One Man, Many Fans

Bernie Sanders in St. Paul

Ian Buck | Flickr

Ian Buck | Flickr

More than 10,000 people crowded into the St. Paul RiverCentre on Jan. 26 to hear democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speak. Around 5,000 more spillover supporters gathered in a separate room within the RiverCentre, where Sanders spoke briefly before moving on to his main address. All of this occurred after Sanders had spent his afternoon in Duluth, an event that drew about 6,000 supporters.

The line leading into the rally wrapped around the block of downtown’s West Fifth Street. After some cautious weaseling, and perhaps a cut in line, I found myself inside the RiverCentre, in yet another line twice as thick as the one outside, wrapped around a spacious corridor, which led to the auditorium.

As I waited for the raIly to begin, I was approached by Dale Larson, a retired mechanic for Northern States Power Company—now a subsidiary of Xcel Energy—and a former union steward.

“I’m glad to see kids like you out here,” Larson said. “It feels good to know it’s not just old folks like me.”

Three guest speakers preceded Sanders, perhaps the most notable being Farhiya Ali, a student from Hamline University, who was naturalized last September. During her speech, she talked about the time one of her friends asked jokingly, “Will you make America great again?” To which she replied, “I already did. I became a citizen.”

At last Sanders took stage, receiving generous applause, which he quickly waved off before addressing the goal of his campaign: “A movement; a movement. Not just a man, a movement. No person, not myself, nor anyone else can face this crisis unless there is a political revolution.”

Often regaled as the most transparent, if not radical candidate, Sanders made sure to cover his detailed list of grievances: the imbalance of wealth in America, campaign funding by super PACs, unequal pay among different genders, the inadequate state of our infrastructure (mentioning the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse), and the cost of education, to name a few.

Sanders raised some alarming statistics. Although the federal government lists unemployment at about 5 percent, Sanders begs to differ. He cites what he believes to be a more realistic figure of 10 percent, which includes those who have given up looking for work. Youth unemployment was another concern. Sanders listed unemployment among White youth at 33 percent, Latinos at 36 percent, and African Americans at 51 percent.

“We have heard a lot from our Republican colleagues about welfare abuse,” Sanders said, but what he sees is not abuse. It’s necessity.

His solution? Free public education. “And I want other kids,” Sanders said, “who may not be academically inclined, [who] may not want to go to college; I want them to get the training they need to become carpenters, and plumbers, and sheet metal workers, and get good jobs that are out there.”

Sanders also addressed big businesses’ reliance on government programs, highlighting the democratic-socialist nature of his campaign. “We have heard a lot from our Republican colleagues about welfare abuse,” Sanders said, but what he sees is not abuse. It’s necessity. “Many of the workers at Wal-Mart are forced to go on Medicaid, food stamps, and subsidized housing because they are not being paid a living wage.”

Several times during his speech, Sanders addressed the audience as “brothers and sisters” and stressed the importance of organizing from the ground-up to initiate change. Time will tell, but as Sanders begins to draw close to Hillary Clinton, the possibility of securing the democratic nomination appears increasingly bright.