With Election Day in California less than a week away and the general election for the United States presidency looming closer, Senator Bernie Sanders pushed his campaign into overdrive, hosting a last-minute rally in Modesto on Thursday in a growing trend of added campaign stops designed to help close the gap between himself and fellow Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Rarely a factor in Presidential primary campaigns, California has become a battleground for the Vermont Senator and former Secretary of State. With a lead of 268 pledged delegates, Clinton is hoping to ride out the rest of the primary to become the presumptive democratic nominee. Sanders, on the other hand, is aiming to take a large chunk of California’s 475 delegates and generate enough momentum in the remaining eight primaries to pull off an upset win over Clinton.
“We began this campaign a little over a year ago, and when we began this campaign we were considered to be a fringe candidacy. Not to be taken seriously,” Sanders said during his rally speech. “It has been a long up-and-down campaign, but as we stand right now we have won – to everybody’s shock and surprise – we have won the primaries and caucuses in 20 states in this country.”
More than 2,600 supporters filled into the Modesto Center Plaza Thursday morning, with hundreds more forced to wait outside for the “A Future to Believe in Modesto Rally” to voice their advocacy for Sanders’ mission
“I just flipped,” recent Pitman High graduate Zoey Fleenor said. “We woke up so early this morning to come. We’re really pumped.”
“I’m looking forward to hearing everything he has to say,” Vanessa Hernandez, also a recent graduate of Pitman High, said. “Bernie, I feel, is the only one that is really looking out for the younger generation and actually has faith in our futures, so that’s why I’m out here today supporting him.”
Attendees began lining up as early as 6 a.m. to enter the rally. By 8 a.m. the line snaked from K street down 11th Street and around to L Street. Much of the crowd was made up of high school and college students – dubbed Bernie’s base of support – but there were also older supporters in the crowd like William Flower who were equally enthused to see Sanders in person.
“Bernie is somebody that basically speaks the truth. What’s always impressed me with Bernie’s is right from the start, 20 to 30 years along, he’s always been saying the same thing,” the Turlock resident said. “Back when I was young and inexperienced I was voting for Reagan. I’m 62 now and I’m voting for Bernie, because I’ve had some experience about who’s actually talking turkey and who’s not.”
Another former Reagan voter, self-described independent voter Hans Webber, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I think he is on the right track. Supporting Main Street vs Wall Street,” the Escalon resident said. “He’s unique. He has good ideas and I hope he makes it.”
Sanders spoke for an hour following introductory speeches from musician Sarah Lee Guthrie, activist Motecuzoma Sanchez and actress Suzan Sarandon, touching on the policies that have given rise to so many supporters of is platform. The pharmaceutical industry, criminal justice and campaign finance systems and corporate interests were all criticized, as was income, race and gender inequality and the establishment’s failure to address issues of mental health, drug addiction and climate change.
With each attack on the status quo Sanders received cheers, highlighting the popularity of what he calls a political revolution.
“What this campaign has shown very clearly is that millions of Americans are sick and tired of seeing the big money interests continue to destroy the economy of this country,” Sanders said.
It was exactly the type of talk many in attendance were looking forward to.
“I believe the balance has shifted so much, the concentration of wealth in the upper end, that it’s hard for people on Main Street to make it,” Webber said.
“I think he’s been advocating for the rights and he’s been fighting for minorities his entire life, and you can’t say that about a lot of other candidates,” 15-year-old Sarah Siegel of Turlock said. “He’s ran an honest campaign; he’s an honest man. I think he really would be great for our country.”
Aside from a temporary delay due to an interruption from a small group of animal rights activists, Sanders’ message was business as usual. Though he is currently embroiled in a primary campaign, Sanders rarely mentioned Clinton and instead saved his attacks for the Republican nominee Donald Trump, much to the delight of the crowd.
“Donald Trump has a strategy that says if he can divide us up, if he can get us to hate Mexicans and Latinos and Muslims, if we think it is ok to be insulting women and veterans and African Americans – that’s his strategy to divide us up,” Sanders said. “But you know what, it ain’t going to work. We are coming together.”
Still, many Sanders supporters took the opportunity to boo Clinton when her name was mentioned, showcasing what many perceive to be a growing rift within the Democratic Party.
“She’s not who I want to be as a woman, or someone I would like to follow or follow her morals and standards. Regardless if Bernie’s a male, I still follow his standards,” 18-year-old Penelope Dubuisson of Turlock said.
“You can tell when he speaks that he’s more passionate than Hillary. I get that it would be great to have a woman president, but you can’t just vote for someone because they’re a woman,” Siegel said. “I would love to see a woman president, but I don’t know if I’d love to see Hillary in the White House. I’d love to see Bernie because he really stands up for what I believe in more than Hillary does. He’s more honest. He’s been fighting for the same things his whole life and you can’t really say that about her.”
Some Sanders supporters have taken a stance of Bernie-or-Bust, seeing the difference between the two Democratic candidates as too much to bridge, but not all share the same philosophy.
“I am kind of Bernie or Bust because I don’t think Hillary is actually going to change her positions to Bernie’s side. I think she’s actually going to go to the right,” Chris Avalos of Riverbank said.
“I will not be a Bernie-or-Bust person. If Hillary wins I am definitely not going to be voting for Trump,” Flower countered. “I think that throwing my vote away and walking away from the polls is the same thing as voting for Trump.”
As far as Sanders is concerned, the Bernie-or-Bust movement is a non-starter. Instead, he is focusing on winning votes and entering the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July with enough pledged delegates to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and take on Trump in the general election. That plan begins and ends with California.
“If the turnout is high, we’re going to win that primary. If the turnout is very high, we’re going to win with big numbers. If the turnout is low, we’re going to lose,” Sanders said. “Our job together is to make sure that on Tuesday we have the largest voter turnout in Democratic California primary history.”