(photos by Paul Fanara)
Last night, Bernie Sanders visited UB’s Alumni Arena amid pandemonium from thousands of supporters. He took the stage a little late, as he first spoke to the 5,000 people stuck outside in the freezing rain. Alumni Arena was maxed to capacity. Glittery signs flashed in the stands as Sanders was welcomed in true rock star fashion. College students yelled, young couples wore matching Bernie tees, and cheers from the crowd created an electric charge of hope and excitement. Official representatives from African-American, Puerto Rican, and Muslim community organizations spoke, as did a spokesman from Buffalo for Bernie Sanders (a volunteer group located at 404 Amherst St.).
“Our strength is in our diversity,” the Vermont Senator declared, himself the product of a Polish immigrant’s American Dream. “We will not allow Donald Trump to divide us by insulting women, by insulting Latinos, by insulting Muslims, by insulting veterans, or by insulting the African-American community.”
Sanders spoke on the myriad issues that have become the hot “trending” topics of his campaign, such as free public universities, taxing the wealthiest one percent, a $15 minimum wage, and raising Social Security benefits.
“A great nation is one in which we support each other,” he said.
America’s broken criminal justice system is a subject that Sanders speaks freely about; this country has more incarcerated people than any other on the globe, and the majority are African-American.
“Here’s a radical idea – but maybe it is really not so radical,” Sanders began. “We are going to invest in jobs and education, not jails.”
Sanders has big plans for the dilapidated state of what he calls our “rigged economy” where “welfare and food stamps subsidize the wealthiest in America.” Sanders opts for an increased minimum wage so corporations pay their workers a living salary, instead of families depending on welfare and food stamps. “The Bern” declared the wealthiest, Wall Street billionaires will pay their fair share.
“We don’t want the American Dream to end,” he said. “We want young people to have a decent standard of living.”
In today’s world, finding a job with a Bachelor’s degree is more competitive than 50 years ago with a high school diploma, so Sanders presented another one of his “radical” ideas: he wants to eliminate the student loan debt amassed by millions of Millennials.
“Think outside the box, outside the status quo,” he said. “Why should we punish those who went out and got an education? When they were just doing what they were ‘supposed’ to do?” At that, the collegiate crowd went wild.
Sanders elaborated on the diversity of our nation and how he will embrace minorities who have been mistreated, such as Native Americans. If elected president, he says, he will work to change the desperation and poverty on Indian reservations. “Their voices are very rarely heard,” he said. Sanders brought up the topic of immigration reform, in order to make room for the millions of undocumented people living in America.
The energy of the crowd never died. Every phrase from Sanders’ mouth caused a cheer to erupt from somewhere in the stadium. He is certainly a candidate carrying a lot of vitality, and for a man of 74, that’s no small feat.
“What we’ve proven is that we can run a national campaign without being dependent on Wall Street,” Bernie said.