Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders rallied in the South Bronx last Thursday evening, bringing with him the electrifying energy of his political revolution, battlecries for social justice and a mass of over 15,000 New Yorkers from across the five boroughs.
The rally took place at St. Anne’s Park on 143 Street, where secret service and police lined the barricades holding in the enthusiastic crowd of Bernie supporters waiting to see the senator himself speak on his politics as presidential candidate and what his role as commander-in-chief could mean to New Yorkers, including his plans of education reform.
“I came today because America needs a new direction,” said Jonathan Pereira, a history and political science major at Brooklyn College. “I believe he could make not only a college education a viable way to become a successful person, but can make it affordable as well. It’s cheaper to send a person to college than it is to send them to prison.”
The crowd stood shoulder-to-shoulder, body-to-body, in unity as Sanders spoke on the importance of a college education, addressing the incredible amounts of student debt being accumulated every day across the country, even acknowledging his roots in the New York public education system
“I went to public schools in Brooklyn, New York. I had a good education and I want every kid in this city and in this state to have a quality public education,” said Sanders. “You know my mother and father never went to college. I want every kid in the South Bronx and every kid in America… I want them to know that if they take school seriously, they study hard and do their work…they will be able to get a college education, regardless of the income of their family.”
Students in attendance came to hear Sanders’ opinion on the ever-rising cost of tuition, which is leaving students not only in New York City in overwhelming debt, but all over the U.S.
“I’m coming out of school with a lot of debt to pay, starting with $2,000 that I owe by tomorrow, which I don’t have,” said Peter Moses, a BFA film major from Otterbein University in Ohio, who was in town for an acting internship and made it a point to attend the rally before he left New York. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay for that. I want to go to grad school for acting and I want to be able to afford that. That’s why I’m voting, because I want to continue school and not live the rest of my life paying for it.”
Sean Egan, a journalism major at Brooklyn College, also noted the significant weight Sanders’ ideas on educational reform are having in our communities. “I saw parents with their kids, who they took out of school, to see the man that might one day give them free college education,” said Egan. “I think Bernie is more than serious when he says he will make free public college happen, and it’s extra relevant in New York where our state and city governments are still figuring out how to fund the CUNY system.”
Sanders described how he plans to provide free public higher education without debt by redistributing money away from tax breaks for Wall Street and back to the middle class. As according to Sanders, when Wall Street’s greed destroyed the economy, the middle-class bailed it out and now it’s time for Wall Street to help the middle-class.
“We should not be punishing people for getting an education,” said Sanders. “We should be rewarding them.”
Along with education reform, Sanders spoke on issues of the criminal justice system, climate change, income wealth inequality and affordable housing – all very much relevant topics to the communities of New York City. The New York focus of the evening brought out several speakers that were inspired to advocate on Sanders’ behalf to their hometown, and in turn connecting with that New York devotion that separates the inhabitants of other cities from the loyalty and pride of the Big Apple.
Guests included Luis Sepulveda, assemblyman of the Bronx, and Residente, a Puerto Rican musician who advocated on the debt crisis of Puerto Rico. Film director Spike Lee, encouraged everybody to get out and vote.
“Diversity, look around. This is what makes us a great city,” said Lee. “This system is rigged. You ever seen the three-card-monty? You can’t win. We can’t go for that. Everybody has to register to vote. Bernie has to win New York City.
Actress Rosario Dawson, bonded with the crowd’s New York City roots, causing the crowd to shout, chant and exclaim their admiration for the star leading-lady.
“I just wanted to say something because I love you and I am a New Yorker,” said Dawson. “My mom was raised on 137 Street, born in the Bronx at Lincoln Hospital. I’m from Coney Island, grew up on the Lower East Side. And I’m here to say that we don’t need to be divided.
This is a community that I love. A place where I grew up, a melting pot that was the center of the world,” continued Dawson. “You could go anywhere and people know New York. This shows what New York is all about – coming together – and that real change comes from the bottom-up.”
Sanders himself nodded to the New York pride as he connected with the thousands before him.
“As you know, I am the very proud United States senator from Vermont. But I am very proud that I was born here in New York City, that my wife was born in Brooklyn, New York,” said Sanders. “My father came to this country at the age of 17 from Poland, without a nickel in his pocket. He never made much money. We lived in a three-and-a-half room, rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn. So I learned a little bit of what it means to grow up in a family that has no money.”
For some students, they had to hear for themselves what the Senator had to say before making any decisions on candidates they’d be voting for, regardless of the hype.
“I came because I just wanted to see him speak for myself. I never really surrounded myself around politics and I wanted to be aware of what’s going on,” said Judy Sanchez, a Puerto Rican and Latino studies major at Brooklyn College. “A lot of college kids are supporting Bernie because it’s a fad, so I wanted to be able to have my own thoughts on it.”
The evening was filled with high vitality, high energy and a spark in the air reminiscent to the poetic spirit of the social movements of decades ago. At one point before the arrival of the speakers, a secret service agent stood stone-faced on the stage, scanning the crowd, as hundreds began to chant, “smile, smile,” until he cracked at the mouth and laughed while the masses cheered.
One thing is for sure, and that is the fact that the presidential race is picking up pace, and has landed on the doorstep of New York City.
“You know, a great nation is judged not by how many millionaires and billionaires it has – it is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable people in that country,” said Sanders as he shook his head with stern eyes, while the crowd of 15,000 cheered in alignment with his convictions. “If we win here in New York, we are going to make it to the White House. So I urge all of you to go out and vote. Lets win in New York and let’s take this fight to the White House.”