Bernie Sanders talks poverty, mass incarceration and immigration in Brooklyn kickoff

Craig Ruttle/AP

On a snowy Saturday in Flatbush, the snowy-haired independent senator from Vermont kicked off his second bid for president. Around 13,000 supporters of Bernie Sanders packed into the Brooklyn College quad in Brooklyn, New York, on March 2. Some arrived as early as 8 a.m, though the candidate did not take the stage until 12:40 p.m. One canvassing table on Hillel Place, which leads from the subway station to the campus, displayed a banner that read “Trump Out, Bernie In.”

Tanya Covington, 48, cleans New York City subway trains. As several people got off at the Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College station, she shouted from the platform, “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” Wearing a bright orange vest, she fist-bumped attendees as they streamed past. Asked if she supports policies like Medicare for All, Ms. Covington said yes. “I support him trying to give a standard of living for everyone,” she said. “Not just the upper class.”


In the first speech of his campaign, Mr. Sanders reiterated the policy positions that defined his first run in 2016, among them support for unions, tuition-free higher education and single-payer health care. A son of Brooklyn, Mr. Sanders strolled onto the quad to the blare of Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard.”

He and other speakers drew comparisons between Mr. Sanders and another native New Yorker, Queens-born President Donald J. Trump. “Brother Sanders...did not grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth like our president,” said Representative Terry Alexander of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Mr. Alexander also endorsed Mr. Sanders in 2016.

He and other speakers drew comparisons between Mr. Sanders and another native New Yorker, Queens-born President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Sanders expanded on that point: “I did not come from a family that gave me a $200,000 allowance every year beginning at the age of three. As I recall, my allowance was 25 cents a week. But I had something more valuable: I had the role model of a father who had unbelievable courage in journeying across an ocean, with no money in his pocket, to start a new and better life.” Mr. Sanders’s father emigrated from Poland in the 1920s.

“We will no longer stand idly by and allow three families in this country to own more wealth than the bottom half of the American people,” Mr. Sanders said. “While these families become richer, over 20 percent of our children live in poverty, veterans sleep out on the streets and senior citizens cannot afford their prescription drugs.”

Mr. Sanders covered poverty, mass incarceration, climate change, military spending and education, among other topics. On abortion, he said: “When we are in the White House, we are going to protect a woman’s right to control her own body. That is her decision, not the government’s.” (Mr. Sanders drew some criticism from fellow Democrats in 2017 for campaigning for a pro-life Democrat in Nebraska.)

In introductory speeches, the Sanders team foregrounded race. Campaign surrogates Nina Turner (president of Our Revolution, a Sanders-affiliated political action organization) and Shaun King (a social-justice activist with a considerable social-media presence) discussed Mr. Sanders’s history as a participant in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a critic of South African apartheid and a supporter of the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.

“Brooklyn, you should be proud that the son of this city has been standing on the front lines for a very long time,” said Ms. Turner. “Standing up for working people in this country: black, white, brown, red, yellow and the swirl in between.”

Many Democrats are debating the idea of reparations for the descendants of slaves, but last week on the talk show “The View,” Mr. Sanders seemed to throw cold water on the idea: “I think that our job right now is to address the crises facing American people in our communities. And I think there are better ways to do that than just writing out a check.” Multiple candidates in the 2020 field—including Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Marianne Williamson—have endorsed some form of reparations.

Many Democrats are debating the idea of reparations for the descendants of slaves, but last week Mr. Sanders seemed to throw cold water on the idea.

Since the beginning of the year, about a dozen elected officials have announced bids or exploratory committees for the 2020 Democratic nomination, so Mr. Sanders joins an already crowded field. At the Brooklyn rally, Mr. Sanders’s surrogates sought to distinguish him from the pack, speaking of him as an unflinching activist-politician. Ms. Turner discussed Mr. Sanders’s role in the 2017 unionization of a Nissan plant in Mississippi and his recent criticism of Amazon: “When you are willing to look Jeff Bezos in the eye to say to the wealthiest man in the world that it is a sin and a shame, that it is rotten to the core, that an $11 billion company refuses to pay their workers a living wage and to get that $15 an hour—baby, that is the measure of a man.”

