TIME Seeing Politics

Seeing Politics: See Bernie Sanders’ Punk Rock Party

Bernie is here to question the establishment.

Since its inception, photography has been inseparable from the world of politics, where image is crucial. For most presidential candidates, controlling that image has become essential to their message. In a series called Seeing Politics, TIME LightBox examines political photography throughout the 2016 campaign in profiles, features and analytical pieces.

Bernie Sanders rallying cries for a new American “revolution” seem to be connecting him to politically minded young voters living punk rock’s endless dream. In almost every stump speech he says, “We need bold changes. We need a political revolution.”

With his anti-establishment roots and alt-political history, he’s already been called a punk legend at home. Vice recently reported that part of Sanders’ legacy in Vermont has been supporting the establishment of a vibrant experimental music and art scene in Burlington.

On Jan. 23, photographer Benjamin Rasmussen visited Waterloo, Iowa, with TIME reporter Sam Frizell to photograph a Sanders fundraiser billed as “Waterloo Shred for Bernie: Part 2” at The Wedge Bar.

“The day had started in Des Moines early that morning,” says Rasmussen. “We had just left an evening Cruz rally that had been pretty boring visually. Sam found out about a punk show being held to raise support for Bernie Sanders and we begrudgingly decided to go.”

What followed was one of the most interesting spectacles that Rasmussen has witnessed. “I grew up with punk and metal scenes in the Philippines and played in a terrible punk band in high school,” he says. “What had always drawn me to this world were the attitude of rebellion and the rejection of societal norms and power structures. And here were these young people from those same scenes, who felt that a 74-year-old Vermont Senator who spoke like a cool college professor matched their worldview. Bands with names like Shut Up and Jimmy and the Stimulators were giving classic Bernie talking points in between songs.”

“This wasn’t done with irony or cynicism, but actual passion,” Rasmussen adds. “John Fisher, guitarist with Jimmy and the Stimulators, said he never thought he would be involved with politics and then suddenly found himself giving of his time and money for Bernie. Two young women at the concert, Jessica Boyd and Sarah Welter, are both active in supporting Bernie, but said that if Hilary got the nomination their support would not transfer over to her. They weren’t just fired up because of his hype, but had specific policy changes that pulled them to Bernie.”

Rasmussen photographed a portrait of John Fisher, a 22-year-old guitarist from Mechanicsville, Iowa, onstage straddling his guitar dressed in Sanders paraphernalia. “There’s a fire under our ass,” says Fisher. “Everyone is tired of politics as usual. Everyone is frustrated with income inequality, besides those that are at the top. We were told since we were in kindergarten that we could do anything. I don’t think that’s true. Bernie is here to question the establishment and that’s what strikes a cord with the punk rock community. There’s no candidate more progressive than Bernie.”

I got you in my camera
I got you in my camera
A second of your life, ruined for life
You wanna ruin me in your magazine
You wanna cover us in margarine
Now is the time, you got the time
To realize, to have real eyes.

John Lydon for the Sex Pistols: ‘I Wanna Be Me’ (1976)

Benjamin Rasmussen‘s photographs of Iowa voters are featured in this week’s issue of TIME. Rasmussen is an award winning photographer based in Denver, CO. You can see more of his work on LightBox.

Paul Moakley is the Deputy Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @paulmoakley.

Additional reporting by reporter Sam Frizell who covers politics and breaking news for TIME in Washington, DC.

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