RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) — Thousands of supporters greeted the Democratic presidential candidate and front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders in Richmond Thursday, just days ahead of Super Tuesday.
Some hopefuls were turned away despite the venue change from a 1,500-occupancy music hall to the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center which holds 6,000 people. The bleachers roared as supporters held up signs, chanted and stomped with excitement.
Hometown musicians Lucy Dacus and No BS! Brass warmed up the crowd before activists, community members and one of the state’s first-elected Latina legislators stumped for Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont.
The crowd cheered as Charlottesville City Councilman Michael Payne called for a political revolution.
“The reason I am here this afternoon is the same reason that each and every one of you are here,” Payne said. “Because you see in yourselves, in your families and in your communities that every single day that goes by where we do not challenge and change the status quo means homelessness, it means rationing insulin and medicine, it means choosing between rent and health care.”
Del. Elizabeth Guzmán, D-Prince William, took to the stage, asking: “Are you guys feeling the Bern?”
“He has a consistent message of progress,” Guzmán said, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 2017 as part of the state’s blue wave. “We had a base here in Virginia in 2016 that believed in his message and voted for him.”
Sanders’ platform includes providing a path to citizenship for immigrants without documentation, medical care for all and free public college for all. These ideas have been considered radical by some, but Sanders argues that these are basic human rights.
“We know that our immigration needs fundamental reform,” Sanders said. “We’re going to sign an executive order that ends all of Trump’s racist immigration policies. As the son of an immigrant, I take this issue personally.”
Since his 2016 campaign, Sanders has called for free college education for all and to eliminate student debt in the U.S.
“The world has changed. The economy, technology have changed,” Sanders said. “Public education from K-12 is no longer good enough. We need to make our public colleges and universities tuition free.”
Sanders, who supports universal health care, has long criticized the U.S. health care system. He told the crowd about traveling to Canada with a group of diabetics. According to Sanders, the cost on insulin went down to one-tenth of the U.S. market price.
“Together we are going to end the international embarrassment of the U.S. being the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people everywhere,” Sanders said.
The crowd cheered as Sanders promised to legalize marijuana by executive order. Sanders said he would expunge the records of those previously convicted of marijuana possession.
Protesters like George Paton stood outside and voiced opposition to Sanders’ political ideology.
“I am a capitalist; I think Bernie is a socialist and a communist,” Paton said. “If there is a communist in Richmond, I want to be there on the sidelines.”
Sanders ranks No. 1 in an average of national polls for the Democratic nomination; a frontrunner with twice the lead over Joe Biden in second place. After a slim victory in the recent New Hampshire primary, Sanders easily clinched a win in Nevada.
The Virginia Democratic primary will take place on Tuesday, March 3. In the 2016 primary, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received 64% of the Democratic votes to Sanders’ 35%. Sanders garnered the most votes in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. Richmond ranked No. 4, with just over 14,000 votes cast for Sanders.
Sanders encouraged the crowd to go out and vote.
“This primary takes place in the midst of the most consequential and important election in the modern history of America,” Sanders said. “I am asking of all of you, please come out to vote.”