By Bruce A. Smith
Senator Bernie Sanders came to the Tacoma Dome on Monday, Feb. 17 and spoke to a Standing-Room Only audience of nearly 20,000 folks, revealing the powerful momentum his presidential campaign has developed.
Sanders was in town marshaling his forces in advance of Washington’s March 10 primary election. For local voters in Pierce County that means a mail-in ballot, which were distributed last week.
By all indications the Sanders campaign – and the underlying progressive movement – is a juggernaut. Not only was the T-Dome filled to capacity, it was a raucous crowd – shouting, cheering, and foot-stomping at every opportunity. However, it was clear that these passionate Bernie supporters are only a slice of the populace. In my five hours of attendance I saw only a handful of people who appeared to over 50 years of age. More troubling, I only saw two African-American individuals and perhaps a dozen Hispanic folks.
Enforcing my sense of these skewed demographics, I was in the company of two local – and senior – Democratic party stalwarts: Bill Harrington and Bob Akervick. Harrington was instrumental in the Flip Pierce County Blue campaign in 2018 that ushered Dr. Kim Schrier into the 8th Congressional District seat. Akervick is less visible but has been the Steady-Eddie of the 2nd Legislative District Dems as their long-time treasurer. I mention these fellows because we were the only 70-year old guys in the T-Dome, apparently, and Harrington’s huge shock of white hair attracted the attention of many, including the Seattle Times reporter, Elise Takahama, who interviewed Bill at length.
Despite the preponderance of youngin’s, the Sanders event was impressive. The rally started at 5 pm, but Bernie didn’t speak until 8 pm. In the interim, the crowd was treated to a bevy of speakers and performers – all who touted various aspects of liberal concerns.
First was a series of speeches and performances from the Puyallup Nation, on whose ancestral lands sits the Tacoma Dome. Indigenous rights and environmental concerns were topics addressed, but more impressive was a drumming and chanting tribute to all the women who suffer physical and sexual abuse, especially native women on their reservations dealing with domestic violence.
In addition, the quality of the speakers who followed the Puyallups revealed the depth of the progressive movement in Washington politics, particularly in the Puget Sound area.
Leading this cadre was Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who developed a theme stressed by Bernie and all who followed: help the working families of America. Sawant praised Seattle’s decision to institute a $15/hour minimum wage, and also addressed the need to end homelessness and income inequality. Further, she proudly announced that she is the “only socialist” on the Seattle City Council and ignited the crowd with a call for a “new party of and for working people,” and declared “history is calling on us.”
Following Sawant was an 18-year old climate activist, Jamie Margolin, who is the Puget Sound’s equivalent of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager recently touted by TIME magazine as “The Person of the Year” for her fierce support of climate change activism.
Margolin championed Bernie’s support for the Green New Deal (GND), calling it “revolutionary,” and got the crowd chanting for “climate justice,” and fighting against the fossil fuel industry. More importantly, she electrified her youthful audience by declaring that she never felt safe in this troubled world “before Bernie.”
After a musical refresher from Portugal.The Man, the big guns of the Sanders campaign addressed the crowd. First to speak was actor Tim Robbins, who declared Bernie Sanders “to be the most essential person in this race,” and added: “Bernie can unite us. He can beat Trump!” Robbins touched on a theme also presented by Sanders – that this presidential campaign is about instilling the desire in Americans to “fight for someone you might not know,” declaring that values such as health- care-for-all is critical for a strong and vital country.
Next was Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Seattle’s 7th Congressional District. Jayapal is a veritable firecracker – certainly the equal of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Bronx, NY congresswoman known as “AOC,” who is Bernie’s political soulmate and the creator of the Democratic Party’s Green New Deal.
Jayapal spoke at length and was fiery, calling for a humane immigration system as she revealed her own journey as an immigrant to America when she was a girl of sixteen.
Jayapal and the speakers before her were all on-point addressing progressive topics, and the slick orchestration of their message was evident and impressive. Jayapal echoed Bernie’s call for “deep structural changes” to the American political system and described Donald Trump as “a symptom, not a cause.” She described this progressive effort as building a “movement for justice” that will address climate concerns, marriage equality, and a woman’s reproductive rights.” This latter issue received one of the largest cheers of the evening.
