Nearly 10,000 Attend Bernie Sanders Campaign Rally in Madison, Wisconsin
Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, drew the largest crowd of any 2016 candidate so far, with nearly 10,000 people attending a campaign rally in Madison, WI on Wednesday evening.
The Capital Times reports Sanders spoke for more than an hour, with the raucous capacity crowd at Alliant Energy Center’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum waving blue and white ‘Bernie 2016’ signs and chanting “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!”
“Tonight we have made a little bit of history,” Sanders told the audience. “You may know that some 25 candidates are running for president of the United States, but tonight we have more people at a meeting for a candidate for president of the United States than any other candidate has.”
Calling for a “political revolution,” Sanders asserted that “there is nothing we cannot accomplish.”
“What I would like to ask of you: Please think big, not small,” he implored.
Sanders’ speech focused heavily on income inequality and other issues of importance to his progressive base. He promised to redistribute wealth from the richest Americans to middle-class and poor people, break up the largest US financial institutions responsible for last decade’s global economic crisis, work to overturn the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling that affirmed corporations are people endowed with a constitutional right to spend as much money as they please to influence the outcome of elections, and fight for universal healthcare.
“In America, health care must be a right for all of our people,” he said.
Sanders also advocated two weeks’ guaranteed paid vacation time for American workers and free tuition for students at public colleges and universities, attacked the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement favored by President Barack Obama and addressed the issue of enduring pervasive racism in America.
“Our job is to make sure that young African-Americans can walk down the street without being abused—or worse,” said Sanders.
Sanders also said 13 million jobs would be created with a $1 trillion investment in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, and proposed a massive jobs program to help reduce unemployment, especially among young blacks and Latinos.
He also took shots at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
“What we are saying to the Koch brothers, Governor Walker and all those other people is this great country, and our government, belong to all of the people and not just a handful of very wealthy people,” Sanders said. “I know that Governor Walker may disagree but, to my mind, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage which must be raised,” he added, advocating a $15 minimum wage, which is being implemented in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Sanders, who is surging in the primary polls but still trails Hillary Clinton by a significant margin, only mentioned the Democratic frontrunner once in his speech.
“This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders, it is not about Hillary Clinton, it is not about anyone else, it is about you,” Sanders said to uproarious applause.
“[My] message is resonating, not just in Wisconsin, but all over America,” a clearly energized Sanders told CNN after his speech. “The people are sick and tired of establishment politics, establishment economics. They want real change.”
“I really like that he values the human life over money,” said Emily Opsal, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student studying social work who showed up four hours early for the event. “I’m really excited to hear his ideas and see him, finally, in person. It’ll just be so real,” she told the Capital Times.
“I felt like, this time, I want to be more of a participant in the election than I have been in the past,” Bethany Ragains, 24, who drove up from Illinois, told CNN. “I really felt a connection with Bernie on the issues. He makes me want to get more involved.”
“I’m a very vocal Bernie supporter and I was so excited to see him coming as close as he was to Chicago,” Blake Whitmore, who also made the nearly 150 mile (240 km) drive from Chicago to attend the rally, told the Capital Times. “Since he’s doing the grassroots movement, he needs as many people as he can to show up to every event, just for the recognition.”
Critics claim Sanders is far too liberal to stand a chance of being elected president. But far-left detractors refute that claim, calling Sanders’ progressivism something of a myth. Writing for Counterpunch in 2011, Thomas H. Naylor noted that “Sanders loves to rail against Corporate America, Wall Street, and the super-rich, but has nothing to show for it. He’s done little to constrain their power and influence.”
Naylor and other critics also point out that Sanders, who voted for the war in Afghanistan in 2001 but against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, “never opposes any defense spending bill” and has been a friend to the military-industrial complex in his home state of Vermont. Some people who oppose illegal Israeli occupation and settlement construction in Palestine also criticize Sanders’ pro-Israel stance.
But many Sanders supporters seem willing to overlook these points in order to embrace the most progressive major presidential candidate in living memory. The ‘Bernie-mentum’ has extended beyond just drawing the biggest crowds on the 2016 campaign trail to date—Sanders is also enjoying fundraising success as well. On Thursday, his campaign announced it has raised $15 million over the past two months.
That’s much less than the $45 million the Clinton campaign has raked in over the past three months, but still very encouraging news to Sanders supporters who know all too well that American elections are largely about who raises the most money. Sanders, however, refutes that notion.
“I am more than aware that my opponents will be able to outspend us. But we are going to win this election,” he told CNN. “They may have the money, but we have the people. And when the people stand together, we can win.”