Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders concluded his weekend campaign kickoff with a rally in Chicago, the city he says helped inspire his political activism.
The rally, which drew more than 12,000 people, came after Sanders visited Selma, Alabama alongside other candidates vying for the presidency in 2020 who attended an event to mark the 54th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. On Saturday, the Vermont Senator held his first campaign rally since his announcement to run once again run for president in Brooklyn, New York.
“We have begun the political revolution and now we are going to complete it,” Sanders told the crowd in Chicago.
Supporters of the Vermont Senator began lining up at Chicago’s Navy Pier before 4:30pm for the rally, which did not begin until after 7:00pm. A boisterous gospel choir warmed up the emotional and extremely devoted crowd before a host of speakers introduced Sanders, often breaking into loud chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!” throughout the evening.
While Sanders stayed away from Chicago’s recent election results and upcoming runoff races for mayor and some positions on its 50-person City Council, local issues still played a role in the evening’s lineup, with Chicago activists among those who warmed up the crowd before he took the stage.
Destiny Harris, a queer black poet who organizes with the ‘No Cop Academy’ movement in Chicago, opened the night by telling the crowd about how the closure of nearly 50 public schools in 2013 – the largest in the city’s history – personally impacted her.
“At the age of 12 in 2013, I saw Francis Scott Key Elementary, my severely underfunded, predominantly black elementary school located on the West side of Chicago get shut down at the end of my sixth-grade year. I saw the school my friends attended a few blocks down get closed too. At the age of 12, I was forced to grasp the concept of accountability and questioning those in power.”
Harris works with the ‘No Copy Academy’ movement, a coalition fighting the construction of a new $95 million police academy in Chicago. Thanks to years of activism, the issue took center stage in the most recent local elections. Harris and other organizers say the money would be better spent by investing in neighborhood resources like schools and mental health clinics in the neighborhoods. Harris, who is from the neighborhood the academy is poised to be built in, highlighted the connection between education and mass incarceration.
“This proposed new police training academy comes years after the closing down of 50+ schools under the claims of the city not having enough money to invest in dilapidated, discarded schools,” said Harris. “The proposal of this cop academy comes as a direct response to the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. A $95 million cop academy being built on the justification of the Chicago Police Department needing better training. Let’s remember that a building is not the same thing as a curriculum.”
“They claim it will bring more development to the West Side,” she added. “I didn’t know more development looked like more jails, policing, and mass incarceration.”
Ashley Galvan Ramos, a member of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, told the crowd about how rising rents due to rapid gentrification in her neighborhood forced her family out of their home and into the streets before being taken in by other relatives until they could get back on their feet.
“My mom still has to travel to Logan Square for work, and I gave up on school,” said Ramos. “During the time I was supposed to be in school, I was walking around the neighborhood to look for an apartment,” she said. “At the time my life looked really dark and hopeless, but without my connections to LSNA, my parents and I would not be homeowners today.”
“Even though we have a new home, the feeling of being displaced still lingers, and that’s what I’m proud to be here with all of you today,” added Ramos. “My story is only one out of the many who’ve been affected by gentrification.”
When Sanders took the stage, he spent a long time recalling his history in both Chicago and the civil rights movement during his speech, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. He talked about his involvement in the fight against segregation in Chicago in the 1960’s, where officials had set up trailers with inhospitable and abhorrent conditions for black students to keep them separate from white schools.
“One day, many of us went to the spot where they planned to put the trailers,” Sanders said. “We were corralled by a police line and told not to cross that line. Some of us did cross that line!”
Sanders said his time spent in Chicago helped shape his politics.
“The reason I tell you all of this is because my activities here in Chicago taught me a very important lesson,” he said. “And that is that whether it is the struggle against corporate greed, racism, sexism, or homophobia, environmental devastation, or war and militarism, real change never takes place from the top on down. It always takes place from the bottom on up.”
Sanders attacked several Trump administration policies from climate change to immigration and contrasted them with his own platform.
“Today we say to the American people that instead of demonizing the undocumented immigrants in this country we’re sick and tired of the demonization,” said Sanders. “We’re going to pass comprehensive immigration reform and a path towards citizenship….We are going to create a humane border policy for those who seek asylum. The United States of America must never be a country that snatches tiny babies from the arms of their mothers.”
He also touted well-worn talking points about curbing corporate welfare, a national $15 minimum wage, and Medicare for all.
“Today we say to the top 1 percent and the large profitable corporations – people who have never had it so good that under a Bernie Sanders administration we’re going to end the massive tax breaks and loopholes you currently enjoy,” said Sanders. “We will no longer tolerate a situation in which the wealthy and large corporations store tens of billions of dollars in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens. Together we are going to end austerity for working families and bring some austerity to corporate America.”
Sanders closed his speech out with a message of unity for struggling Americans.
“If we understand that there really is no such thing as a red state or a blue state but that we are a nation in which in every single state the majority of working people are struggling hard to provide a decent life for their kids,” said Sanders. “If we stand together believing in justice and human dignity, if we believe in love and compassion, the truth is there is nothing we cannot accomplish. Let us go forward together.”