On Monday night, Presidents Day 2020, over 17,000 Washingtonians packed the stands of the Tacoma Dome to see and hear the man that they fervently desire to be the next President of the United States: Senator Bernie Sanders.
Three weeks ahead of the deadline to return ballots in Washington State’s groundbreaking presidential primary, the volunteers and speakers at last night’s rally set out their ambition in clear terms: they want Sanders to not only win, but to dominate Washington on March 10th. As one campaign staffer put it, “Washington is Bernie country now, and for the next eight years!”
The roster of speakers lined up before Sanders himself seemed designed to show the deep-rooted left-wing politics and progressivism that exist in Cascadia.
After representatives of Pacific Northwest tribes extended a welcome and offered an opening prayer, and after Pacific Northwest rock band Portugal. The Man energized the crowd with covers of songs such as “Children of the Revolution,” along with their own smash hit, “Feel It Still,” the first speaker to take the stage as part of the main program was Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
Sawant – a firebrand leader of the Socialist Alternative Party who was re-elected last November after a slew of business interests (most prominently, Amazon) unsuccessfully spent millions of dollars to try to unseat her – came to the event with an uncompromising message for the powerful corporate and establishment opponents of the Sanders campaign: “When we fight, we win!”
Sawant’s speech was followed by one from her fellow City Councilmember, Teresa Mosqueda. Mosqueda focused her speech on the aims of working people in Washington. She lined out how Sanders’ plans – such as Medicare For All and reforming the state’s “upside down tax system” – will directly help workers and argued that, as a working mom, “I stand for him because he stands for us.”
Next to take the stage in the Tacoma Dome was eighteen-year old activist and co-founder of the climate-focused youth movement Zero Hour, Jamie Margolin.
Unsurprisingly, Margolin focused on the threat of climate damage and Bernie Sanders’ plan to tackle the issue. In a powerful moment, the young woman spoke plainly: “If he were elected president, I would feel safe for the first time in my life,” because, “Bernie Sanders is the climate champion my generation needs.”
Margolin was followed by Tim Robbins, an Academy Award-winning actor, writer and director. Robbins is directing a new play, ‘The New Colossus,’ which focuses on the stories of twelve refugees throughout history.
Robbins told the crowd that stories of refugees coming to the U.S., “remind me of the incredible heart that is in this country,” and argued that Bernie Sanders would overhaul the broken immigration and asylum system – with the added benefit that he “can send Donald Trump to an early retirement in Mar-a-Lago.”
The last speaker before Bernie Sanders was Pramila Jayapal, the U.S. Representative from Washington’s Seventh District, Chair of the House Progressive Caucus, and Chair of Bernie’s 2020 campaign in Washington State.
Jayapal engaged with the crowd masterfully, alternating between encouraging chants and cheering and prompting to the crowd to listen quietly as she delivered her introduction of Bernie Sanders. She reeled off a list of Sanders’ most important policy directions, asking the crowd, “Is that radical?”
She called for Trump’s downfall, but reminded the crowd, “we’re not going to stop there, because Donald Trump is both a symptom and a cause.”
After Jayapal came the man every person in the stadium had been waiting to see: Senator Sanders himself.
Sanders delivered a satisfying stump speech that sounded familiar to regular observers of American politics – he attacked the corruption and viciousness of Trump’s presidency, praised the importance of the campaign’s record-breaking grassroots movement, and spent most of his speech focusing on the deep economic inequalities and injustices rife in the U.S.
He linked his passion for taking on corporate corruption to many core Democratic principles: taking on racism, reforming immigration, codifying abortion rights into law, uniting the world to deal with climate change, and ending the War on Drugs.
While the content of the speech was familiar, the context of the rally gave the message a highly-charged energy and made his vision seem very much within reach. Surrounded by thousands of dedicated believers – and not forced to defend his social democratic values against rival presidential candidates or a hostile media – Sanders was at ease, smiling and laughing as his speech was interrupted at times by the crowd chanting his name.
Sanders wrapped up his speech by reminding his “yuge” crowd of supporters that there were powerful interests stacked against their movement.
He mentioned Wall Street, the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical companies, the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and the Democratic establishment as being among the campaign’s opponents. However, he argued that those interests are getting decidedly nervous about his candidacy.
Despite being well aware of the forces aligned against him — and citing many of them by name — Sanders ended his speech on a confident note.
“We are the ninety-nine percent, and the last time I heard, ninety-nine percent is a hell of a larger number than one percent! If we stand together and not allow Trump and his friends to divide us up…ain’t nothing gonna stop us!”