Bernie Sanders has returned and his supporters are along for the ride.
More than 13,000 people showed up for Sanders’ campaign kickoff rally at Brooklyn College on Saturday, braving snow, slush and frigid temperatures. Scores of volunteers lined up three hours before the rally began. The event was a tour de force for the Sanders campaign. And it showed the energy from 2016 hasn’t faded.
Many of the volunteers I spoke to expressed their excitement. They’d long admired Sanders, and voted for him the last time around. But the start of his 2020 campaign gave them a new chance to get involved. Some traveled as far as Philadelphia, not only to see Sanders in person, but to help, by clearing snow, moving chairs and press barriers, directing attendees and even building snowmen.
Once gates the opened, the Brooklyn College quad was fully packed within half an hour. Blue and white “Bernie” signs floated above knit caps and winter coats. Supporters danced along to a reggae band as they filed in. The warmth in the air was palpable, even as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees.
Supporters were treated to a history of Sanders’ involvement in civil and workers’ rights campaigns. Four speakers preceded Sanders, starting with Scott Slawson, president of Local 506 (Erie, Pa.) of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. He spoke about Sanders’ solidarity with his chapter’s fight against unfair wage scales and mandatory overtime. South Carolina Rep. Terry Alexander was next, discussing Sanders’ career-long fight for justice.
Ohio State Senator Nina Turner delivered the most explosive speech of the day, whipping the crowd into a frenzy while reminding attendees of Sanders’ fight against segregated housing in Chicago. By the time journalist and activist Shaun King took the stage, the message was clear—Bernie Sanders has been on the right side of racial justice efforts his entire public life. “It’s not just about what Bernie has done,” King emphasized, “but what he continues to do.” It was a clear attempt to rebuke the false but persistent idea that Sanders is “bad on race.”
When Sanders spoke, he took the fight to Donald Trump. Sanders outlined how he is everything Trump isn’t. He’s a dedicated lifelong public servant with middle class roots, not a child of privilege who received “a $200,000 allowance every year beginning at the age of 3.”
Standing mere miles from where he grew up in a rent-controlled apartment in Midwood, Sanders emphasized his roots as a son of an immigrant father. But his message wasn’t just about his personal story—it was about his entire career, including his 2016 primary loss and the lessons learned from it. He’s stayed in the public eye since that race through hosting town halls and giving speeches to keep his message alive. And the 13,000 people in front of him were proof that the message isn’t only alive but thriving.