Over 740 students RSVP to Bernie Sanders rally on Student Union Mall

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks during the state's annual Democratic convention Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (Jim Cole/AP)

Over 740 UConn students are set to “Feel the Bern.”

A student-led rally for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders will be held this Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 5 p.m. on the Student Union Mall. The Facebook event, “UConn Feels the Bern” has 743 RSVP’d to attend, along with 72 “maybes.”

The event will be lead by student speakers like Daniel Byrd and Bennett Cognato, who are the president and vice president for “UConn Students for Bernie Sanders,” respectively.

So how did the event come about?

“We created a Facebook group and a Facebook event. These groups spread like wild fire,” said Byrd, a 5th-semester political science major. “Once we saw there is such a supportive base of students for Bernie at UConn, we reached out to the state campaign and got them involved. They gave us some organizing advice, and helped us spread the word to UConn students about the rally.”

Byrd and Cognato cooked up the idea for a Bernie Sanders student group and a rally over the summer. After gauging the amount of support they’d receive, they set about putting their student group into action. But, unlike getting students excited about the rally, making it happen wasn’t easy. There were some “frustrating” hoops to jump through, according to Cognato.

“We were told we couldn't register to be an organization until after the involvement fair, despite having a fully approved constitution, officers and an advisor before the start of classes,” Cognato, a 7th-semester political science major, said. “We also were told we'd need to provide one month’s notice for a sanctioned event, but weren't given any guidance as to how to navigate that system with anywhere between 200 to 800 attendees.”

Cognato said that the rules in place are there to control noise levels in an academic setting, and to make sure no footpaths are blocked off so that students can get to classes.

“I do not believe that the rules that exist that make it difficult to hold such large rallies were created with that intent,” Byrd said. “But, the consequence of the combination of ALL the rules makes it difficult to hold rallies like the one we want to hold.”

Some other specific barriers to holding the rally included a one-month waiting period to reserve an area for the event. Regarding the issue of foot traffic, when Byrd and Cognato asked event services where a group of more than 500 students could meet without blocking foot traffic, Byrd said “we were literally told they couldn't help us with that.”

When asked about the legality of the event, Cognato said the rally breaks zero university rules.

“We're not considering this a sanctioned event, mostly in the sense that we'll have no tables, no amplification, and we're going to make sure to keep footpaths clear for students,” Cognato said. “If an issue or candidate happens to draw 10 people or 500 people, so be it. We think the rights of students to gather and discuss their ideas openly is part of what makes any university more cultured, inclusive and educational.”

Byrd said he wanted to stress the fact that the rally would be nothing more than an informal meeting of students, much like if two students were to talk outside of the Student Union. The Facebook event for the rally also asks students to be mindful and not to block any footpaths.

College student support for Bernie Sanders is immense. Students from American University, Brown University, Princeton University and dozens of others have organized rallies and student groups for the senator from Vermont.

The UConn Students for Hillary Clinton Facebook page and Twitter have significantly less likes and followers than UConn Students for Bernie Sanders  – 100 less likes and 504 less followers, respetively – an informal indicator of student support on campus.

Megan Handau, 3rd-semester political science and women’s gender and sexuality studies double major, and the president of UConn Students for Hillary Clinton is unconcerned with the upcoming Bernie Sanders rally.

“A rally of this prospective size merely means that democratic activism is alive and well on the UConn campus,” Handau said of the event. “Our candidate is Hillary Clinton, but it is very refreshing to see students excited about electing a Democrat for president of our country. As an organization, we are excited to get out and start spreading why we, as students, are passionate about electing Secretary Hillary Clinton, and realize there are plenty of students who are still undecided or who could change allegiances by the primary vote. We hope the excitement and involvement remains through the general election vote, regardless of the candidate.” 

The goals for the rally, according to Byrd and Cognato, are name and policy awareness of Bernie Sanders, registering voters, discussion with those both voting for and not voting for Sanders and visibly showing support for the candidate.

Both Cognato and Byrd cited Sanders’ policies as the reason for the outpouring of support from students.

“Running for the Democratic nomination and saying what you support is one thing, but speaking out for progressive policies like a $15 an hour minimum wage, a single payer health care system, higher taxes for Wall Street and big corporations, free education at public universities, concrete policy platforms and decisions to combat climate change - these are things that should be part of our national dialogue,” Cognato said. “Bernie Sanders, at this point, is the only candidate speaking openly and clearly on these issues.”

“His [Sanders’] message is about the middle class, working people, students in debt over their head; not about tax breaks for the rich and business as usual,” Byrd said. “This fresh perspective –in America that is – is something people connect with. He is focusing on the issues that matter to every-day Americans, including students who will graduate, get jobs, and have bills to pay.”


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email atsten.spinella@uconn.edu.