PHOTOS | Bernie Sanders’ fiery message heats up River Centre

Congressman Ellison “Feels the Bern”

(l-r): Congressman Keith Ellison, Farhiya Ali and Sen Bernie Sanders
(l-r): Congressman Keith Ellison, Farhiya Ali and Sen Bernie Sanders (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

On the evening of January 26, presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders first stopped in Duluth, Minnesota earlier in the day for a “Future to Believe In” campaign rally. Later that evening Sanders came to the St. Paul River Centre to address more than 10,000 people in the main area, along with close to 5,000 additional people in the overflow room.

Plenty of supporters were standing shoulder to shoulder with cell phone cameras ready. One supporter was standing in the center of the crowd holding and waving a flag with a colorful caricature of Bernie Sanders with fire-blazing hair and the slogan, “Feel the Bern!”

Just before Sanders came out to speak, Farhiya Ali, a Somali student attending Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, told the audience with passion that she was proud to call herself an American. “I do call America my home, because I just became a nationalized citizen,” to which the crowd cheered.

Ali said that she is constantly asked why she supports Bernie Sanders. She highlighted Sanders’ voting record, proof for her of his commitment to peace. She has adopted one of the main messages of the Sanders campaign: “Bernie believes this country belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.” Ali said that Sanders would bring changes that would be good for everyone “rather than scapegoating Latinos or Muslims.”

Crowd shot at Bernie Sanders rally
Crowd shot at Bernie Sanders rally (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

“We need to address institutional racism,” Ali said, which was met with thunderous applause and cheers, “because all lives matter, and Black Lives Matter, too.” Ali closed with an appeal to African American students to vote for Bernie Sanders. Ironically, only an estimated 75 to 100 Black people appeared to be scattered throughout the crowd.

Following Ali was Congressman Keith Ellison, who ran to the podium with a huge smile and said at the top of his lungs, “I don’t know about you, but I can ‘Feel the Bern,’ people,” to which the crowd loudly cheered.

Ellison endorsed Sanders and encouraged people to get out and vote during the Minnesota caucuses on March 1. An enthusiastic Ellison said that it is because Sanders doesn’t hesitate to lead the fight for justice that he is proud to support him for president of the United States.

“Bernie, Bernie, Bernie,” chanted the already fired-up crowd.

However, Tuesday’s speech was business as usual, including themes of eliminating income disparities, campaign finance reform, and giving the criminal justice system an overhaul. “No president can effectively address the crisis facing our country unless there is a political revolution,” Sanders said.

Many of his supporters are convinced of his promises that he can straighten out the campaign finance system, take on the greed of Wall Street, deliver $15 as the minimum wage, go toe-to-toe with the Koch Brothers, and bring justice back to a broken criminal justice system that starts with major reform in the way police departments operate.

“When a police officer breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable,” said Sanders. One possible controversial element of Sanders’ criminal justice reform plan is the decriminalization of marijuana.

While Sanders is 74, he is winning over many younger voters with his anti-establishment message, though he draws supporters of all ages. Mike Tronnes, a 61-year-old county worker who referred to himself simply as a middle-aged White guy, spoke with the MSR after the rally as the crowd was leaving the River Centre.

“I’m starting an organization called Capitalists for Bernie,” he said laughing. “You know, it’s like Jews for Jesse, or Socialists for Trump. I’ve been aware of Bernie, and what he stands for, for a long time.” Tronnes said that he is very close [in his own views] to all of Sanders’ themes, but says he’s not sure if Sanders can really get elected.

When asked about the number of young people following Sanders, Tronnes said, “I was surprised, very surprised. We were just talking about the initial rap on Bernie was that his campaign was middle-aged White guys like us. Now suddenly there’s more young people.”

 

James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to jlswriter@gmail.com.

Photos by Chris Juhn

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