I was blown away by the energy of Friday’s Bernie Sanders rally in Raleigh. “Feel the Bern,” a phrase that has become synonymous with the campaign, was used as a greeting and a goodbye between non-acquainted rally-goers. Chants of, “Not me, us,” “This is what Democracy looks like,” and, “We, are, the ninety-nine percent,” were frequent and often. People danced and sang as speakers blasted “Power to the People” by John Lennon, “Revolution” by Flogging Molly, and “Make a Change” by Buckwheat Zydeco.
While Mr. Sanders was outside the Duke Energy Performing Arts Center addressing the thousands of overflow supporters who couldn’t get in, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was inside getting the crowd fired up. Gabbard reminded the crowd that she stepped down as vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee in order to endorse Sanders. She spoke of her military service, and proclaimed that Bernie Sanders is the only candidate that will “put a stop to these unnecessary regime-change wars” as Commander-in-Chief.
Once inside the convention center, Sanders reminded his North Carolina supporters that his campaign is perpetually declared the underdog. Drawing laughs, and showing a good-natured sense of humor, Sanders remembered out loud when he first declared his candidacy. The pundits, he said, “Thought I was a nice guy, and a GQ dresser, but not a serious candidate.”
Continuing this theme of exceeding expectations, Sanders recalled his upset win in Michigan, a state almost all political commentators believed would swing to Hillary Clinton.
Highlighting his differences from Mrs. Clinton, Sanders spoke about what he calls a “corrupt campaign finance system.” Sanders called the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Koch brothers pour into campaigns evidence of an oligarchy, not a democracy. He questioned Clinton’s ability to be a “real agent for change” while simultaneously receiving millions of dollars from Wall Street donors. Per usual, Sanders touted his campaign’s vast number of individual contributions averaging $27 each.
Not letting his Republican adversaries off the hook, Sanders called into question their self-proclaimed “family values.” According to Mr. Sanders, these values include the idea that a woman should not have the right to control her own body, and that “our gay brothers and sisters” should not be able to get married.
In a highly substantive and policy-oriented speech, Sanders appealed to his North Carolina constituents, young and old, by focusing on trade, education, and Social Security. Agreeing that trade is not a “sexy” issue, Sanders emphasized its importance, highlighting his opposition to NAFTA and the TPP, trade agreements that he claims make Americans compete for jobs with desperate foreign workers. Sanders also spoke of the country’s need for a $15 an hour “living wage” and increased Social Security benefits for its senior citizens. The largest cheers of the day came when Sanders affirmed his position that every student should be allowed to re-finance their college debt at the lowest possible rates and should have access to free public universities, paid for by a “tax on Wall Street speculation.”
Sanders pleaded with voters to come out and vote in Tuesday’s primary. If enough people vote on Tuesday, he said, his campaign could pull off a victory similar to Michigan.
Hillary Clinton is the far and away favorite to win the Democratic primary in North Carolina. The Bernie Sanders Campaign doesn’t care. Sanders’s positive message to his base has his supporters hopeful; they see no reason to stop dancing, cheering, or fighting. As one sign read, “Bern down for what?”