As the acclaim swelled, Bernie took the stage, accompanied by his wife, Jane, whom Bernie introduced as the “Next First Lady of the United States.”
“What an unbelievable turn-out!” he continued. “Thank you, Tacoma.” As Jane left the stage, her husband got to the brass tacks of the evening.
“Our first priority is to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in the modern history of the United States.”
Bernie called Trump a pathological liar and a fraud, and added, “Mr. Trump, the American people are not going to re-elect you.”
Sanders then began the specifics of his campaign and the goals of his presidential administration.
“We will not accept income inequality,” he stated, and addressed homelessness. “500,000 Americans will be sleeping on the street tonight, and that is unacceptable.” He pledged to build 10 million new housing units, and developing an economy so potent that “if you work forty-hours a week you will not be homeless.” Part of that promise is a federal minimum wage of $15/hour, with an additional promise of creating an economy so robust that the average wage for a working person would be $60,000 per year.
To that end, Bernie pledged to make it easier to join a union. Plus, he will expand child care affordability and erase student debt. Specifically, Sanders said 45 million Americans are currently struggling with burdensome student debt, and making education affordable for all will be a priority of his administration.
“If Congress can give $1 trillion tax breaks to Wall Street, then it can cancel student debt!” he declared to great applause.
Sanders then moved into the related issue of climate change and touted the Dem’s Green New Deal, saying that the GND and the transition to alternative energy sources will generate 20 million good union jobs. Continuing, Bernie said he would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and organize a re-invigorated global effort to reverse climate change. He promised to directly confront the leaders of China, Brazil, India, Russia, and other developing nations that need to curtail CO2 emissions.
“Climate change is not a hoax – Donald Trump is the hoax!” he declared to thundering applause.
Bernie declared that his administration will confront the inequities of the criminal justice system. Also, “We will end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana,” he said, adding that his administration will expunge the criminal records of all those arrested for weed.
As for immigration, a Sanders administration will restore the rights of the 1.8 million DACA kids. Also, Sanders declared that there will be no family separations on the southern border, and he will institute comprehensive immigration reform to provide pathways to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently residing within the country.
Further, a Sanders administration will confront gun violence and establish a nationwide universal background checks, and end the sale of assault-style weapons.
In addition, Sanders declared that he “supports Roe v. Wade 100%,” and will get that ruling written into law. Further, Sanders will increase funding for Planned Parenthood, saying, “women should control their own bodies, not the government.”
Lastly, Bernie addressed health care and his controversial plan of Medicare for All (MFA).
“Health care is a human right,” Bernie stated, and cited the basics statistics of the need for a single-payer system of health care.
“The United States spends two times the amount Canada does per person on health care. Worse, 87 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured, while the average family that does have adequate medical insurance spends $12,000 each year in premiums. Plus, 500,000 Americans go bankrupt each year due to health care costs they can’t afford. We can do better.”
To that end, Sanders said he would expand Medicare to include currently un-funded coverage for vision, dental and home health care. Plus, he would lower drug prices and cap annual pharmaceutical expenses at $200 per family.
Further, Bernie said that his MFA would eliminate co-pays, deductibles, and premium payments. “Medicare for All will combat Big Pharma and the for-profit health industry.”
As for electability, Bernie said that his campaign is the largest and strongest grassroots organization in the history of the United States. “If we stand together, nothing can stop us! We are the 99%!”
Tomorrow in the Mountain News: An analysis of the Bernie Sanders campaign, the resistance of the Democratic Party Establishment, and the troubling impacts of the Internet thugs known as the “Bernie Bros.”
Bob Akervick, left, and Bill Harrington, right, at the Bernie Rally in Tacoma.
Bernie Sanders at the podium during his rally in Tacoma.
Bernie enthusiasm at the Tacoma Dome on February 17, 2020.
All pix by Bruce A. Smith