The pundits may still be arguing about polls and electability, but yesterday proved one thing – a lot of Kansas Citians are “feeling the Bern,” as thousands of supporters turned out for the Bernie Sanders “A Future to Believe In” rally at Bartle Hall Wednesday afternoon.
The line actually began forming early in the morning, and by the time the doors opened at 11:00 a.m., the sidewalks were packed all the way down both sides of the convention center. From the enthusiasm, they could easily have been waiting for a concert or a carnival, although the only circus act in sight was the now-routine appearance of protestors from Westboro Baptist Church. Their signs did little to make a dent in the festive atmosphere, and faced with an almost total lack of interest from the crowd, WBC abandoned the field early in the day.
Despite quick processing through security, there were still dozens of people waiting for entrance when the scheduled 1:00 p.m. start time arrived, and the campaign pushed back the start briefly to avoid disappointing late arrivals as much as possible. If there was any frustration at the delay, it wasn’t apparent from the enthusiastic greeting for Missouri State Representative Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City), who endorsed Sanders and spoke briefly in introduction.
But at the end of the day, the crowd of approximately 7500 had come to see Bernie Sanders, and his entrance was greeted with an approving roar. Over the course of roughly 45 minutes, he touched on themes that are familiar to his supporters – the influence of money in politics, income inequality, the cost of a college education, large businesses that reap financial benefits at taxpayer expense.
And in another familiar touch, Sanders devoted the bulk of his speech to discussion of his plans rather than attacking the plans of his political opponents, although he didn’t ignore other politicians completely. He referred to only one presidential candidate by name, stating, “Our job is to bring people together: black, white, Latino, Asian-Americans, Native Americans. We will not allow Trump and the others to divide us up.”
The only other politician Sanders singled out was Kansas governor Sam Brownback, saying, “I know in Kansas you’ve got a governor who likes to beat up on the poor. Well, it’s always an easy target to beat up on the poor, to talk about welfare abuse among the poor.”
The crowd’s delight with the comment appears to have stung. Eileen Hawley, a Brownback spokesperson, released a reply.
“It’s hardly surprising a socialist from Vermont disagrees with the Governor’s welfare-to-work reforms. In Kansas, we believe higher incomes and more employment for those leaving food stamps is a good thing.”
The Kansas Democratic caucus is scheduled for March 5. Missouri will hold its Democratic primary on March 15.