If the excitement of teenage girls at their first Justin Bieber concert were combined with the enthusiasm of fans at a college football championship, it might begin to match the energy and exhilaration of the crowd at Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ rally in downtown Phoenix tonight.
More than 7,000 of his supporters started lining up shortly after noon, waiting first in the hot sun and then later in a huge windowless room of the Convention Center just to get a glimpse of their candidate and feel a part of what they believe is a political revolution.
The rally may have been announced and planned last minute, but given the event's huge turnout and overall polish, it didn't feel that way. The whole night felt more grandiose and presidential than his previous visits. From increased security at the door to much more space-efficient organization of the campaign hall, tonight’s rally seemed like the work of campaign staffers who have done this more than a few times.
Chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie,” and “Feel The Bern” echoed through the room, and about 6:15 p.m., Jose Miranda, Arizona State Coordinator for the campaign, took the stage. He wasted no time introducing the candidate, and to the sound of an applause that literally made the wooden floor of the media stage vibrate, Sanders walked up to the lectern.
“This is a yooooooge crowd,” he began, nearly drowned out by the cheers and applause. “And this is a loud crowd,” he added, chuckling a little.
But from there, the event turned serious as he launched into what can only be described as a stump speech of his greatest hits:
“Phoenix, are you ready for a political revolution? Are you tired of a handful of billionaires running our country?”
“The people of our country will not tolerate oligarchy.”
“We’re going to create an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.”
While most of what Sanders said was the same message of economic equality and social justice he delivered in Phoenix last summer – albeit with a much raspier and strained voice this time around – he did throw a few verbal punches at his two main rivals, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as a hard one at Arizona Governor Doug Ducey:
“We are going to vigorously take on cowardly Republican governors who are trying to suppress the vote. My message to these cowardly governors is, ‘If you are afraid of free and fair elections, get out of politics.’”
Last week, Ducey signed into law House Bill 2023, claiming it would improve the “integrity” of elections by combating voter fraud, but critics have overwhelmingly called the law a blatant effort at voter suppression.
“You do not have to accept the status quo; we have to do better,” Sanders told the crowd. “Do not let people tell you that you can’t think big.”
The room went absolutely wild.
While some of those attending tonight’s rally wore rainbow-colored beanies, baseball caps, hijabs, or cowboy hats, and many dressed like hipsters, punks, kindergarten teachers, and even business executives, they had one thing in common — they were present to soak up Sanders' promises to overhaul the country's “rigged economy,” fix its broken criminal-justice system, and reform its immigration system.
His supporters applauded when he talked about climate change, the necessity of a federally mandated living wage, and making higher education affordable. And they cheered when he promised to find a way to defeat the Islamic State without sending U.S. soldiers into combat, and when he said the country needs to start fighting the growing heroin epidemic by finally treating substance abuse as a disease, not the moral failure of individuals.
Yet while Sanders hit on all his major talking points, he oddly didn't mention one important development: the results of today’s five primary elections.
As dozens of journalists huddled on the media platform feverishly tweeted quotes from Sanders’ speech or took pictures of the crowd to send to their editors or to post on social media, they refreshed their Internet browsers to check the latest election results.
Whispers of “Oh my God, Marco Rubio dropped out,” and “they’re calling Florida for Hillary, but they’re neck-and-neck in Missouri” circulated, but Sanders never said a word about today's primaries. (As of publication time, the election in Missouri still was too close to call, but Clinton won Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Illinois.)
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At the very end of his speech, Sanders finally acknowledged the presidential primary in Arizona next Tuesday, and to more cheers of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie,” he added: “Change – real change – never takes place from the top on down. It always takes place from the grassroots on up.”
As the crowd finally quieted down, he raised his fist in the air and told the thousands of people standing in front of him that come next Tuesday in Arizona, “We will win if the turnout is high."
The room once again erupted in deafening applause.
“Let’s make it high!”