The dust is settling from this week’s visit by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The Democratic contender became the eleventh presidential hopeful to visit Alabama when his campaign rolled into Birmingham on Martin Luther King Day.
“Well-attended” could easily be an understatement. The Sanders campaign says over 7,000 people turned out for the rally, with well over a thousand braving sub-freezing temperatures to watch outside after the auditorium reached capacity.
APR’s Alex AuBuchon attended the rally and takes this look back.
Volunteers for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign had their work cut out for them Monday night trying to keep track of the thousands of supporters streaming in to Boutwell Auditorium, grabbing something to remember the occasion, and trying to find a seat for the rally.
Tim Jackson drove more than six hours to attend.
“I live in North Carolina, but the home office for where I work is based in Birmingham. So I thought I would just use this as an excuse to come down and check in with the home office for a couple days. But, yeah, this was a big part of the reason I’m down here.”
Jackson says the senator’s stance on campaign finance is what sold him.
“In my opinion, every other candidate out there is pretty much bought and paid for by corporations, Wall Street, billionaires. Senator Sanders is the only one that’s trying to keep the money out of politics.”
It’s a position Sanders was quick to point out. “The campaign finance system today is corrupt and it is undermining American democracy.”
Sanders says he’s funding his campaign a different way.
“I am extremely proud to tell you that our average campaign donation is $27. In other words, this is a campaign of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Darrell Weatherspoon of Birmingham says his main focus is equality.
“What I’m hoping to hear is that he will continue to fight for justice and equality for all people, and that he will definitely work on raising the minimum wage.”
Sanders didn’t take for granted that he was holding his rally on Martin Luther King Day.
“To truly honor the life of Dr. King, we must fight to carry out his radical and bold vision of a nation in which we not only end all forms of institutional racism and bigotry, but a nation in which all of us, all of us come together to create a country which provides economic, social and environmental justice for all.”
Sanders even quoted Dr. King on economic injustice.
“‘What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?’ What does it mean if you can go to a university, but you can’t afford to go to that university? What does it mean if you can get in to the hospital, but you come out bankrupt?”
Affordable health care was a top priority for many in attendance, like Skip Hanline of Decatur.
“I voted for Obama, first term. He turned his back on universal health care. And, to me, that is a priority over everything. I don’t have much longer to be on this earth. This is my grandson, and I want to see my grandson experience universal health care like they have in other countries.”
Sanders was unequivocal.
“In my view, the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care for all people, through a Medicare for All single-payer program.”
Outside of his policy points, Senator Sanders asked those in attendance Monday night for a lot more than just their vote.
“We need a political revolution. The only way we bring about real change is when millions of people begin to get involved and demand that Congress and Washington start representing the interests of ordinary Americans. And I appreciate ‘Bernie, Bernie, Bernie’, thank you. But it ain’t ‘Bernie, Bernie, Bernie’, it is ‘You, You and You’.”
And from the sound of Boutwell Auditorium Monday night, supporters think a political revolution isn’t such a bad idea.