Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate, brought in a crowd of over 20,000 people to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center on Saturday night—a number which doesn’t even include those who couldn’t make it through the door. A few thousand were unable to fit inside the Center, but remained outside in the cold weather and viewed the speech on screens in an overflow area.
The crowd was the largest ever in Massachusetts for a primary candidate’s rally, according to The Boston Globe. At roughly 22,000 people, Sanders surpassed Barack Obama’s total of 10,000 people eight years ago.
Included in the crowd was recently formed student group Boston College Students for Bernie Sanders, as well as a strong representation of undergraduates from area colleges.
Much of the crowd “felt the Bern,” as repeated chants of “Ber-nie! Ber-nie!” periodically erupted throughout his speech.
In the middle of the rapturous cheering and roaring approval, the self-described “Democratic Socialist” began his speech by thanking his thousands of volunteers around the nation, and termed his campaign “a people’s campaign.”
“I don’t have a Super PAC,” Sanders said. “I don’t want a Super PAC, and I don’t need a Super PAC. I don’t want [Wall Street’s] money.”
Despite rejecting mass-campaign financing tactics used by his rivals, including fellow Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Sanders has nearly equalled Clinton’s third-quarter fundraising totals. Clinton has raised roughly $28 million, and currently leads Sanders by $2 million.
What Sanders was quick to stress, however, is the source of his money. He explained that 650,000 Americans donated a total of $26 million to his campaign thus far. Over 99 percent of all of Sanders’ contributions were under $100, with an average donation of nearly $30.
What followed was Sanders’ fiery rhetoric on his calling-card issue: income inequality. He explained that for 40 years, the middle class of this country—once the envy of the world—has been disappearing. “It is worse today than any time since 1928,” he said. “Fifty-eight percent of new income goes to the one percent. That is not what the American economy is supposed to be about.”
The senator proclaimed that wages in America are “too damn low,” and that nobody can survive on the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Sanders explained his desire to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Additionally, Sanders tackled the topic of real unemployment, particularly among youths, as well as racial and gender disparities in income and employment rates. He tied the issue to that of America’s prison system, which he said needed to be reformed. Sanders called for “jobs and education, not jails and incarceration.” He proposed “nonviolent offenders not get locked up” in an effort to shrink America’s jailed population, which is currently larger than any other country’s in the world—both in absolute terms and per capita.
Sanders also covered LGBTQ rights, climate change, racial justice, tuition-free public Universities, and universal single-payer health care. As the rally went on and the end drew closer, there was a distinct tension in the air as to whether the Senator would address the controversial subject of gun control legislation in the wake of the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on Thursday. Until recently, many liberals accused Sanders of being soft on gun control. He voted against the pro-gun control Brady Bill, and voted to allow guns on AMTRAK interstate trains.
Sanders’ stance on gun control is largely determined by the state he represents—Vermont—a rural state which still maintains relaxed gun control laws. Sanders has, however, been moving farther to the left on the issue since 2013. On Saturday he spoke strongly in favor of increased background checks, and stated his support of ending the sale and distribution of semi-automatic weapons.
Massachusetts is among 11 states that will hold Democratic primaries or caucuses on March 1, the day known as “Super Tuesday.” Both Clinton and Sanders have recently visited Boston in anticipation of a Democratic nomination contest that will continue to remain competitive on the campaign trail.
Featured Image by Michael Dwyer / AP Photo