written off for decades, including the Heart of Dixie. “We’re going to go to Alabama, we’re going to go to Mississippi, we’re going to go to conservative states,” he said.