The Rapidian

Bernie Sanders rally draws big crowds, concerns about Clinton's candidacy

Despite expressing his confidence in Hillary Clinton's presidential run, Senator Bernie Sanders did not convince all of his supporters to back Clinton.
Register to Vote Sign on Bike During Presidential Debates

Register to Vote Sign on Bike During Presidential Debates /Steven Depolo/ Flickr

West Michigan residents came out in droves to catch Senator Bernie Sanders during his campaign stop in Grand Rapids on October 6, but expressed mixed feelings about joining Sanders in backing Hillary Clinton’s presidential run.

“I think a lot of people came here tonight more to hear from Bernie, rather than to support Hillary,” said LuAnne Kozma, a Charlevoix resident and Michigan coordinator for Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

The crowd lined up across the sidewalk of Fountain Street under an overcast sky at 5:45 p.m. to enter Central Innovation High School. Individuals sporting Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein T-shirts and buttons outnumbered those clad in Clinton apparel.

Once they entered the school gym, hundreds of people packed in front of the stage in anticipation of Sanders' arrival. A few audience members displayed signs of their discontent with Sanders’ loss during the presidential primary, hanging a banner reading “election fraud” from the upper balcony and lifting notebooks reading “the DNC robbed us.”

When Sanders finally took the stage at 7 p.m., the gym thundered with applause. Praising Clinton’s policy stances, Sanders made the case that Clinton was the only candidate who would support middle class families.

"I think that anybody in Michigan and in America who takes a hard look at the real issues and looks at what Donald Trump is saying and what Hillary Clinton is saying, Hillary Clinton is the superior candidate for President of the United States,” Sanders said.

Sanders promoted several proposals including a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the creation of tuition-free public universities, comprehensive immigration reform and reform of police training procedures.  

Sanders also called out Republican candidate Donald Trump for supporting the birther movement and frequently making derogatory remarks toward women and minorities.

“The centerpiece of Trump’s campaign is bigotry,” Sanders said.

Mentions of Clinton throughout the speech elicited moderate enthusiasm, but fell flat in comparison to the audience’s exuberant cheers during Sanders' calls for political revolution or critiques of Trump. Cries of “we voted for you Bernie” and “Bernie for president” often punctuated Sander’s speech.

With Clinton’s negative approval ratings rising to historically highs, it remains an open question whether Sanders supporters will turn out for Clinton in November. 

Longtime Sanders fan Celia Sayed argued that former Sanders supporters like herself would take a pragmatic approach and support Clinton to ensure the ongoing success of Sander’s political movement.  

“I’m supporting Hillary even though I have a lot of doubts,” Sayed said. “I don’t like Hillary’s relationship with the military industrial complex and Wall Street. But the only way we can get Bernie’s values and issues dealt is to have Hillary in office.”

Not all of the rally attendees were as confident as Sayed in Clinton’s chances to sway former Sanders supporters. Kozma, who lead a group of volunteers passing out literature about Stein, felt confident that Sanders supporters would choose a candidate who shared their same views instead of settling for Clinton.   

“People who are undecided should vote their conscience,” Kozma said. “Every candidate has to earn their own votes. Votes that go to Jill Stein don’t belong to another candidate. They go to the candidate of their choice.”

Given the tightening race between Clinton and Trump, Grand Rapids resident and Clinton campaign volunteer Jessie Schmidt questioned the wisdom of those choosing a third-party candidate.

“Bernie has my heart, and Hillary has my vote,” Schmidt said. “I will not throw my vote away. I won’t make a protest vote.”

Sanders' visit to Grand Rapids was the last of four stops in Michigan before taking off for other states.

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