Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds rally at UB's Alumni Arena
Sanders discusses student debt, fracking and marijuana
There were moments during Bernie Sanders’ speech at UB Monday night when his words couldn’t be heard.
The Alumni Arena crowd, 8,000 strong, cheered so loud in support of Sanders that his speech was barely audible over the noise at times.
Sanders held his “A Future to Believe In" rally in a packed Alumni Arena Monday – discussing the pay disparity between the top 1 percent and the rest of the country, the rising cost of college and student debt and environmental issues like fracking.
The Student Association invited the Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont senator to campus after students, led by UB Progressives, started a petition for the event that garnered more than 3,000 signatures. Sanders’ visit to UB became official just last Friday. He also visited other SUNY schools Albany and Binghamton on Monday.
His appearance comes with the New York State primaries approaching on April 19. Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have already spoken in Buffalo and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is set to speak in the Queen city on April 18.
Sanders opened his speech to an excited crowd talking about the campaign’s movement as well as the large voter turnout he hopes to garner in New York.
“This is the campaign on the move. Your presence here tonight tells me how much energy and enthusiasm we have and it tells me if we have a large voter turnout a week from tomorrow we are going to win,” Sanders said.
He said his two “radical ideas” are an economy that works for “all of us” and not just the wealthy, and investing in young people through jobs and education.
Sanders discussed his platform on both the prison system and the war on drugs, which he said are tied together. Sanders cited marijuana as one of the most common offenses for those who are wrongfully imprisoned.
“Over the last 30 years millions of Americans have received prison records because of the possession of marijuana,” Sanders said. “This has destroyed a whole lot of lives. When you have a record, it’s hard to go out and get a job.”
Sanders noted that marijuana is a schedule one drug alongside heroin, which he said should not be the case. He argued that although many can discuss the “pluses and minuses” of marijuana, people cannot argue “marijuana is equivalent to a killer drug like heroin.”
Sanders also discussed how fracking is ruining not only the country’s water but its environment as a whole. He said American families should not have to worry whether or not their water has lead in it and points out that his opponent, Clinton, has supported the practice in the past.
Thousands of students and Buffalo residents stood out in the rain for hours to see Sanders – many even lining up outside of Alumni Arena as early as 8 a.m. Monday.
Michelangelo DiVirgilio, a freshman undecided major, waited outside the SA office for an hour just to receive a student priority ticket that allowed students to bypass the general admission line. He then waited an additional hour outside Alumni Arena to get through the doors. He said the worst part about waiting outside was dealing with wet shoes, but for him it was worth it.
“[Sanders is] intelligent, he’s caring, kind and I could go on but I just support him and his ideas,” DiVirgilio said.
The campaign offered 500 priority tickets for which students began lining up for as early as 7 a.m. Monday. Although SA was originally going to distribute tickets at 11 a.m., the long line caused it to begin giving tickets away about an hour early and the tickets were gone within 45 minutes.
Prominent members of the Buffalo community spoke before Sanders appeared on stage including a figurehead of Buffalo’s Black Lives Matter movement and organizers of Buffalo for Bernie, a grassroots movement which campaigns for Sanders.
Jim Hightower, former commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, spoke in front of the crowd about Sanders’ campaign and the success it has seen. He said Sanders is comparable to a famous United States president.
“We are a growing grassroots movement to restore America to its own people,” Hightower said. “[Sanders] has a Franklin Roosevelt-sized vision for America.”
Larry Cohen, the outgoing president of the Communications Workers of America, hyped up the crowd. He introduced Sanders and had to use chants to stall several times as Sanders took longer to come out than expected.
The delay was caused by Sanders himself, who spoke to thousands of supporters who were unable to get inside the venue due to overcapacity.
“It’s about working class families, young people who are here today, it’s about our future,” Cohen said. “I’ve done this work my whole life, I’ve been a part of a lot of campaigns, but I’ve never met someone like Bernie Sanders.”
Halle Phillips said although she is unsure who she will vote for in the primary election, she was excited to hear Sanders speak. Phillips, a freshman exercise science major, waited two and a half hours in the general public line. She said she likes how Sanders has his own agenda and has “always been on the right side of history.”
Students remained in the arena even after Sanders was finished speaking to try and take pictures with the candidate. Sanders went around to high-five and take selfies with crowd members.
Some students said this rally really made them “feel the Bern.”
“It’s definitely exciting to see him in the flesh,” said Spencer Diamond, a freshman communication major. “Most of what he said were things he’s said before on TV, but seeing him in person was invigorating.”