On Feb. 27, democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders held a rally and march at Winston-Salem State University. Students, faculty and staff, and people from all over the state gathered to hear Sanders’ approach to important issues he would tackle if he were to be elected president.
The rally began at 11:30 a.m., but students lined up hours before doors were open. The Deputy State Fire Marshall for North Carolina, Chad Simmons, confirmed that the C.E. Gaines Center had reached its capacity of 1,400 people, with an overflow crowd of 800 people waiting outside.
“This is the biggest event I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here for four years,” said Marcus Lanier, a student at WSSU.
Lanier said many students were missing class, but professors understood the importance of attending this rally.
Delaney Vandergrift, the national historically black college and university organizing manager for the Sanders campaign, opened the program.
“We know that here in North Carolina, we have a movement,” Vandergrift said. “From voter suppression, to environmental injustice, from criminal justice, we have so many issues that only one candidate has been consistently fighting for his whole life, and that candidate is Bernie Sanders.”
Vandergrift said there are three reasons why early voting is important for WSSU students: there’s an early voting polling site on campus, many students are from out-of-state and they can do same-day registration, and the lines are shorter than on primary day.
Todd Warren, a public school teacher and parent from Greensboro, said he’s with Bernie, not just for his education policy, but because every issue that the campaign focuses on impacts the lives of students.
“When we win, and we will win, we will dramatically improve the lives of these students to achieve not only academically but their ability to thrive in this world,” Warren said.
Warren said public school employees are growing tired of the lack of basic resources and staff to prepare students for their lives in the future.
Warren said he stands with Sanders’ hopeful policy changes such as tripling Title I funding in the nation’s poorest schools, raising the starting teacher pay to $60,000 a year, increasing federal funding for special education students, enforcing tuition-free public colleges, and reinvesting in historically black colleges and universities.
“I need you to hear me on this, Bernie needs us in order to make it happen,” Warren said. “We are the ones that’ll make it happen.”
Larry Little, an alumnus and professor at Winston-Salem State University, said he was honored to have the next president of the United States on campus.
“Bernie Sanders describes himself as a Democratic Socialist,” Little said. “Dr. Martin Luther King, in his book ‘Chaos or Community,’ described himself as a Democratic Socialist. A. Philip Randolph, perhaps the greatest civil rights leader, was a Democratic Socialist. Malcom X, as he bombed, became a Democratic Socialist.”
Little said he finally feels hopeful there is a genuine champion for working class people, students, and for the future to vote for.
“We need somebody that doesn’t see the world from the castle, but sees the world from the streets,” said former senator Nina Turner, co-chair of the Sanders campaign. “We need a street view champion.”
Turner said America needs a president that will speak up for working-class people and understands that poverty is not a crime.
“You deserve more than what you have been getting, so don’t let these folks that are OK with trillions of dollars worth of tax cuts fool you about what Democratic socialism is,” said Turner. “All it is, is government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Sanders said that if the people work together, they can defeat “the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.”
“The American people understand that we will not have four more years of a pathological liar,” Sanders said. “The American people, regardless of the political views, understand that we cannot have somebody in the White House who is a racist, who is a sexist, who is a homophobe, who is a xenophobe and who is a religious bigot.”
Sanders said he believes America will not go four more years with a corrupt administration and a president who does not respect the Constitution.
“We are going to defeat Trump because the American people are demanding, all over this country,” Sanders said. “The American people want a government and economy that works for all of us, not just the 1%.”
Sanders said he won the caucus in Iowa, the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucus because he has the strongest grassroots movement of any campaign in modern American history.
Sanders said he hopes his grassroots movement will be the reason he will win North Carolina.
“Donald Trump thinks he is going to win reelection by trying to divide our people up, that’s his strategy,” Sanders said. “He wants to divide us up by the color of our skin, by where we were born, by our religion, by our sexual orientation, even by our gender. We are going to defeat Trump because we are bringing our people together, not dividing them up.”
After the rally, hundreds of students marched half a mile with Sanders to a polling site.