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Sanders spells out his ‘revolution’ to overflow crowd at UB

The “revolution” came to the University at Buffalo Monday, and the legions supporting it overwhelmed on overstuffed Alumni Arena.

So the leader of the revolution, a wild-haired man of 74, responded in kind. Before speaking to the 8,500 inside, Sen. Bernie Sanders took his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination outside.

Before another 3,000 people crowded in the damp evening gray who were turned away at the door, he delivered the message that brought so many people together.

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the overflow crowd outside his rally at UB. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the overflow crowd outside his rally at UB. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

“We need to create an economy that works for all of us,” Sanders said in a husky Brooklyn accent to the cheers of a mostly young and clearly adoring crowd that hadn’t expected the opportunity to see the Vermont senator.

That was just one of two surprise stops on Sanders’ whirlwind trip to Buffalo, part of an upstate New York swing aimed at winning votes in New York’s April 19 primary.

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We're broadcasting live from Bernie Sanders' rally at the University at Buffalo's Alumni Arena. More live updates here:

Posted by The Buffalo News on Monday, April 11, 2016

Waging a surprisingly strong challenge to the Democratic front-runner, former secretary of state and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sanders proved his intent to compete in New York by localizing his trip to Buffalo to a surprising degree.

Besides speaking to the students outside, Sanders visited a local union hall and backed the workers there who are set to strike. And in his speech in Alumni Arena, he read a list of local companies that had moved or eliminated jobs because of free trade.
And all of it, of course, was in service of the political revolution Sanders envisions, one where campaign finance is reformed to eliminate corporate influence, and where the economy is reformed to help people at the bottom of the ladder.

“American democracy is supposed to be one-person, one-vote,” he said. “It does not mean that the Koch brothers and a handful of billionaires can spend $900 million in this election cycle to elect candidates who represent the wealthy and the powerful. That is not democracy, that is oligarchy, and we are going to change it.”

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Sanders arrived in Buffalo via a chartered jet – an Eastern Airlines relic that, inappropriately, had the name of the Florida Panthers hockey team on its side – shortly after 5 p.m.

Minutes after he climbed down from that jet, his motorcade whisked him away to the Communications Workers of America Local 1122’s union hall in Cheektowaga.

Sen. Bernie Sanders meets with members of CWA Local 1122 in Cheektowaga on Monday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders meets with members of CWA Local 1122 in Cheektowaga on Monday.

Union members are set to strike against Verizon on Wednesday, and Sanders wanted to stop by to support them.

“I know going on strike is not easily done,” Sanders said before telling the three dozen or so union members that they had good reason to do just that.

Verizon “sure as hell should not be sending call-center jobs to the Philippines,” the senator from Vermont said.

But better times could be ahead, Sanders told the union members, if he is elected president.

“We are going to grow the trade union movement in this country,” Sanders promised.

That was just one of many promises Sanders, a self-avowed Democratic socialist, made during the day.

In an interview with The Buffalo News – which will be published in a story later this week – he promised a better economy built around renegotiated trade agreements and investments in green energy and infrastructure.

In his brief speech to the crowd gathered outside Alumni Arena, he promised political reforms that would take millionaire money out of politics and rebalance the economy through a higher minimum wage, free tuition at public colleges and equal pay for equal work.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd of supporters outside UB Alumni Arena Monday. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd of supporters outside UB Alumni Arena Monday. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

“We need millions of people to stand up and fight back for a government that will represent all of us, not just the 1 percent,” he told the crowd gathered outside, who later watched the rally inside on a huge TV monitor.

Then, before an adoring and loud crowd inside the arena, he promised all those things as well as criminal justice reform and a single-payer health care plan and respect for all minorities and rebuilt inner cities.

All those promises are parts of Sanders’ signature stump speech, but he localized his message to a surprising degree at Alumni Arena, railing against free trade by listing company after local company that either shut down or moved jobs overseas.

Charging that the North American Free Trade Agreement cost Buffalo 31,000 manufacturing jobs, Sanders noted that the American Axle plant in the city shut down a decade ago, costing 700 jobs. In 2008, he said, the GM Powertrain plant in the Town of Tonawanda moved 800 jobs to Mexico “where they could pay workers $3.25 an hour.” Motorola moved a local plant to Mexico, and 110 workers at Niagara Ceramics lost their jobs because of unfair trade with China.

“And on and on it goes,” he said.

Sanders spoke for nearly an hour before an adoring crowd that had, in some cases, waited for hours to see him.

An enthusiastic crowd awaits Sen. Bernie Sanders at UB's Alumni Arena. (Derek Gee)

An enthusiastic crowd awaits Sen. Bernie Sanders at UB's Alumni Arena. (Derek Gee)

Most said they came because they were entranced by Sanders’ ideas. Even some of the women in the crowd said they supported him even though they would like to see a woman president – adding that electing a real progressive is more important this year.

“He is for all the people, and he will take a stand for women, too,” said Nikki Root, 24, a UB graduate student who attended the rally.

Melissa Harris, 25, of Fredonia said she was sold on Sanders’ stance on education.

“College is very expensive,” said Harris, who said she’s still paying down $20,000 in college debt.

Sanders’ campaign slogan is “a future to believe in,” and for his part, Robert Kinkaid, 43, of Kenmore, believes it.

“The system is kind of broken,” he said. “He proposes change that will help the 99 percent.”

His son, Matthew Kinkaid, 22, of Lewiston, cited Sanders planned breakup of the big banks as his reason supporting his campaign.

“They shouldn’t have gotten bailed out in the first place,” he said.

Many in the crowd seemed to stare in awe as the gruff-voiced Sanders, by no means an orator like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, spelled out his vision of an America more like Sweden – a social democratic America where money can’t buy elections and where every American has a chance at a decent wage.

But in the end, predictably, the focus turned to politics.

“Your presence tells me how much energy and enthusiasm we have,” he told the crowd.

“If we have a huge voter turnout on April 19, we are going to win,” he added.

News staff reporter Susan Schulman contributed to this report.


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