Bernie Sanders rallies support in downtown Grand Rapids


Photo by Harm Venhuizen

Sanders draws a massive crowd downtown during a rally.

Under the shadow of Calder’s “La Grande Vitesse,” Senator Bernie Sanders addressed thousands of Grand Rapids supporters Sunday afternoon. Civil rights activist and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson also spoke in support of the senator after endorsing the Sanders campaign earlier that day. Sanders hopes to win the support of Michigan voters before the state’s primary on Tuesday. 

352 delegates across six states are up for grabs in the March 10 Democratic primary. Michigan is the biggest prize on Tuesday with 125 delegates. Sanders spoke about a range of topics including his plans for gun control, the legalization of medical marijuana, Medicare for all, and fighting against systemic racism.

The Vermont senator was endorsed by a number of local organizers and political figures, including former Michigan senator Donald Riegle, tribal Supreme Court Justice Holly Bird, 2018 democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, and, most notably, Jackson. 

Jackson told the crowd he stands with Sanders because Sanders stood with him in his 1988 presidential bid. He went on to speak about racial equality and called for an African-American woman on the Supreme Court, saying, “Inclusion leads to growth and when there’s growth, everybody wins.” He then led the crowd in a chant of “Keep hope alive.”

The crowd erupted when Sanders took the stage and praised Jackson’s record as a civil rights leader. “It is one of the honors of my life to be supported by a man who has put his life on the line for the last 50 years fighting for justice,” said Sanders. The senator also expressed his view that Jackson’s bid for the presidency was instrumental to the election of the first African-American president, Barack Obama (Sanders is currently competing with Obama’s former running mate Joe Biden). “If there was no Jackson, in my view, there would be no President Barack Obama,” Sanders said.

After pledging to do “everything humanly possible to wipe out all forms of discrimination in this country,” Sanders took a shot at President Donald Trump, calling the GOP incumbent a racist, sexist, homophobe, xenophobe and religious bigot.

He then laid out a number of policy plans including education, women’s rights, mass incarceration and immigration. Campaign promises were made on a number of issues, giving extra focus to how issues of race and social justice overlap with policy categories.

Sanders ended his speech calling for unity among Democratic voters, asking them to stand up and fight for justice. The candidate left his supporters with a hopeful sentiment: “Brothers and sisters, let us go forward. Let’s win on Tuesday. Let’s win the democratic nomination. Let’s defeat Trump. Let’s transform this country.”

The rally’s audience was diverse, with members of many different ages, races and backgrounds. Chimes interviewed several attendees to learn about why they are supporting Sanders.

“I was a delegate for Bernie in 2016,” said Sherry, who is 52 and works as a retail manager. “I have no health insurance, $40,000 in medical bills, and need Medicare for all.”

Medicare for all was a common reason attendees gave for their support of Sanders. Max, 23, who is a full-time student, cited it along with LGBTQ issues as the reason he supports the senator. He attended the rally along with his friend Dan, who is 25 and works at a cell tower. For both of them, this is their first event with the Sanders campaign. 

Gary, a retired farmer, wore his “Medicare For All” shirt to the rally and explained that it is the main reason that he supports Sanders. “I’m not a socialist,” he said. “I practice the freest form of capitalism possible.”

Other attendees said that they were impressed by the overall messages of the Vermont senator’s campaign. Community organizer Sergio, 40, who attended the rally with his family, called Sanders “the president of a lifetime.” Sergio explained his admiration for Sanders was because “his policies affect people of color in a positive way.” Kayeynn, 22, who is a student, said that “All his policies are inclusive to all people.” 

Another student, Henry, age 17, said that he liked Sanders because of his environmental and gun control policies. Henry’s mother, who accompanied him to the rally is undecided and says that whether or not Sanders chooses a woman as his running mate will significantly impact her decision.

Since this article was written on March 8, Biden won the Michigan primary.