As Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., took a moment to look out onto the sea of attendees at his rally on the University of Michigan Diag, he addressed the crowd: “So right now, in this moment, we have got to look around us and what we have got to determine is whether you’re satisfied with the status quo.”
On Sunday evening, more than 10,000 students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents took to the Diag, wearing Sanders’s campaign gear waving white and blue “Bernie” campaign signs. Students began lining up as many as five hours before the rally was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
LSA senior Martha Abrams got in line at 1 p.m. and said she is voting for Sanders primarily because of his consistently held positions. She also said his positions on crime and the environment are reasons for her support.
“He has a consistent record in regards to criminal justice reform and being against mass incarceration, whereas Biden definitely doesn’t,” Abrams said. “(Biden) has passed legislation (…) that really helped establish the carceral state as it exists today. With the environment, Bernie seems to be one of the frontrunners in acknowledging how pressing that issue is.”
The rally featured a spate of Michigan and national political figures including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., former gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed and state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor.
El-Sayed rallied the crowd when he spoke before Ocasio-Cortez or Sanders took the stage. Sanders endorsed El-Sayed during his campaign for Michigan governor, who said his previous conversation with Sanders increased his confidence in grassroots movements.
“When I ran, I was lucky enough to get Bernie’s endorsement. Let me tell you about the conversation we had,” El-Sayed said. “He didn’t ask me what I stood for. He said I know what you fight for, but I want to know why you fight for it. And I told him about my grandmother, who never got the opportunity to go to school, though she was the smartest, wisest woman I have ever met. She used to remind me about when I go visit that it wasn’t about me. It was about the opportunities that I had.”
Ocasio-Cortez introduced Sanders, thanking Reverend Jesse Jackson for his March 7 endorsement of the senator. She discussed Sanders’ long-standing support for marginalized groups, citing it as a reason for her support. She also noted how, as mayor of Burlington, Vt., in the 1980s, Sanders endorsed Jackson for president at the Burlington Democratic presidential caucus.
“When it was time for the Vermont caucuses to come around, Mayor Sanders stood up to break the common consensus and endorsed Reverend Jesse Jackson for president,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “He stood up and delivered that speech in the Vermont caucuses. He was yelled at, he was hit, but he said this is our opportunity to bring millions of working people into our political process and transform who America can work for.”
Following Ocasio-Cortez’s introduction, Sanders walked on stage as John Lennon’s “Power to the People” played in the background. Upon entering the stage, he thanked Jackson and Ocasio-Cortez for their support and public service.
“What history is about is to understand that there have been extraordinarily brave people throughout history,” Sanders said. “People who’ve put their lives on the line, sometimes who have died, gone to jail in the struggle for justice. And that is what this campaign is about. That is what Jesse Jackson’s life has been about, that is what Alexandria’s life is about. And that’s what I hope all of your lives will be about.”
As Ann Arbor has undertaken efforts to combat climate change, many student groups such as the Sunrise Movement have endorsed Sanders’ aggressive environmental policies. Sanders argued for the urgency of these policies, stating the United States needs to be on the front lines of creating and implementing new provisions for environmental protection.
“Yes, we will pass legislation based on the principles of the Green New Deal,” Sanders said. “Climate is not just an American issue, but a global issue. We are going to lead the world and talk to the people in China and Russia, India and Pakistan ourselves, countries all over the world, and make the case that maybe instead of spending $1.8 trillion a year on weapons of destruction, killing each other, (we should) fight our common enemy, which is climate change.”
Speaking directly to the students and teachers in the audience, Sanders discussed how his policies will promote funding and support for education, which prompted applause from the crowd.
Sanders also emphasized the value of good public K-12 education. He said free primary education was no longer sufficient, promising to make colleges and universities tuition-free.
“Twelve years ago, I talked about making public colleges and universities like this one tuition-free,” Sanders said. “In the country, states, cities, communities are moving to free public colleges and universities. As president, that is exactly what we will do in every state in this country.”
If elected, Sanders said he hopes to expand protections under the Dream Act and establish a wider pathway to citizenship.
“We are going to bring sweeping reform to our immigration system,” Sanders said. “I am the son of an immigrant and I will not tolerate the demonization of immigrants. We will restore the executive order for the legal status of 1.8 million young people eligible for DACA. We will end a border policy which today allows fed agents to snatch babies from the arms of their mothers. We will end the ICE raids that are terrorizing communities and we will pass comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform and a path towards citizenship.”
The energy at the rally peaked when Sanders began discussing reproductive rights and his plan to expand funding for women’s health care. When he stated his intent to increase funding for Planned Parenthood, the crowd erupted, chanting: “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.”
“I will never nominate anybody who is not 100 percent pro-Roe v. Wade (to the Supreme Court),” Sanders said. “Trump and his friends want to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Well, I’ve got bad news for them: we are going to expand funding for Planned Parenthood. The truth is, it must be women who control their own bodies, not the government.”
Some students who were attending the rally said they used it as an opportunity to decide between the other former Democratic front-runner Joe Biden and Sanders. LSA senior Samantha Ilagan said she is worried about the senator’s electability.
“I’m still deciding between Bernie and Biden,” Ilagan said. “I kind of worry specifically because Trump would be the Republican nominee and who can do better against the end of the general election? I think this election, in particular, is crucial for that specific reason. It’s a choice between ideals and electability … I’m not exactly sure what the right answer is.”
Anticipating some undecided voters’ hesitations, Sanders framed his campaign as a grassroots movement by the people, for the people. He said Biden’s campaign is supported by the corporate and political establishment.
“We are taking on Joe Biden and we are taking on the billionaires funding his campaign,” Sanders said. “We are taking on the Wall Street executives who are helping to fund his campaign and we are taking on the corporate and political establishment. We are gonna win this election.”
Sanders concluded his speech with a call for civic participation among his supporters.
“Tell your friends that you’re tired of them complaining about high tuition, student debt, lack of health care and low wages and unaffordable housing,” Sanders said. “Tell them to stop complaining at the standoff and fight back. So let us go forward. On Tuesday let’s win here in Michigan, let’s win the Democratic nomination and together let us defeat Donald Trump.”
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