By Len Lazarick
Thousands flocked to Baltimore’s Royal Farms arena Saturday to see Bernie Sanders for the same reason people packed the hall for Bruce Springsteen earlier in the week.
These fans have heard the tunes over and over, but they wanted to see the performance live, “feel the Bern” and catch the vibe of thousands there to chant, “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.”
They wanted to say they saw Bernie Sanders in the flesh, support his “political revolution,” hear his New Yawk accent in the raw, and boo his references to Wall Street, Trump and Hillary.
They ate up the warm-up acts.
“The people united will never be defeated,” said Kwame Rose, an activist, artist and blogger, leading the crowd in that chant.
“Bernie Sanders is fighting for those like me who look like Freddy Gray,” said Rose. Sanders was the only white man who spoke to the diverse but predominantly white crowd.
“This is the only campaign that is truly fighting for America,” said Rose. “This is our last hope.”
Dimunitive Delegate Ana Sol Gutiérrez of Montgomery County, a Salvadoran immigrant and candidate for Congress, was there to represent Latinos but could barely be seen over the high podium. She couldn’t quite get the crowd chanting the Spanish version of Rose’s chant. “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” More joined her in repeating a throwback from the 2008 Obama campaign, “Si se puede,” “Yes we can.”
Before the speakers, the music included not only pop tunes, Motown but “Entren Los Que Quieran” (Enter those who want to) from a political album by Puerto Rican band Calle 13 — not on the playlist at a Trump rally.
For presidential campaign visits to Baltimore, it was Obama himself who had last filled the arena in 2008. In Sanders case, the top floor and a third of the hall was blocked off after rain forced an overnight change of venue from Druid Hill Park.
Ben Jealous, former NAACP president, introduced Sanders, saying, “only one candidate can defeat Donald Trump.”
Familiar themes, customized to Baltimore
Sanders said “we need to address issues the establishment would prefer that we sweep under the rug.”
In a speech without notes that lasted more than 45 minutes, Sanders laid out familiar themes:
- a corrupt campaign finance system,
- a rigged economy that benefits the few,
- and a broken criminal justice system “with more people in jail than any country on earth.”
All three brought boos and jeers from thousands standing at their seats through much of the speech.
Sanders brought some of his national themes home to Baltimore.
“In Baltimore, Maryland, in the richest country in the history of the world, one out of every four people live in poverty, (boos) where 80 percent of the children in Baltimore public school system are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch (boos) ….
“Where poverty is a death sentence. If you are poor in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods, your life expectancy is almost 20 years shorter than if you were born in its wealthiest neighborhoods,” Sanders went on.
“Fifteen neighborhoods in Baltimore have lower life expectancy than North Korea. Two of them have a higher infant mortality rate than the West Bank in Palestine.
“Baltimore teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 face poor health conditions and a worse economic outlook than those in distressed cities in Nigeria, India, China and South Africa.
“We are talking about the United States of America in the year 2016 in a country in which the top one-tenth of one percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%.”
“In this country, we are going to make profound economic changes. The status quo is not acceptable,” the Vermont senator said.
Swipes at Hillary
Sanders was talking like a man who thinks he could become president. He took several swipes at Hillary Clinton. He said a $15-an-hour minimum wage was realistic, not the $12 an hour Clinton has proposed as a stage.
“We have profound differences” on campaign finance, as a pocket of the crowd began chanting “no super PAC.” Sanders said he now has gained seven million donors, and of course the crowd could tell him the average contribution: $27.
“That in itself is a political revolution. We can run a strong national campaign without depending on special interests,” like the $15 million Clinton PACs have gotten from Wall Street.
He railed against perpetual war in the Middle East, against trade pacts that shipped millions of jobs overseas, and against wage inequality for women.
“They don’t want 79 cents an hour. They want the whole dam dollar.”
On climate change, he called for abandonment of fossil fuels and creating more jobs through reliance on renewable sources such as solar.
“I strongly believe we’ve got to phase out fracking in this country,” said Sanders, to some of the loudest applause and cheering his speech.
Evening conversation at church
In the evening, Sanders heard presentations and took questions from a smaller crowd that packed the Carter Memorial Church of God in Christ for a “Community Conversation on Young Men of Color” featuring Jealous, pastor Jamal Bryant and actor Danny Glover, who got some history wrong earlier in the day when he said Maryland had seceded from the Union in the Civil War.
Sanders was taken aback when Bryant referred to 70,000 heroin addicts in Baltimore; he checked the figure with Jealous, shook his head, covered his face, and then said that the epidemic of heroin and opiate addiction needed to be treated like a health problem and not a criminal issue.
The Baltimore-based Real News Network has a left-leaning interview by senior editor Paul Jay with Sanders and Glover.