Justin Long talks youth in politics at Bernie Sanders rally

Actor Justin Long speaks during a get out the vote event supporting Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the Information Technologies Engineering building on the UConn campus in Storrs, Connecticut on Monday, April 25, 2016. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

With mere hours before the polls were set to open, actor and Connecticut native Justin Long told University of Connecticut students at a rally Monday night he’s been inspired by the way Bernie Sanders’ campaign has brought young people out to vote. 

“There’s a perception of Connecticut being all rich, all Greenwich, but there’s a huge wealth disparity across the state,” Long said. “You see it from town to town, sometimes just miles away. I want someone (a president) who cares about that and can do something about it.”

About 100 people just barely overflowed from the middle wing of Information Technologies Engineering building’s basement lecture hall. Long came late, so the organizers played SNL videos featuring Sanders while they waited. But the actor stayed late also, fielding questions from students well past 9:30 p.m.

Long talked about being middle class and growing up in Fairfield. He remembered living between extremes of wealthy Westport and Bridgeport, which called the “first city in America to go bankrupt.”

“My dad was a teacher. My mom was an actress. Then she became a teacher because, you know, that’s where all the money was,” Long said, laughing.

Long said he’d been politically apathetic for most of life and was never inspired by a candidate before Sanders. He said Sanders has been “consistent, compassionate and selfless” for half a century, all the way back to the Civil Rights movement.

“Now’s your time to yell for him because he’s been yelling for you for 50 years,” Long said.

The actor spoke out against the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United, which Long said has added huge amounts of money to politics in a way that disenfranchises people. 

“Without reversing Citizen’s United, I don’t think we can keep our democracy from eroding,” Long said.

Some other issues important to his speech were climate change, income equality and “the racial divide.”

Long noted that he’s entered the 1 percent “thanks to Alvin” – a reference to his role voicing Alvin from “Alvin and the Chipmunks” in 2015 – but said he thinks high taxes on the rich would be in his own best interest if they’re used to fight climate change and social injustice.

“We need to treat (climate change) like he’s treating it. Like we’re going to war, but we’re all on the line. I don’t see how you can take on the fossil fuel industry while you’re beholden to them,” Long said.

Long said he understands that Hillary Clinton would be a more successful Democratic nominee within the system, but added, “It’s time for someone to change push a major change in the system because that’s the crisis we’re facing.”

Long joked about the media’s extensive coverage of Republican Donald Trump’s campaign. He said Trump’s rallies are entertainment and compared them to “Idiocracy,” one of his movies.

Students at a get out the vote event supporting Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the Information Technologies Engineering building on the UConn campus in Storrs, Connecticut on Monday, April 25, 2016. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

The actor said many of Trump’s supporters are marginalized people who have reason to be angry with the system and, in that way, even have some similarities to Sanders supporters.

“It should be about people coming to together,” Long said. “But Trump’s message is demagoguery. It’s alpha-male, high school rhetoric. What demagogues do is find a group and blame them for all their ails.”

But for most of the night, Long focused on Sanders’ campaign and its central issues, such as disparity of wealth.

“I don’t want my kids, if I have them, to grow up in a country where a fifth of kids don’t know where the next meal will come from,” Long said. “That wasn’t the American dream I grew up believing in.”

UConn Students for Bernie Sanders hosted the event, and the organization offered attendees a signup sheet to be reminded about Tuesday voting and rides to the polls.

Ian Adomeit, a fourth-semester environmental engineering major and secretary of UConn Students for Bernie Sanders, said he’s made a lot of sacrifices this semester to be involved in the campaign, particularly taking time out of his social life and working out, but that it’s been worth it.

“I think it’s about feeling powerful when so often we feel powerless,” Adomeit said. “No matter how poor you are they can’t take your vote, and the way to bring democracy back is to get out the vote.”

Zoë Esponda, a sixth-semester environmental science major, and Asa Army, a sixth-semester materials science engineering major, described themselves as “the biggest fans of Justin Long at UConn” who “had even seen ‘Tusk.’”

“We just found out about this event 15 minutes before it started,” Esponda said. “We ran from Hilltop. I knew Long was a big Sanders supporter beforehand, from reading his Wikipedia page.”

Eighth-semester communication major Scott Hoffman said he came because he liked Long and Sanders, as well as to educate himself about the primary.

“I wouldn’t say I’m really invested (in the election), but with Trump and Sanders I’m definitely interested. … I support Sanders but I think he’s idolized by Millennials. I want to take everything with a grain of salt,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman praised Long for advocating a Socratic approach in conversations about politics, using questions more so than arguments.

“I think when we talk about ‘persuasion’ that’s kind of stooping to the level of the other side,” Hoffman said. “Having an educated conversation is one thing, but persuasion, I’m not so sure about. … The conversations that we have in class aren’t always as progressive as we think. I like to see them bringing it out into the real world through the vote and collecting names and numbers.”

Long urged the crowd to be optimistic despite Clinton’s lead in the primary and polls showing her leading in Tuesday’s states. He called the Sanders campaign a social movement in itself and continued that it will go on, in some ways, even if Sanders loses the election.

“It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be discouraging (if he loses). I think Bernie appeals to the better nature in us,” Long said. “It will be discouraging but take confidence that the narrative has been started. It’s not going away. It’s there in people like Elizabeth Warren. You can be a part of it. Find encouragement in that.”


Christopher McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.mcdermott@uconn.edu.