Photo: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders leads a march to an early-voting site at Winston-Salem State University on Thursday. (photo by Todd Turner — see photo gallery)
Before leading a march to an early-voting site, Bernie Sanders addressed an energized crowd of 1,400 during a capacity event at a gymnasium at Winston-Salem State University on Thursday.
“The establishment, in case you haven’t heard, they’re getting very nervous,” said Sanders, who is the leading Democratic candidate five days out from North Carolina’s March 3 primary, part of the 14-state Super Tuesday sweep. The candidate drew loud boos when he told them his detractors were trying to stop him by saying he can’t beat Trump.
“You know what?” Sanders said. “We are the strongest campaign to beat Donald Trump, because we have the energy and we have the excitement. We have been bringing working-class people, black and white, Latino, Native American, Asian Americans into the political process. We are going to get young people out to vote in a way this country has never seen before.”
Ivana Fajarda and Calvin Parham brought their 7-month-old child to the rally, and they were standing in line outside the gymnasium two hours before the event started.
The 30-year-old Fajarda, who shares her Bernie-inspired art on Instagram, said she’s supporting Sanders because she sees “no other option.”
Parham, who is 29, added that “the current political landscape is harsh.” Fajarda said their concerns about the direction of the country are heightened by the fact that they’re multiracial parents, she as a Hispanic woman and he as an African-American man, raising a young child.
Fajarda said she supported Sanders in the last election, but decided to get more involved this time because “things have gotten dire.”
The couple, who relocated to Kernersville from Illinois last year, said they support Sanders because every part of his platform aligns with their values, including his call for universal healthcare and aggressive action to address climate change.
Parham said this will be first time he has ever voted. Before this year, he said, he didn’t think elections mattered because all the candidates seemed the same.
“I voted for Obama because I wanted to be part of it,” Fajarda said. “Hillary didn’t do it for me.” Although she didn’t vote in the 2016 general election, she said this year she will most likely vote Democratic, no matter who the nominee is.
Breana Mitchell, a 20-year-old biology major at Winston-Salem State, said she is supporting Sanders because of his plan to make college tuition-free.
“So many people don’t go to college simply because she they can’t afford it,” she said. “The fact that he’s making tuition free will open doors to so many people who want to go to college.”
Mitchell hasn’t given serious consideration to any of the other candidates in the Democratic field.
“I’m not really a fan of them,” she said. When asked if she would vote Democratic if Sanders isn’t the nominee, Mitchell replied, “Probably not.”
While she admired President Obama, Mitchell said the former president’s positive legacy doesn’t earn any points for former Vice President Joe Biden.
“He’s just going try to pick up the leftovers of what Obama did,” Mitchell said, “versus being his own person.”
Wearing a Carhartt jacket and workpants, with a tweed porkpie hat, 66-year-old Tom Caton stuck out in the predominantly college-age crowd.
A retired school principal and unaffiliated voter from Wilkes County who has previously voted Republican, Caton said, “I believe we need a progressive movement in this country to save capitalism. Capitalism is ruining itself. The money is all at the top, and people don’t have money to spend. How’s the machine going to keep going? We need an adjustment.”
Wilkes was among a handful of counties that Trump carried by the highest margin in 2016, but Caton said he knows Republicans there who have turned on the president.
“There’s a lot of Republicans who will not vote for Trump,” he said. “They think he’s a pathological liar, and he stomped on the Constitution.”
Keith Ellison, a former Democratic congressman from Minnesota — part of a star cast of supporters who amped the crowd for Sanders’ appearance — highlighted the importance of the youth vote.
“Young people have always led the fight for change, because they believe they can change the world; you haven’t had your heart broken yet,” Ellison said. “I believe in you, young people. Who believes in the sit-inners? Who believes in the young people leading the climate strike?… Don’t let the cynics discourage you.”
Larry Little, a political science professor at Winston-Salem State University and former city council member, drew thunderous applause during his brief remarks ahead of Sanders.
“Bernie has been a champion in the fight against racism all his adult life,” Little said, while defending Sanders’ democratic socialism as consistent with the economic vision of civil rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and A. Philip Randolph.
Nina Turner, national co-chair of the Sanders campaign, celebrated Little as a “founding member of the Winston-Salem Black Panther Party.”
Emphasizing a campaign promise later echoed by Sanders himself, Turner said, “We’re gonna take marijuana off Schedule 1. We’re gonna legalize marijuana in all 50 states.”
Shouting over a roar of applause, Turner continued, “That’s not radical — that’s right on time.”
While reiterating many of the populist economic positions — Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free college, universal, childcare, an infusion of funding for Title I schools — that have won him support in the Democratic primary contest, Sanders also turned his attention towards the general election, pledging to win North Carolina in November.
After telling the audience that “hundreds were turned away” from the rally, Sanders said that the American people understand “that Donald Trump is a fraud.”
“In 2016, he campaigned in North Carolina and all through the country,” Sanders continued. “He said, ‘I’m going to stand with working people and take on the establishment.’ He lied.”