Thousands descended on the New Haven Green Sunday night to hear presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders deliver his stump speech in advance of the Connecticut Democratic primary on Tuesday.
Sanders’ evening in New Haven began with a stroll through Downtown, where he shook hands with voters and greeted incredulous students who had stepped out of their Old Campus rooms to greet the candidate. Three hours later, he emerged before an estimated crowd of 14,000 to make the case for his social-democratic platform: paid family leave, lower income inequality, a reformed campaign system and, above all, a $15 minimum wage. Throughout his speech, Sanders emphasized his antiestablishment stance.
“We are doing something very unusual in American politics,” Sanders told the crowd after taking the stage to Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care Of Our Own.” “We are talking and fighting for issues that the establishment would prefer to sweep under the rug.”
Though Sanders faces an uphill battle in his bid for the Democratic nomination — especially after his recent defeat to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 in New York — he continued to highlight the differences between him and Clinton, whose name was always accompanied by jeers from the crowd.
Repeating an attack he has employed throughout his campaign, Sanders criticized Clinton for her much-publicized 2013 speeches to Goldman Sachs, each of which garnered her $225,000. Sanders said he would be happy to speak to Wall Street bankers — not for a fee, but to excoriate them for their “illegal” actions during the financial crisis of 2008.
Sanders also played to local issues in his speech. In a city where roughly 30 percent of children live below the federal poverty line, he noted the wide disparity between the city’s poverty and Yale’s endowment.
“Right here in this great city, we have one of the outstanding institutions of education in all of the world,” Sanders said. “But a few miles away from here in this same city … we have children who are getting totally inadequate education. All over this city and this state, we have children who are living in desperate poverty.”
Sanders vowed to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and inner cities as president, accomplishments he said would create jobs and provide the means for all Americans to achieve social advancement.
The loudest cheers of the night came after Sanders’ call for criminal justice reform, an appeal that has a particular pull in New Haven, where crime vexes many minority communities. Sanders linked criminal justice reform to financial reform — he noted that though a young man in Connecticut might receive a lifetime mark on his criminal record for marijuana possession, no bankers have been convicted of crimes stemming from the financial crisis.
Sanders’ call for criminal justice reform came in tandem with his demand for stricter standards on police misconduct. The use of lethal force, he said, should be considered the last option in any situation.
Sanders was introduced by a host of local speakers. State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, praised Sanders for his stance on campaign finance reform, arguing that Connecticut’s own experience proved that it could lead to substantive changes in the nation’s politics.
“Connecticut has campaign finance reform, and because of that campaign finance reform, I was able to run against the New Haven machine and win,” said Winfield, who has publicly endorsed Sanders. “And you know what they called me when I ran? They called me a dreamer. They call some of you dreamers, too?”
Alejandra Corona Ortega ’19, an undocumented immigrant who lives in New Haven, told the crowd that her support for Sanders came from his positions on undocumented immigration and college tuition. Over the course of his campaign, Sanders has advocated for free public college tuition and a continuation of the Obama Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.
By the end of the rally, Sanders’ speech had become a passionate diatribe against bigotry — the persona of Donald Trump hung over the rally, though his name went mostly unsaid. Mustering the force of historical moments from the Gettysburg Address to the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage last summer, Sanders argued that the people — through their concerted actions — can bring about monumental change.
Just before he exited the stage, Sanders noted that he tends to win high-turnout primaries and lose low-turnout ones. He urged attendees to make the turnout in Tuesday’s primary the highest in Connecticut’s history.
“No president, not Bernie Sanders or anybody, can do it alone,” Sanders said over cheers. “What we need are millions of Americans — working people, middle-class people, young people — standing up and saying as loudly as we can, ‘Enough is enough.’”