The scene at Crissy Field was an apt emblem of the progressive movement that Sanders has led over the past year, an ascent that saw the 74-year-old senator from Vermont rise from being a long shot to a national political force who has roused millions.
Many of the people who were spread out on the grass said they are far from ready to see Sanders cede the nomination to Clinton. There were urgent calls for him to fight on to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. And most of the dozen interviewed by The Washington Post were deeply bitter about news organizations, which they said had called the race too soon.
“Disgusting. Absolutely horrible to hear,” said Travis Fox, 31, of San Carlos, Calif. “But you know what, I’m more inspired to support Bernie Sanders. He should go all the way.”
“How can you call this on the eve of the California primary?” asked Jacob Chase, 50, who lives in a boat nearby. He leaned up against a metal fence and shared his view with others. “The media is trying to suppress the vote, and they’re trying to anoint her. They’re doing an anointment process.”
Jennifer Larson, who lives in Marin, Calif., and works in bio-technology, nodded her head as Chase spoke. She recalled instantly growing sad as she walked to the event Monday under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and saw the evening news alert that was buzzing in her pocket.
“My first thought was: Of course, this isn’t a coincidence,” she said.
“You know what? I’m not even a big Bernie person. I’m in this for ideology. I don’t think what Bernie wants to do is really possible to do, but I think he should see this through. That he should get that chance,” Larson said. “We have to start recognizing in this country that everyone has a voice.”
John Gates, 29, who works with children who have autism, was roaming alone following rock musician Dave Matthews’s acoustic set. He said Sanders should not quit — and that he would never really trust the media again.
“I don’t think this race is over at all,” Gates said. “People have to realize that what we’re seeing on television and in the media is an illusion and it’s been pushed too far. They can’t decide.”
When asked what he would do this fall if the general-election campaign came down to Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, Gates said he would write-in Sanders.
“It’ll be a protest vote,” he said.
Some older liberals in the audience, who spoke of Sanders as an icon of sorts for a generation of activists whose politics were forged in the 1960s, said Monday’s reports were distressing. They sprinkled in advice with their irritation and urged Sanders to shape the Democratic Party in the coming weeks, win or lose.
“Regardless, he’s got to preserve this movement,” said retired college professor Dennis Evans, 67. “I want to see him take the lead on the platform, maybe consider being Clinton’s vice president. I really hope he stays involved.”
Once Sanders took the stage for his nearly 50-minute speech, he did not directly address the news reports or signal that he was readying to leave the race. Yet there was a sense of solidarity with his fuming supporters. His tone was defiant, and his hand sliced the air as he issued a series of criticisms of Clinton, describing her as an ally of Wall Street.
There were wistful moments of reflection on the coming end of the primary race, which effectively concludes Tuesday with a primary here in California and in five other states, leaving only the D.C. Democratic primary June 14.
“This campaign has been, to me, an extraordinary experience,” Sanders said, proudly recalling how his campaign has brought out people across the country to participate. “It gives me enormous optimism about our future.”
“When we began our campaign, our ideas were considered a fringe campaign and fringe ideas. That is not the case today,” Sanders thundered as the crowd roared.
Sanders said that if he can win in California, that victory would enable him to “go into that convention with enormous momentum.”
Turning toward the Democratic superdelegates who do not formally vote until the convention, Sanders said they should look hard at polling data and argued that he is best positioned to take on Trump in the fall campaign.
“I should point out to all of the Democratic delegates going to Philadelphia: In every instance, we beat Trump by far larger margins than does Hillary Clinton,” he said.
“There is no objective observer, none, who will deny that our campaign has the energy and grass-roots activism that no other campaign has,” he continued. “Republicans win when people are demoralized, when they give up on politics. Progressives and Democrats win when people are animated and they are prepared to fight — and that is what this campaign is about.”