In a record-breaking turnout, 28,000 supporters crowded into the Moda Center sports arena in Portland, Oregon on Aug. 9 to hear Bernie Sanders speak.
This crowd outnumbered the already impressive audience of the previous day in Seattle. It was on Aug. 8 that Sanders spoke to 15,000 supporters in The Pavilion, 3,000 of whom were outside due to space limitations, as he appealed for unity against the “billionaire class,” arguing that jobs that pay living wages, racial, and gender equality, health care, and higher education for all “is not utopian dreaming.”
Sanders added, “When black and white stand together, Hispanics…women and men…gay and straight, there is nothing, nothing we can’t accomplish.”
Sanders echoed a warning by President Obama when he was on the campaign trail in 2008. “No President can do it alone, no individual in the White House can do it alone. We need to do it together….We need an economy that works for workers and the middle class and not just for the billionaires.”
Sanders hailed Seattle for enacting a $15 an hour minimum wage saying it should be a model for an increase in the $7.25 federal minimum wage which he denounced as a “starvation wage.”
The crowd, he said, is the largest yet in his campaign. Sanders was scheduled to speak Sunday in Portland, Oregon, and in Los Angeles, Monday – both expected to draw huge crowds.
Yet an incident in downtown Seattle earlier in the day underlined the danger that racist division poses to his campaign. Members of Black Lives Matter seized the platform at a rally that Sanders was scheduled to address. The event was sponsored by Puget Sound Alliance of Retiree Advocates to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Medicare and to demand that the cap on Social Security taxes be lifted so that wealthy taxpayers pay their fair share.
The Black Lives Matter members demanded that the rally join in commemorating the first anniversary of the slaying by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black youth in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 9, 2015. Sanders was unable to speak and the rally was cancelled.
Yet Sanders did not let the issue die. “Too many young lives are being destroyed by the so-called ‘War on Drugs,” Sanders told the mostly white crowd at the rally that same evening.
“Too many lives are being destroyed by our system of incarceration,” Sanders charged. “No President will fight harder to end the stain of racism and reform our criminal justice system. Period.”
Announced at the rally was the appointment of Symone Sanders as Bernie Sanders national press secretary. The young African American woman, is the chair of the National Coalition of Juvenile Justice. She is an active supporter of Black Lives Matter.
Symone Sanders delivered a fiery speech introducing Bernie Sanders as a candidate who will “turn words into action” in the struggle against racism. “You know which President will shut down the private prison industry,” she thundered. “You know which candidate will have the courage to fight unjust mandatory minimum sentences and the death penalty.”
Earlier, Lynne Dodson, Sec. Treas. of the Washington State Labor Council pointed out that this is the “anniversary of the Ferguson, Missouri” police murder of Michael Brown. Yet the violence against young African American men, she added, is not limited to police shootings. “Violence takes the form of poverty, denial of health care, shipping of good jobs overseas, the exploitation of workers in other countries.”
She cited the “war on women” unleashed by the Republican Party with too many Democrats silent at the attacks. “We have Bernie Sanders to create a better world for all of us,” she said as the crowd cheered.
Pramila Jayapal, a member of the Washington State legislature and a founder of “One America,” an immigrant rights organization, praised Sanders as a fighter for immigration reform that includes a “path to citizenship” for 11 miilion undocumented immigrants.
“He has stood up against racist oppression and believes that black lives matter,” she said.
Sanders delivered a wide-ranging speech hammering on the domination of the nations economy and political system by the super wealthy.
“We are not living in a democracy when as a result of the disastrous Citizens United decision, billionaires like the Koch Brothers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars electing candidates who represent the wealthy, the powerful. That’s called oligarchy, not democracy,” he said.
“You cannot get huge tax breaks when millions of children go to bed hungry. You cannot hide your wealth in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. You will pay your fair share.” The crowd roared its agreement.
He blasted the Supreme Court for “gutting the Voting Rights Act,” charging that “within hours” of the high courts decision, Republicans were scheming to strip African Americans, Latinos, youth, and women of their vote. He urged a full-fledged campaign to protect voting rights.
He called for strong measures to reverse climate change. “If we don’t get our act together, world temperatures will rise five degrees,” he said. “We must lead the world in moving away from fossil fuels.”
He also called for passage of an infrastructure repair bill that will create 13 million good-paying jobs.
Some of his strongest applause came from the many youth and students in the audience. Sanders blasted a system that leaves millions of youth, especially black and Hispanic youth unemployed or saddled with ruinous student loan debt. He called for tuition free education at all public colleges and universities. It is time, he said, to invest more tax revenues in jobs and education than in building prisons.
He announced that he met with President Obama on the agreement to block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and will vote for the agreement. Republicans who seek to wreck the Iran deal, he said, “have forgotten the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq, forgotten that half a million soldiers came home with post traumatic stress.”
He called for a foreign policy that “resolves differences even with nations we have strong differences with rather than go to war. I want to give peace every chance, every opportunity. I’m going to work with the President to insure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons.”
Photo: Bernie Sanders supporters outside rally in Seattle. | Tim Wheeler/PW