Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont spoke Oct. 9 to an estimated crowd of 11,000 at the Demeester Outdoor Performance Center at Reid Park. The rally marked the first large-scale event in Tucson by a national Jewish candidate and brought Sanders his first congressional endorsement.
Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who mounted a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, is the only other known Jewish candidate to seek the nomination of his party. Lieberman spoke at a town hall and a press conference in Tucson ahead of the February 2004 Arizona primary, but did not hold a formal rally.
Sanders spoke to the Tucson crowd about a variety of social and economic issues, including education and immigration. He was introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who endorsed him.
“I really think that this is a moment to sort of emphasize the little guy, to kind of push the envelope on some social issues, and push the envelope on the economics of this country,” Grijalva said. “I want to be associated with that, but more importantly, as a member of Congress, I want to reinforce that.”
Grijalva slammed the idea that Sanders’s representation of a “homogeneous state” disqualifies him from understanding Latino or minority voters, pointing to the diverse crowd attending the rally.
“I want to dispel the myth that [the campaign] is not inclusive, that Bernie doesn’t understand those issues, and that he is not speaking to them,” he said.
One Hispanic voter who identified with Sanders’ stance on education was Zaira Serrato, a University of Arizona neuroscience senior.
“We live, as all of you know, in a highly competitive global economy and if we are going to succeed now and in the future, we need the best educated workforce in the world,” Sanders said. “It means that in America, and we have legislation in to do this, every public college and university must be tuition free.”
Serrato, a first-generation American citizen, is the first in her family to graduate high school and attend college. To support her education and provide for herself and her two young sons, she has taken out what she called “crippling loans” of $12,000 or more each year, and works weekends as a bartending instructor, among other jobs.
“Our job,” Sanders said, “is to capture the best intellects that we can. And to say to young people ‘you can’t get the education because your families lack the money’ is totally absurd.”
Sanders’ call for immigration reform struck home with the Tucson crowd, where many people held “We Stand With Rosa” signs in support of Rosa Robles Loreto, a local woman facing deportation and separation from her family who took sanctuary in a church more than a year ago.
Sanders told the crowd that his father came to the United States from Poland with no money and speaking no English. Growing up in a small apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sanders saw his parents struggle financially, with his mother never realizing her dream of owning a home.
“Today, as everyone here knows, we have 11 million people in this country who are undocumented, who came to this country to improve their lives, to escape oppression, fleeing desperate poverty and violence,” he said, lamenting the House of Representatives’ failure to act on a Senate bill for comprehensive immigration reform.
“Let’s be frank, today’s undocumented workers play an extraordinarily important role in our economy,” he said, noting that they do “the hardest work in this country,” such as harvesting crops and building homes.
Campaign finance reform
Sanders emphasized that his campaign has gone against conventional political wisdom by not “begging billionaires” for contributions.
“Our campaign has received 650,000 individual contributions and the average contribution, and this warms my heart, the average contribution is not $2,000, it’s not $50,000, it is $30 a person,” he said. “This is a people’s campaign, not a billionaire’s campaign.” He vowed he would not nominate anyone to the Supreme Court “unless he or she is against the Citizens United decision” that allowed unlimited political spending by corporations.
On the day the Sanders rally was held in Tucson, two shootings occurred on American campuses: one at Northern Arizona University and one at Texas Southern University.
Sanders said that the country needs stricter gun control regulations. He also called for “a revolution in mental health delivery.”
“Overwhelmingly, the American people understand that it is crazy that people who should not own guns do own guns,” he said, adding that “not only do we need to strengthen the instant background check, we need to broaden it as well.”
Michael Miklofsky is a freelance writer living in Oro Valley with his wife and three daughters. He also is a Realtor® with Realty Executives Tucson Elite and director of administration for The Shoe House, Inc.