By Audrey Garces and Patrick Fitzgerald
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the feisty Democratic presidential candidate, gave a short, targeted speech at City College’s Mission center on June 6 to rally an enthusiastic crowd of about 200 canvassers, politicians and citizens one day before the California primary.
His message was clear: once we have a government that represents the ordinary people, everything else will fall into place. Supporters cheered as he spoke about a litany of issues including free college, pay equity for women, clean water, energy transformation, comprehensive immigration reform, rebuilding infrastructure and a decent minimum wage.
“I think there’s a great deal of symbolism to Bernie Sanders coming to the Mission and coming to the Mission campus,” City College’s marketing and public relations Director Jeff Hamilton said. “The Mission in many respects has been ground zero for the displacement and for the inequality, for so many of the challenges that are facing San Francisco and the fight for City College has become a symbol of that. “
Sanders energetically argued that every idea he supports is aligned with the ideas held by a majority of Americans, claiming his positions are “as mainstream as motherhood and apple pie.”
He pushed back on the notion that his concepts are radical and instead claimed that tax breaks for billionaires and obstruction of immigration reform in the face of the Mexican and Latino influx were truly radical ideas.
“When the Latino community, and their brothers and sisters, and all of us stand with them, of course we’re gonna have comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship,” Sanders said as the audience erupted into applause.
He argued that the rich were interested in protecting their wealth, power and greed, and invoked Frederick Douglass’ observation that “freedom is never given to us.” Sanders expressed repeatedly the need for a “transformation” both political and economic, and that it was too late for establishment politics.
“You don’t make real change from the top down; you make it from the bottom up,” Sanders said. “It is our job to transform the society.”
As proof of his popularity, he pointed to his record of 20 primary wins together with a number of close elections losses in four states. He predicted that if voter turnout was high, he would win by a large margin.
Sanders stated the dismal voter turnout statistics from the 2014 midterm elections, where 63% of eligible voters did not vote, including an absence from 80% of young people. He believes the tide is changing partially because of the energy and momentum of his campaign, saying there has been an “incredible surge” of young people and Latinos who have registered to vote.
“Because of the work you have done, and because of the work you are doing right now, I think we’ve got an excellent chance to win this thing,” Sanders said.
Sanders called California the most important and largest primary yet, pointing out that there are 475 pledged delegates at stake in the state the following day. He called upon the crowd by adding, “Our job tomorrow is to see that California has the largest voter turnout in Democratic primary history.”
Sander’s decried the decline of middle class income; the lack of affordable health care; and the denial of climate change.
“After years and years of exhaustive study, Mr. Trump has concluded that there is no drought in California,” Sanders wryly said. “He has also concluded that climate change is a hoax.”
Sanders asserted that most of the Republican Party was so “beholden” to the fossil fuel industry that they could not imagine climate change to be a problem. He noted that this notion flew in the face of a scientific community that solidly believed climate change was happening and endangering our planet as we know it.
“Climate change is real (and) is a terrible threat to this planet,” Sander’s said. “We have got to transform our energy system.”
He went on to say our infrastructure; roads, bridges, water system, waste-water plants, rail system, airports are in massive disrepair. He told the audience that when we undertake this work, it will bring millions of good paying jobs.
An Ongoing Fight
Sanders concluded by recalling the courage of past political movements as a way of instilling faith in America’s ability to change from the struggle of slavery; to the working class’ struggle for decent conditions and fair pay; to the women’s right to vote; and most recently, the gay rights fight for equality.
“Change,” Sanders said, “is never given to us; we got to fight for it.”
An enthusiastic crowd roared their approval and spontaneously began chanting “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.” Sanders began making his way to his next event, an outdoor concert at San Francisco’s Crissy Field.
As the crowd exited the courtyard, lines at the canvassing booth quickly formed, with supporters waiting to receive flyers and lists of addresses to knock on. Wendy Wong, a recent graduate of San Francisco State University and an avid volunteer at local non-profits, proudly walked out with canvassing materials in hand.
“I really connected with Bernie’s message of uniting different communities together,” Wong said. “We need unity right now, and we don’t need a politician who is going to cater more towards corporations and that is focused on disbanding us even more.”
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