On the eve of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ upset victory in the Michigan Democrat primary, the fiery self-described “democratic socialist” was where he has been throughout the election—on a college campus.
On this particular night it was the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As the night began Crisler Arena, where the Michigan Wolverines play basketball, was only partially full. But by the time Detroit band JR JR took the stage to perform, the arena had filled considerably. JR JR started off a long list of speakers and performers that one by one built up the crowd’s energy levels before Sanders himself took to the podium.
The list was an impressive mix of politics and pop culture, a perfectly calibrated blend for the young, energetic Ann Arbor crowd. Speakers and performers included:
- Detroit band JR JR
- A University of Michigan professor of economics
- University of Michigan students leading the Sanders campaign in the city and on campus
- Lead singer of the band Fun Nate Ruess
- Actress and star of the Divergent series Shailene Woodley
- Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner
- Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Woodley and Turner especially had loud and energetic receptions, the former primarily for her pop culture relevance to a crowd largely in its late teens, the latter for her passionate speaking style.
The event felt like a spectacle, like entertainment, almost like a party more than a speech or something strictly political. It’s a clear campaign strategy design, and it paid off in Michigan.