Bernie Sanders supporters marched through central London on Tuesday night on their way to vote in the Democrats Abroad presidential primary, briefly blocking traffic while chanting pro-Bernie slogans at a largely baffled British public.
Around 70 Bernie fans gathered at sunset in the shadow of the houses of parliament before heading to the London polling station for the international vote, which is timed to coincide with the Super Tuesday primaries.
Among the supporters was Jacob Sanders, 47, who works for a homeless charity in London. He also happens to be Bernie’s nephew.
“I volunteered on his election campaign in 1990 and I’d always been proud but this is first time it’s been like this,” Sanders, the son of UK Green party health spokesperson Larry Sanders, told BuzzFeed News. “Americans who live in Britain know you can have free healthcare and it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned democracy. They know the scaremongering about healthcare and maternity rights is nonsense.”
Sanders grew up in Oxford and speaks with a British accent, but he retains an American passport, making him eligible to vote in the contest.
Although he said he’d accept an invite to the White House “if I get one”, he is still baffled by the rise of his suddenly world-famous uncle: “It’s kind of strange, and I haven’t got accustomed to it. For reasons that aren’t family reasons, the prospect of him being president is very exciting – but being related to someone in the public eye is something I’ve got to get used to.”
Has he seen Bernie recently? “He seems to be a little busy right now.”
The march was organised by Travis Mooney, a technologist who doubles up as coordinator of London for Bernie, which has a thousand members. His focus has been on ensuring Americans citizens living in the UK know about and use their right to vote in the international primary, which continues at various locations in the UK until Saturday.
In 2008 just 23,000 Democrats abroad exercised their right to vote but were allocated 21 delegates for the Democratic National Convention – roughly equivalent to the number sent by Vermont – giving them one of the most powerful vote-to-delegate ratios in the nomination contest.
The Sanders supporters were accompanied on their march by a dog called Viola and a smattering of British journalists attempting to understand how Super Tuesday worked. Some Bernie supporters had brought a homemade illuminated Bernie sign, which failed to completely light up, much to the disappointed of TV camera crews. In response to their failed equipment the group began chanting “We’re not a super PAC!” as the bells of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben rang out.
Aside from Bernie Sanders, one of the main uniting factors in the crowd, some of whom have lived in the UK for decades, was disgust at the prospect of Donald Trump winning the presidency.
“Especially living overseas you realise how ridiculous the US political system is, especially when you have to explain it to everyone all the time,” said 22-year-old student Alison Francois. “Trump would be devastating. It would be horrible. He’s not representative of the US.”
Fellow student Sophie Quazi, 24, agreed: “I would cry. Simple as. I probably wouldn’t be allowed back into the country.”
Although the event had a distinctly American feel, it finished in a very British manner: After the Bernie supporters had voted, they all went straight off to the pub.