A crowd of hundreds gathered at Cincinnati City Hall today to show support for Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders.
The rally, organized by local supporters, featured speeches from several labor leaders, activists and political candidates followed by a brief march through downtown.
"The political revolution is coming to Cincinnati now,” said Jordan Angelo Opst, a University of Cincinnati student and organizer with the group Cincinnati for Bernie Sanders, which helped set up the rally. “We're ready to stand up in unity against injustice, unfairness and corruption. You'll notice that we've got white people. We've got black people. We have brown people. We have Christians. We have atheists. We have Muslims.”
Sadie Hughes, registered nurse and local director of National Nurses United, told the crowd the group was endorsing Sanders “because he cares for the same things we care about."
"He is leading the fight for Medicare for all,” she said. “Too many Americans, even with the Affordable Care Act, remain priced out of access to necessary health care. Too many of our seniors are still working at McDonalds and Wendy's and places like that. Bernie believes that everyone should be able to earn a living wage."
Sanders, currently a U.S. Senator for Vermont, identifies as a democratic socialist and was, until his primary campaign, an independent who caucused with Democrats. His candidacy began as a long shot against Democratic favorite and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, mostly due to the perceived baggage of his self-professed socialism and his low name recognition outside his home state.
Over the past few months, however, Sanders’ growing national popularity has many political pundits taking him more seriously as primary voters expressing fatigue over an increasingly divided political system line up to support him. He came in a close second behind Clinton in the Iowa caucus earlier this month and outright beat her in the New Hampshire primary by a large margin.
As he's run, Sanders has shifted policy debates with Clinton to the left. In recent debates, the two largely agree on broad-based policy ideas, instead debating on the feasibility of their respective progressive plans. Clinton has hit Sanders on statements from liberal (often Democratic Party-affiliated) economists saying that his proposals for a single-payer health care system don't add up, and by bringing up his past record voting against certain gun control measures, a big issue for many Democrats. Other progressives, though, have leaped to Sanders' defense. The Vermont Senator, meanwhile, has hit Clinton for the large financial institutions that have given her campaign and PACs millions, and from which she has taken large, six-figure speaking fees.
Now, his supporters are looking to South Carolina and Nevada, the next two states to weigh in on the primary race. Democrats caucus today in Nevada, where Sanders has been chipping away at a large Clinton lead. The most recent polls out of South Carolina, where Democrats will have primary voting next week, show Clinton with a commanding 18-point lead, however.
Here in Cincinnati, things are heating up ahead of Ohio’s March 15 primary. Last week, former president Bill Clinton spoke at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center to a capacity crowd of 200. There, he touted his wife’s ability to be “a change maker.”
But some Cincinnatians see Sanders as a better fit for that role.
Some attendees at today’s rally expressed frustration with the current political system and say they see Sanders, with his calls for campaign finance and financial industry reform, as a catalyst for bigger changes.
“It’s not just Democrats, it’s not just Republicans. It’s institutional politics on both sides,” said rally-goer Jim Applebee, who lives in the Cincinnati area. But electing Sanders could be a tipping point, he says. “I don’t think he can change things, but we can. We need a leader for that movement. It can’t be one person. But it can happen. And if it doesn’t, we see the trend that we’re on.”
Some cited Sanders’ populist proposals around cost-free college education, expanding Medicare to the entire U.S. population, and other issues as the way to systemic change, and as signs of his principles.
“He has a concise platform about what he believes in, and he comes across as the most honest and ethical candidate,” Lou Ebstein of Cincinnati said. “My kids both have college loans, and they’re paying them back, and it’s an increasing burden. We’re not going to get anywhere if that continues to be the case for people.
Ebstein didn’t have negative words about Sanders’ primary opponent Hillary Clinton, but said he saw Sanders as a candidate more likely to proactively push progress beyond the Obama era.
“There are so many things that need to get done, and we need to go about them in a different way. Sanders really put a big challenge out there. He came out of nowhere, and now we’re going to see what Nevada does.”