NORMAN, Okla. — Over 4,000 people from across Oklahoma filled Reaves Park Sunday afternoon to hear from 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
With a majority fanning themselves with Bernie signs to weather the humidity and sporting “Feel the Bern” apparel, several in attendance also were in support of the democratic socialist. Sanders, 78, is among the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination, and is the oldest candidate, but he considers himself young.
Mayor Breea Clark said she’s not surprised so many presidential candidates stop by Norman, because Norman votes. Sanders began with a quote from Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
“I’m here to tell you that you have enormous power if you are prepared to use that power, because at the end of the day the 1% has unlimited amounts of money, has enormous control over the media, they control the economy, but at the end of the day the 1% is 1% and we are 99%,” Sanders said. “I don’t have a Ph.D. in economics, but I do know that 99% is a hell of a bigger number than 1%.”
Addressing the young people first, Sanders sincerely told them that they are the most progressive young generation in this country. They are a generation, he said, that has fought against racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and religious bigotry, all of which, he added, President Donald Trump supports.
A significant boo erupted from the crowd at the mention of Trump. Sanders, who won the primary in Oklahoma last year, said younger, progressive voters do not vote in the numbers they should.
“You say you are here because you are sick and tired of people complaining about low wages, you are sick and tired about people complaining about the high cost of college and college debt, you are tired of people talking about climate change, you are prepared and you want them to be prepared to have the courage to stand up to powerful special interests and make the kinds of changes this country desperately needs,” Sanders said.
The political system in the United States is corrupt, Sanders said, because billionaires with unlimited amounts of money are contributing millions of dollars to the candidates who represent their special interests.
“You have people who have fought and died for American democracy, and as president I intend to make sure that we have a real democracy: one person, one vote,” Sanders said.
Norman residents Robin Dennis and Corey Davidson, 31, are supporters of Sanders. For them, health care for all is significant to them, because they have personal experience in seeing the system fail. Sanders said this is something he has been working on for many years, and during his presidency he said together the nation will put an end to that absurdity.
“I want you all to know that we are going to take on the greed and the price fixing of the pharmaceutical industry,” Sanders said. “This is an industry that is ripping off the American people, and charging us by far the highest prices in the world.”
Justin Webster, 23, travelled from Stillwater to rally in support of Sanders. As a former veteran, he likes that Sanders supports the end of war, especially in Afghanistan. Mike Sowdal, 67, said he also favors Sanders’ desire to end the incessant war.
“I would like to see 10% of the money spent on peace rather than on this never-ending war, it’s just crazy,” Sowdal said. “Don’t make a bomb, make a house. Do something productive rather than destructive.”
University of Oklahoma students Valerie Sharp, 20, and Melynda Phillips, said they like the inclusivity of Sanders’ campaign, his focus on environmental issues and health care for all. However, the promise of forgiven student loan debt and free-tuition also are significant factors in their support for Sanders. The candidate suggested a modest tax on Wall Street speculation to fund paying for student debt and free tuition.
“We have got to rethink what free public education is about,” Sanders said.
“We have got to make public colleges and universities tuition free,” Sanders said. “How are our young people going to go out and get the jobs that they need and make it into the middle class unless they have a good education, and why don’t we make sure that everybody has that opportunity regardless of the income of their families?”
Oklahoma City resident Nick Singer, 37, said the crowd was full of young people, because they are the ones that are inheriting this economic mess and Sanders is the one talking about the right things that are going to fix it. He cares about the right issues, he said, and is trying to help people who are struggling.
Sharon Ryan, 68, rode in from Oklahoma City to support Sanders, because of his promise to transform the corruption on Wall Street and provide Medicare for all. She likes that Sanders has never changed, but he has always stayed true to himself.
“I love that his message is being taken by other candidates, so if he doesn’t win he’s at least passing it down and people are accepting his views,” Ryan said.
Norman resident Ellie Massar, 25, said he’s an independent and hasn’t decided on a candidate yet, but he agrees with health care for all and came out to see if Sanders would sway him. Wesley Kellson, 31, traveled from Los Angles to Norman for a wedding, but because of Sanders’ stance on climate change and education he stopped by the rally to support the candidate.
“This is an unprecedented moment in American history, because we have a president who in my view is the most dangerous president in modern history of this country,” Sanders said. “He is a president who is a pathological liar, who does not respect the Constitution and I think as we all have already seen, and will see more of, he will merge government agencies with his campaign in order to try to win.”
After touching on climate change, income and wealth inequality, women’s rights, ending the war on drugs, restoring the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and gun violence, he concluded on the mission of his campaign. His campaign is called, “Us, not me,” because he knows he can’t make change alone.
Sanders said he’s asking for the public’s help, to work with him to transform this country, to transform the economy and create a government that works for all and not just the 1%. Chants of “Bernie” erupted from the crowd, and Sanders said, “It aint Bernie, it’s you.”