BROOKLYN, NY — Sen. Bernie Sanders’ first big 2020 rally in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday was attended by an energetic, hopeful, and diverse crowd, which seemed to contradict one of the prevailing narratives surrounding his newest effort to become the next US president — that the senator only appeals to white, male voters.
As Sanders 2020 presidential campaign picks up steam, critics continue to suggest he won’t attract minority voters based on some of the issues plaguing his bid for the presidency in 2016.
Meanwhile, Sanders continues to face questions about sexual harassment allegations against members of his 2016 campaign, as well as accusations that female staffers were not paid as much as their male counterparts.
Some Democratic strategists and political pundits have pointed to this as a sign the Vermont senator will struggle to win over women as the progressive firebrand vies for the presidency once again, despite Sanders’ pledge for more training and attention to these issues this time around.
But at Sanders’ kick off event in Brooklyn, a number of minority and female attendees rejected the notion that the presidential hopeful doesn’t have broad appeal.
David Shannon, 50, of the Bronx, said he supports Sanders because he sees the senator as a “true progressive” who’s been consistent in his views for years. Sanders is the “only person that’s running right now” in 2020 that’s “always been the same.”
Shannon added that he disagrees with critics who claim Sanders won’t appeal to black or minority voters. “If you look at him for the last 20 years, he’s been fighting for minorities,” Shannon said, contending that the “incumbents and elites” are wrong about Sanders. He pointed to Sanders’ dedication to getting money out of politics and pledge to end “proxy wars” as two of the biggest reasons he’s behind the senator.
Shannon likes what Sanders has been saying regarding the crisis in Venezuela, for example, and said the current administration’s approach and claims of upholding democracy is “all bullsh–t.”
“We’re only there for the oil” and “regime change,” Shannon said of the current US policy toward Venezuela.
Jessie Rodriguez, 30, originally from Bogota, Colombia, also dismissed the perception that Sanders hasn’t reached out enough to women or people of color and doesn’t appeal to these demographics.
“I’m a minority and a woman, and he reached out to me,” Rodriguez told INSIDER.
Rodriguez said she became a US citizen in September 2015 and her support for Sanders was central to this.
“I actually became a citizen so I could vote for Bernie,” Rodriguez said. “I believe in him more than anyone else.”
Some diehard supporters and ex-staffers of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continue to suggest that she lost to President Donald Trump, at least in part, because Sanders didn’t drop out soon enough in 2016 and didn’t fight hard enough to bring his supporters to her side. In this context, Sanders has faced questions over whether he’d support the ultimate Democratic nominee if he loses again. The senator said he would do so.
“I hope and believe that every Democratic candidate will come together after the nominee is selected and make certain that Donald Trump is not re-elected president of the US,” Sanders said during a town hall with CNN in Washington, DC last month. “I pledge certainly to do that … Trump has got to be defeated.”
Similarly, Rodriguez also said she’d vote for whoever the ultimate Democratic nominee is — even if it’s not Sanders.
“Anything to get big orange out of the White House,” Rodriguez said in reference to Trump.
Patrizia Pelgrift, 48, originally from Milan, Italy, told INSIDER it’s a “false narrative” that Sanders and his policies aren’t attractive to women voters.
Pelgrift, who’s also lived in the UK and Norway, but now lives in Manhattan, said that she finds Sanders appealing because he “talks about politics I’m very familiar with” that have been “in place” in many European countries “for awhile.”
“My husband is a doctor, he’s American, and he’s for Medicare for All,” Pelgrift added.
Rodriguez and Pelgrift met while campaigning for Sanders in 2016, and attended Saturday’s rally together.
Nicole Rojas, 24, who lives in Brooklyn and volunteered at Saturday’s rally, told INSIDER she supports Sanders primarily due to his stance on immigration.
Sanders understands the immigrant experience “because of his parents,” Rojas said, and that’s important to her given she comes from a mixed-status family that immigrated to the US from Mexico.
When asked whether she’d support the Democratic nominee if it’s not Sanders, Rojas said it would depend on “their immigration stance.”
She also supported Sanders in 2016 and is confident about his chances this time around. “I think people have more trust in him now,” Rojas said.
During his speech on Saturday, Sanders reflected on his father’s immigrant past as the senator told his origin story to the crowd not far from where he grew up in Brooklyn.
“I learned a great deal about immigration as a child because my father came from Poland at the age of 17, without a nickel in his pocket. Without knowing one word of English. He came to the US to escape the crushing poverty that existed in his community, and to escape widespread anti-Semitism,” Sanders said. “And it was a good thing that he came to this country because virtually his entire family was wiped out by Hitler and Nazi barbarism.”
The Vermont senator contrasted his humble upbringing to the president’s affluent roots in the neighboring borough of Queens, as he made the case for why his campaign offers an antidote to Trumpism.
“Donald Trump wants to divide us up based on the color of our skin, based on where we were born, based on our gender, our religion, and our sexual orientation,” Sanders said. “What we are about is doing exactly the opposite: We’re going to bring our people together.”