Philadelphia -- Something "YUGE" is happening in the Democratic presidential campaign, and perhaps in the broader American body politic. It's hard to put your finger on it, but like that feeling of your neck hairs rising off your skin as a big thunderstorm approaches, you know it's big and it's coming.
For me it was going with my wife and a friend to join a line of people waiting to get into Temple University's 10,000-seat basketball arena for a hastily planned address by Democratic candidate for president Bernie Sanders.
When we got to the campus early yesterday, there was already a crowd of young people camped out by the entrance to the Liacouras Center. They told me they had been there since 6:30 am for an event that was scheduled to start at 8 pm, with doors opening at 5 pm. Already a line stretched back to the corner of Broad Street, around the corner and halfway down the block on Montgomery. Most of those in the line were students from Temple or from one or another of Philadelphia's many other universities. They were white, black, latino and Asian, with a smattering of older folks. I went off to do some work, with plans for our little band to join the line around 4:30.
Big mistake! By the time we headed out to get in line, it was winding around the huge sports complex, snaking up and down several alleys and back to Broad, and then down Broad for another six blocks -- about half a mile of people in all with more piling on all the time. At many places this line of people was eight to 10 across, and fairly densely packed, as people tried to shelter each other from a biting cold wind.
What was astonishing in all this was that there had been no long build-up to the event. No advance news reports, no posters, no organizations arriving with buses. It all seemed to have come together via social media in a day's time.
By the time the line back where we were blocks from the arena finally began to move it was about 7 pm, and it took over an hour for us to get close to the entrance. At that point volunteer organizers were advising us that the arena was about full, and that we'd have a better chance of hearing the candidate in person if we abandoned the line and moved to a smaller 7,000-seat practice basketball arena in an adjacent building, where we were told Sanders would speak briefly before going to the main hall. A huge part of the line broke away behind us and began sprinting to the overflow venue. We chose to gamble and wait in the main line hoping we'd make the cut-off. Eventually, we managed to get in.
Inside, the seated crowd, which now included a fair percentage of adults, was really pumped. When Sanders, his trademark unkempt white hair flying, and his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders were spotted making their way towards the catwalk to the podium through a tunnel under the seats, a roar erupted from the crowd and became a thunderous chant of "Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!"