From Montpellier to Honolulu, Bernie Sanders supporters gathered at bars and bookstores, coffee shops and even a yoga studio, on Wednesday evening to hear the upstart Democratic presidential candidate call for a political revolution.
Sanders delivered his message from a house party in Washington DC, and his remarks were simultaneously broadcast in about 3,500 meeting locations across the country.
“The only way we can transform the government, the only way we can have a government that begins to work for working people rather than the wealthiest people in this country, is by putting together an unprecedentedly strong grassroots movement – what I call a political revolution,” Sanders said, reading from handwritten notes laid on a music stand.
The Vermont senator railed against “the powers that be”, calling out corporate America, Wall Street, insurance companies, the drug companies and the military-industrial complex. He said that the political process will remain in the hands of billionaires unless millions of people rise up and proclaim that “enough is enough”.
“The American people in our great country believe that our government should belong to all of us and not as is currently the case to a handful of billionaires,” Sanders said. “‘Enough is enough’, the American people are saying loudly and clearly. We cannot continue to have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.”
He went on to champion a list of progressive issues. Sanders called for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour in the next few years, calling anything less a “starvation wage”. He pledged to fight to make every public college and university free, and said he would push to allow Americans to refinance their student debt.
Sanders invoked Sandra Bland in a call for criminal justice reform – from improving the way police interact with civilians to reducing incarnations rates. “People should not die because they did not put a signal on making a right turn,” he said.
He also said he would seek to overturn Citizens United , and in doing so reclaim the government from billionaires by moving to a public funding of elections. “When you have a situation like that, that is not called a democracy. That is called an oligarchy.”
Sanders congratulated the crowd for “making history” by taking part in what the campaign believes is the largest online organizing event of the 2016 campaign so far. As many as 100,000 people tuned in for the broadcast, according to the campaign. Some house parties had just four RSVPs, while others had dozens and even hundreds. Some few hundred people gathered at a bar in Manhattan, which was reported to be among the biggest gatherings.
“Bernie Sanders alone as president of these United States is not going to solve all these problems,” Sanders said. “The only way we take on the Koch brothers and take on the billionaire class, and people who have unbelievable money and power, the only we can do that is when we put together a strong grassroots movement of millions and millions of people.”
Through the massive grassroots event, the candidate sought to rally the progressive base of the Democratic party, and harness the momentum around the campaign into an organizing force.
“Our task is to translate this groundswell of support into a coordinated grassroots movement in all 50 states,” said Claire Sandberg, digital organizing director for the campaign who spoke on camera after Sanders.
Sandberg called on the viewers, the true believers and dogged Sanders supporters to coordinate their volunteer efforts and help get the candidate’s message out.
Sanders lacks the campaign funds his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton has: Sanders, who has refused to have a Super-pac, raised about $15.2m this quarter, while Clinton’s haul tallied more than three times that amount.
“We need you to bring this movement to your community to do unglamorous but essential work,” Sandberg said. “Like knocking on doors, calling voters, voter registration.”
If Wednesday night’s turnout was any indicator, mobilizing a Sanders army for action may not be so difficult.
“They got the money. They got the power,” Sanders said. “But we got the people. And that’s what this political revolution is about. Tonight is a great first start.”