Bernie Sanders' rally in New York strikes at heart of establishment
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at Safeco Field in Seattle on March 25, 2016 (AFP Photo/Jason Redmond)

Estimated 27,000 people in Greenwich Village hear Democratic insurgent and celebrity speakers deliver fusillade against his despised ‘billionaire class’

“Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” came the chanting. When Brooklyn’s native son walked through the arch at Washington Square Park he was greeted by one of the largest crowds of his presidential campaign.

Bernie Sanders, the 72-year-old socialist Democrat from Vermont, whose rabble-rousing campaign has unexpectedly complicated Hillary Clinton’s path to the party’s nomination, strode to the podium and looked out.

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“There are a lot of people here tonight!” he shouted, his voice cracking. His campaign estimated that 27,000 people attended the event.

Under a starless New York sky, Sanders gave mostly the same speech he’s been giving to supporters across the country: the American people have lost a voice in their own democracy.

“It is not just about electing a president,” Sanders said. “It is about creating a political revolution. It is about creating a government which works for all of us, not just wealthy campaign contributors.” The crowd exploded in applause.

From his perch in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, a liberal neighborhood filled with college students, Sanders eviscerated the big banks of Wall Street and the “billionaire class”, many of whose residences overlook New York’s Central Park.

Yet Sanders’s speech was imbued with a sense of urgency ahead of next week’s crucial primary. Polls consistently show Clinton beating him by double digits in her adopted home state. A blowout here would cripple his chances of catching up to Clinton’s more than 200-delegate lead, and even a win may not be enough.

“This is a tough race for us,” Sanders acknowledged at the end of his speech. “But you know what I think? When I look out at the thousands of people who are here tonight, the thousands of people we saw in Buffalo and Syracuse and Rochester, I think we’ve got a surprise for the establishment.”

Before Sanders spoke, a slate of speakers and performers warmed up his supporters. Vampire Weekend, a rock band who joined Sanders the night before the Iowa caucuses, sang an a cappella rendition of their popular song Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.

Taking the stage later, actor Tim Robbins, a New York native, said: “I used to play in this park. I protested against the Vietnam war in this park, when I was a youngin’, and I’m so inspired to see all of you here. This is what democracy looks like!”

Several of the speakers who introduced him, however, voiced frustration with the primary process. The actor Rosario Dawson drew boos when she mentioned that the New York primaries were closed, meaning only registered Democrats could vote for Sanders.

It was Brooklyn-born director Spike Lee who spoke last before Sanders. “Are you tired of being jerked around?” he said. “Are you tired of being led astray? Run amok? Highjinks? Monkeyshine? Hornswaggle? Skullduggery?” Lee laughed and welcomed Sanders and his wife Jane on the stage.

The rally had the ambience of a 1960s anti-war protest like Sanders would have attended in his youth. A group of young people with “Bernie” stickers on their cheeks danced around a man strumming on his guitar. Fans waved homemade signs and joined calls for a political revolution. Pockets of the crowd smelled unmistakably of marijuana.

His campaign message has resonated with millions of young activists, especially those who came of age during the Occupy movement.

Among them was Oscar Salazar, 20, from Westchester, New York, who wore a T-shirt covered with prints of Sanders head and carried a sign offering “Free Bernie Hugs”. Salazar said his friends call him “Bernie Boy” because of his deep affection for the Vermont senator.

“I wasn’t even into politics before,” Salazar said. “Bernie got me into it. Now I’m registered to vote, I got my whole family registered as Democrats. We’re all going to vote in this election.” © Guardian News and Media 2016