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Later, Mr. Sanders called for the development of a “humane border policy” and the extension of permanent legal status to DACA recipients, castigating the Trump administration for separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border. He also deplored the U.S. incarceration rate—the highest in the world—calling it an “international embarrassment” and saying public money should be invested in jobs and education rather than imprisonment.

Soundtracked by Muse’s “Uprising,” Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” (with a particularly apt chorus: “Burn, baby, burn”) the rally attracted thousands of New Yorkers despite the bitter cold. Gobs of snow dropped from barren trees. The crowd wore jewel-tone beanies, corduroy pants and leg warmers. Someone clutched a sign with a white silhouette of Mr. Sanders’s head and the tagline “Abolish Billionaires.” Someone else built a snowman, then stuck a blue “Bernie” sign in its globular torso.

London Jamison, 27, sold cobalt and navy campaign T-shirts at a table, and when potential buyers commented that her shirts promoted Mr. Sanders as the “2016” Democratic Party nominee, she retorted, “That’s what should have happened. That’s what should have happened.”

Babbie Jacobs, 60, stood near the back of the crowd. “I believe in his policies and his message,” she said. “All the things he put forward earlier are getting traction….Some of these things may actually come to fruition, thanks to him.”

But David Curry, 28, and Tim Hone, 27, were undecided. Mr. Hone said that a primary season with many candidates will prove helpful to the Democratic Party. “It would be good to have a very robust primary where they fight it out to see who the best candidate is.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
5 months 3 weeks ago

Poverty in the richest nation in the world? Bernie might ask how did the poor in the United States become better financially than 90% of the world? Is this high relative level of US poverty due to a lack of opportunity or a dysfunctional culture or billionaires or maybe free market capitalism? The author might want to ask what would taking all the money from the three richest people in the US provide? The answer is next to nothing.

To compare with the rest of the world, one should read Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think .

Jose A
5 months 3 weeks ago

If Bernie Sanders was a honest man. He would be advocating for a capitalist system the helped him increase his standard of living. Not showboating in Brooklyn. The real difference between Bernie and the people of Brooklyn is that he left Brooklyn and they are still there.

J Cosgrove
5 months 3 weeks ago

Brooklyn is the socialist capital of the United States. Read

It's a very long article but Brooklyn is where its at for a budding young socialist. Of course they never discuss the 150 million dead because of it in the 20th century. But they are cool and want to do it again in the 21st century!

James Schwarzwalder
5 months 3 weeks ago

If Bernie is lucky the Democratic National Committee will not stack the deck of the Convention delegates this time with "super delegates" supporting his opponent while the Party Chairman leaks debate questions to his opponent, The last time Bernie was doomed before the starting gun ever went off. Scandalous? What scandal?

Tomas Faranda
5 months 3 weeks ago

Yes along with poverty, mass incarceration and immigration, he brings abortion, infanticide and assisted suicide. All of which Sister Simone Campbell - according to her July, 2016 interview in Democracy Now! - is OK with. Baptized Catholic, but born Democrat.

Will Nier
5 months 3 weeks ago

Beware a Socialist among the ignorant masses just waiting for a sign of hope.

Christopher Scott
5 months 3 weeks ago

The democrats will do their best virtue signaling and identity politics with accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, fascist, oppressive patriarchy etc etc, but in the end they will nominate Joe Biden to try and save their party ... the privileged old (Catholic) white guy. Hypocrites will once again get exposed as a bunch of self serving opportunists claiming to be the second coming of Jesus. People are bored with old atheists that have never had a real job but claim to know all about economics, especially if the look like bozo the clown

Tomas Faranda
5 months 3 weeks ago

Don't sugar coat it - how do you really feel?

Judith Jordan
5 months 2 weeks ago

Christopher Scott---
I am curious. As a life-long Democrat, I would like to know who are the old atheists that have never had a real job, but claim to know all about economics. I especially want to know who looks like Bozo the clown.

Sorry you don’t feel the need to point out discriminations where they exist. I don’t understand the Republicans who took years to say something about Steve King’s bigotry. Is that part of their "family values?"

Christopher Lochner
5 months 2 weeks ago

Hah! I would listen to Sister Campbell who wrote a piece on this site claiming..."In the name of advocating on behalf of people in poverty, I have sought publicity; I have gained notoriety." I wonder which came first , the chicken or the egg? Or does Sister care for others as much as herself? This is probably a tossup. Oh, spare us from glory hounds.


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