Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont talked about jobs, wages and economic inequality at a rally in Detroit on Sunday.
More than 2,500 supporters gathered in the gymnasium of Detroit’s Cass Technical High School for the rally. Sanders was introduced by U.S. House Representative Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who later endorsed the candidate’s campaign for president.
Tlaib joined fellow freshman Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar in endorsing Sanders, as the two endorsed Sanders’ campaign earlier this month.
“We deserve someone who writes the damn bills,” Tlaib said. “We deserve Bernie Sanders.”
Sanders entered the gym to chants of his name, hundreds of supporters lining the balcony overlooking the room. In the stands, a row of placards reading “Detroit Loves Bernie” was complemented by a sea of blue “Bernie 2020” signs.
Sanders began his address by reflecting on former Rep. John Conyers, the late U.S. Congressman representing much of Western Detroit who passed away Sunday afternoon. Conyers served Michigan’s 1st, 13th and 14th congressional districts from 1965 to 2017, co-founding the Congressional Black Caucus and continually advocating for the nation’s transition to a single-payer health care system. He resigned during his 26th term in 2017 following sexual harassment allegations.
Sanders said Conyers, the longest serving Black congressman in American history, was an unrelenting fighter for social justice and economic opportunity, someone who inspired Sanders’ own legislative agenda.
“Tonight we’re not here just to mourn John, but to celebrate a life of enormous achievement,” Sanders said. “As all of you know, John was a champion for civil rights, he was the man most responsible for having a national holiday for the great Martin Luther King Jr., and long before it was popular, John Conyers understood that healthcare is a human right.”
Sanders spent most of his speech explaining the main goals of his campaign: to combat the political establishment and expand economic opportunity to all of the American people. Sanders said he visited several neighborhoods in Tlaib’s district, in which voters expressed concern over tightening economic conditions for the working class.
“Rashida took me around her district here in Detroit, and I met with beautiful young people who are going to schools in which they don’t have adequate textbooks,” Sanders said. “They are going to schools where their teachers are forced to work two or three jobs just to make a living. I don’t think it is too much to ask that in the wealthiest country in the history of the world we pay our teachers a living salary.”
In her introduction of Sanders, Tlaib also touched on the struggles of metro Detroit-area voters, particularly relating to racial or wealth discrimination by insurance companies against socioeconomically disadvantaged voters.
“People in our communities have overcome redlining, systemic racism only to see their water shut off,” Tlaib said. “Their homes taken away, simply because they’re too poor to afford shelter, or fell on hard times. We live in the Motor City, the region that gave the world the automobile, and yet many of us — many of us — cannot afford to insure the cars we drive because insurance companies are allowed to discriminate against us.”
Tlaib and Sanders were both met with resounding cheers and applause from an audience diverse in race, age and ethnicity, though largely made up of students and younger voters.
Likewise, the majority of the Bernie 2020 campaign volunteers — who checked voters in as the rally hall began to fill up — were young, many only college or high school students.
One of these volunteers, high school junior Zeinab Alghanem from Dearborn, first joined Sanders’ campaign via Students for Bernie over this past summer. Now Alghanem spends her free time canvassing and making cold calls to voters. Alghanem said she is confident Sanders will do right by working class families like her own.
“Other candidates don’t have the same record,” Alghanem said. “Candidates always like to make promises but they never follow through on them. Based on his record we can tell that he’s going to follow through on them, and I just know that he will fight for us. I come from a low-income family, so health care has always been an issue, and low wages have always been an issue. So I just know that when he gets there he’s going to fight for us.”
While she has been working for Sanders’ campaign since the summer, Alghanem said her interest in politics began with working for Tlaib’s campaign in 2018, along with others from her high school in Dearborn.
“Me and my advisor and two other students went and door knocked — 4,000 doors — to get out the American vote,” she said. “So I think that’s doable again for Bernie’s campaign.”
Another young volunteer, Michigan State University freshman Kristin Perkins, worked as an usher at the event, helping people find their seats before Bernie took the stage. Perkins said her student activism was what brought her and her classmates down to Detroit for the rally.
“I’m actually part of a student group called Spartans for Sanders down at Michigan State, and we all came up here, we saw the opportunity, and we decided to take it,” Perkins said. “We’re really passionate about Bernie Sanders, and his mission for the United States.”
Among these students were several Sanders supporters from the University of Michigan. LSA sophomore Esau Delgado is the treasurer of Students for Bernie at U-M. Much like Alghanem, Delgado says Sanders’ economic agenda appeals to the economic needs of his own family.
“Originally I’m from the South Side of Chicago, and both of my parents immigrated here from Mexico,” Delgado said. “So I kind of view Bernie as this independent candidate that’s only beholden to the working class. One of the issues that I really love is tuition free college, because when I was growing up, my mother raised my sister and I single-handedly. She works a job, makes less than $20,000 a year, and she had to worry, (with us) growing up, you know, how am I gonna pay tuition for my kids. Both of them. With tuition-free college she doesn’t ever have to worry about that. She doesn’t have to have that anxiety.”
Delgado also recognized Sanders’ ability to mobilize young people, explaining his campaign’s message resonates with Americans who may not have voted before, but who find common ground with Sanders’ social and economic agenda.
“I feel like he’s really targeting people who have not been part of the political process before, especially people of color,” Delgado said. “I identify as Mexican American and he just motivates me to go harder for him, to phone bank more, to canvas more, to volunteer more. Because I truly feel like his policies will benefit people like me, people of color.”
The message of Sanders’ rally remained focused on economic opportunity and job creation. Ultimately, he left the Detroit crowd with a message of positivity.
“As a Senator, I have seen the incredible wealth and power of the one percent,” Sanders said. “Be clear — they have unlimited amounts of money. Health care industry will spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to stop Medicare for all. The fossil fuel industry will spend as much as it takes trying to preserve their profits. The prison industrial complex, military industrial complex, incredible wealth and incredible power. But at the end of the day, the one percent is one percent.”