News Local/State

Democrat Bernie Sanders Draws Crowd Of Thousands At U Of I

Bernie Sanders in front of  nearly 4,000 supporters at the U of I's Activities and Recreation Center

Bernie Sanders welcomes a crowd of nearly 4,000 supporters at the U of I's Activities and Recreation Center Saturday. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Three days before Illinois' primary, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders greeted nearly 4,000 backers at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus Saturday, repeating a number of campaign pledges, including to provide free tuition for college. "This is not a radical idea," he said, noting such a program exists in places like Germany and Scandinavia.

Sanders' plan would rely on a "speculation tax" on Wall Street. 

"Young people should not be punished for getting a higher education, they should be rewarded," he said.

"Maybe it could work," said U of I junior Danny Schwartz, but said he was most interested in Sanders' efforts to overturn campaign finance reform.

"We haven’t had a politician, in my opinion, in a while that doesn’t say -  you know what, this is kind of gross, and I’m sorry that it has to be this way," he said. 

The line waiting to hear Senator Sanders speak outside the U of I's Activiites and Recreation Center

Photo Credit:  Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Sanders said to him, democracy means one person, one vote, citing the Koch Brothers' plans to spend $900 million in this election cycle. "You want to vote for me - great, you want to vote against me, that's okay," he said.  "But you don't have the right to buy elections because you're a billionaire."

U of I junior Anjali Shah says after being recruited for Students for Bernie, she came to learn more about the differences between Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"I started to see Bernie's consistency of his record, and the really progressive changes he wants to make as opposed to compromising," she said. "He's really rigid on his policies."

Sanders took time to point out stark differences between himself and his Democratic opponent, including her support from a Super PAC, which he says is collecting millions from Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, and drug companies.

"Every politician - whether they are Democratic or Republican, they always say 'well yes, I'm getting huge amounts of money, but it doesn't impact me - really?," he said. "Then why would Wall Street be giving you $15 million?"

Sanders noted his campaign has received over $5 million individual campaign contributions, more than any candidate at this point in a campaign in history, something he calls "enormously important."

Jennifer Heiniger of Bloomington came over for the Sanders appearance. She'll support Hillary Clinton if she becomes the Democratic nominee, but wants to see a change in the country's political system.

"She just seems very pre-packaged," Heiniger said. "She’s got a sound bite for everything. He definitely seems more sincere, more believable."

Sanders also stuck to other keys to his campaign, including health care for all, upgrades to infrastructure, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

The Democratic senator cited a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll that had him at least 10 points ahead of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.  But he said the real reason that he would win is that the U.S. won't elect a president who insults Mexicans, all of Latin America, African-Americans, and women.

"The American people will defeat Trump because they understand that every religion on earth - Christianity, Judiasm, Islam, Buddhism all understand and teach us that love trumps hatred," he said.

The doors for the event at the U of I's Activities and Recreation Center opened four hours before the event, and some attendees waited even longer in line.

Champaign Fire Chief Gary Ludwig says 3,600 attended the event, while thousands more, in a line that extended for blocks, had to be turned away.