AMHERST -- There was no shortage of college students at the Bernie Sanders rally on Monday.
Gathering in the cavernous hall where the University of Massachusetts basketball team plays its games, the students came in droves on the free bus line serving Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire and Amherst colleges, as well as from UMass. But Bernie Sanders supporters are a multigenerational bunch and the rally drew an impressive number of gray-haired baby boomers who cheered just as raucously as their younger counterparts.
John Tuthill, 61, who drove from Keene, N.H., was at the back of the standing crowd reading “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.” Music blared while the estimated crowd of 8,000 waited for the Democratic presidential candidate.
Tuthill said he has lost count of how many Sanders rallies he attended in New Hampshire.
“It’s the first time in a long time I felt there was somebody I could vote for with real conviction,” he said.
Still, Tuthill said, if Clinton wins the nomination, he would consider voting for her depending on who she runs against. “[Republican Donald] Trump is just an absolute disaster,” he added.
Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin fired the crowd up with a chant in English and Spanish and a personal testimonial of her support of Sanders as a Latina and openly gay local politician.
“I’m proud to be an ambassador for Bernie. Next Tuesday, March 1, who’s voting for Bernie,” she asked, provoking wild applause.
“Folks, the time is now to get involved, really involved,” she said before introducing Sanders. “Remember that we are Bernie’s super PAC.”
Sanders appeared comfortable and in his element with the crowd, cracking jokes and engaging supporters.
“This campaign is based upon a very simple principle: Real change never comes from the top on down,” he said. “It always comes from the bottom up.”
When he announced that national polls had his campaign in the lead, his words were drowned out by deafening cheers.
“Our campaign has taken on the financial establishment and Wall Street is getting nervous,” he said. “We’ve taken on the political establishment and they’re looking around saying ‘who are these people?’ and we’ve taken on the media establishment who every night tells us things we don’t need to know!”
He wasted no time in ticking off the ways he differs from Hillary Clinton, and his supporters responded with raucous cheers for Sanders and dismissive boos for Clinton.
While his campaign is funded by large numbers of small donors, he said, “Secretary Clinton has chosen to go in a different direction -- she has a number of super PACs.”
When Sanders announced that Clinton received $15 million from Wall Street donors, the crowd erupted into more boos.
“We don’t represent the interests of the billionaire class. We don’t represent corporate interests or Wall Street,” he said.
“We don’t want their money,” Sanders shouted, provoking more cheers.
After telling rally-goers that his campaign had received contributions from 4 million individual donors, he asked: “Do you know what the average contribution is?”
The crowd shouted back: “27 DOLLARS,” prompting a rare broad smile from Sanders and a familiar refrain from his stump speeches: “This is a campaign of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Still, he said the breadth of support has surprised him, even while it proved something he believes strongly: “When we stand together there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”
As he has throughout his campaign, Sanders pledged to fight for universal health care, something he said that prompted his critics to accuse him of thinking too big and too boldly.
“The time is now. We have to summon the courage to take on the drug companies, to take on the insurance companies, to make it clear that health care is a right for all people,” he said. “My friends, we are at a pivotal moment in American history, we have to have the courage to think big.”
He had a warm rapport with his audience, at one point leaning forward to say he would tell them something no politician ever would -- that he could not accomplish his goals without them. He urged them to “rethink what it means to live in a Democratic society.”
“We need a political revolution involving people who have given up on the political process or never became engaged,” he said.
Earlier, as the crowd waited for more than two hours for Sanders to arrive, they responded enthusiastically to ads for him put up on a large screen, cheering when the camera stayed on Sanders’ image as if they were looking at the candidate himself.
Lux DeLuxe, a local band made up of college students who was on hand, revised lyrics to an original song to get the crowd singing “Oh, oh, oh, I’ll be voting for you.”
Danny Bernini, the keyboardist’s dad, videotaped the whole thing.
“They’re big Bernie supporters,” he said. “They’re huge Bernie fans.”
Laurie Loisel can be reached at email@example.com.