Update: On Wednesday, July 1, Bernie Sanders drew a record-breaking crowd of 10,000 people to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin. It was the biggest turnout any presidential candidate has seen so far in the run-up to the 2016 elections.The wildly enthusiastic crowd shows how hungry people are for a true progressive politics. Bernie started his speech by making fun of state Republicans who put up a billboard calling him an “extremist,” and he riffed on what extremism really means.
The day before Bernie Sanders’s big rally in Madison, Wisconsin, the independent Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate spoke with reporters about the huge crowds that have been coming to see him around the country and what he expects to say to the 9,500 Wisconsinites who have RSVP’d for the event on July 1 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Sanders noted Wisconsin’s “long history—from the time of Fighting Bob La Follette . . . of being one of the most progressive states in America.”
He has been in the state repeatedly for Fighting Bob Fest (hosted by The Progressive and the Capital Times), he added.
“My message to the people of Wisconsin is: We are seeing the rebirth of a strong, national progressive movement.”
In his speech at tomorrow’s rally, Sanders said, he would draw on “the long progressive tradition in Wisconsin.”
“The American people are sick and tired of a political and economic system that benefits the wealthy and powerful,” he declared.
Sanders attributed the large crowds he has been drawing to rallies in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Colorado to popular anxiety about the disappearing middle class and increasing inequality.
“People are anxious to hear the truth,” he said.
“It’s grotesque that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.”
Among his proposals: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, rebuilding America’s infrastructure, withdrawing from trade deals that disadvantage American workers, and making college tuition free.
Sanders got a healthy 41 percent in a recent straw poll of Wisconsin Democrats.
“We are the underdog,” he acknowledged. “Hillary Clinton is one of the best-known public figures not only in the country but in the entire world,” he said, while most voters don’t even “know who Bernie Sanders is.”
I asked Sanders about criticism that he has not spoken out about attacks on women’s health and receding access to abortion and birth control. He sounded surprised, and pointed out that he has a lifetime 100 percent prochoice voting record. “Women in this country have a right to control their own bodies and the government shouldn’t be making those decisions,” he said. “You are right that there has been an attack on women’s health all over,” he added. “And the federal government has a role to play. I am a strong supporter of women’ health and I will do everything in my power to help protect women’s access to abortion and every kind of birth control."
A local radio host asked Sanders how he could possibly compete financially: “That’s a very good question,” Sanders responded. And it’s not just a question for his campaign, he said. As a result of the “disastrous, horrific” Citizens United decision, the power of the very wealthy in elections has been enormously magnified.
“We used to make fun of countries around the world where a handful of very wealthy people controlled the political and economic system,” Sanders said, noting that one family, the Kochs, will spend more than either political party in the upcoming Presidential election.
Still, he said, 200,000 Americans donating an average of $37 each are helping to fuel a significant grassroots effort to push the socialist Senator from Vermont’s Presidential campaign, and, he added, his next quarterly report with the FEC (due July 15) will be very strong.