They came from Norman, the surrounding area and even other states to gather at Reaves Park. They all chanted the same word: "Bernie."
But the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate returned after his speech, insisting, "It's not Bernie — it's you."
Bernie Sanders held a rally at Reaves Park on Sunday, where he addressed climate change, income inequality, student debt and universal health care.
Sanders’ visit follows two other candidate visits to Norman — former El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke visited Campus Corner on Aug. 19, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker made his stop on Aug. 29. And more visits could follow.
Norman Mayor Breea Clark spoke before Sanders took the stage, and she visited with other candidates at the Democratic presidential debate a few weeks ago to recruit more candidates to come to Norman.
“I keep hearing about, ‘How do you feel that all of these presidential candidates (are) coming to check on little ol’ Norman?’” Clark said. “Well, I like to say, ‘I’m not surprised.’ Because we have the most passionate, dedicated, educated citizens in the state of Oklahoma. And, of course, presidential candidates want to talk to you.”
After Clark introduced Sanders, the two took a selfie with the crowd — according to a media representative, 4,062 people attended the rally. Sanders began by saying he would address things people do not usually hear in Oklahoma.
“But maybe it’s time you did hear it in Oklahoma,” Sanders said, as the crowd cheered in unison.
Making public colleges and universities tuition-free is a large part of Sanders’ campaign and is something he addressed during his speech.
If elected, Sanders plans to pass the “College for All Act.” According to his campaign website, the plan would provide about $48 billion per year to eliminate tuition at colleges and universities, along with tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools and apprenticeship programs, according to the site.
“How are our young people going to go out and get the jobs that they need and make it into the middle class unless they have a good education?” Sanders said. “And why don’t we make sure that everybody has that opportunity, regardless of the income of their families?”
Sanders also discussed income inequality and the minimum wage. Sanders said, if elected, he will deal with income and wealth inequality and will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which he called a “living wage.”
“Here in Oklahoma and Vermont and all over the country,” Sanders said, “you’ve got people that are working two or three jobs trying to feed their families at inadequate wages, and 49 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent.”
In addition, Sanders said it was important to focus on the issue of climate change, and he challenged Trump's position.
“We have a president who thinks that climate change is a hoax,” Sanders said. “Well, I happen to believe that Donald Trump is a hoax. I think we need a president who actually believes in science.”
Sanders said climate change is “very, very real,” and we can see its impacts “right in front of our eyes” all over the world. He referred to the flooding that is taking place in Texas right now as an example, as well as the catastrophic damage to the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian.
“Instead of spending a trillion and a half dollars on weapons of destruction, designed to kill each other, how about pooling our resources and combating our common enemy, which is climate change,” Sanders said.
Sanders wrapped up his speech by saying “this is an unprecedented moment in our country’s history” because the current president is “the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.”
“What this campaign’s message is about — it’s called, ‘Us, not me,’” Sanders said. “What I am asking from you also — I am asking your help to work with me to transform this country, to transform our economy, and create a government that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.”
Wesley Forbes, former OU College Democrats president, said the rally is important because of the strong presence Sanders has in Oklahoma.
“This is a great opportunity for students to meet a candidate who resonates well with their demographic,” Forbes said, “and to potentially find a way to volunteer and to get involved in the political process, which we desperately need young people to do.”
Sanders brought up Trump's immigration policies and said Trump thinks he’s going to win re-election by dividing the country based on race, place of birth and religion.
“We’ve got a president, and I say this with no joy in my heart, a president who is a racist and a sexist and a xenophobe and a homophobe and a religious bigot — that’s what he is,” Sanders said. “In the terms of immigration, we are going to stop the racism and the demonization of undocumented people. We are going to pass comprehensive immigration reform on a path toward citizenship.”
College Democrats of Oklahoma President Taz Al-Michael said the amount of people who showed up at the rally shows “just how much power we have in making this state go blue.”
“If every single person were to show up today for a canvass today, I guarantee you we could overwhelm an entire community with results,” Al-Michael said. “That’s how important it is to show up to stuff like this.”
Al-Michael said he felt as though Sanders touched on every issue and that he was blunt in his answers.
“Sen. Sanders has a very good reputation of just going straight for the answer, versus like giving you a rehearsed speech,” Al-Michael said.
Carla Guevara, OU College Democrats president, said the organization is now working on securing a date, time and place for Elizabeth Warren to visit Norman.
“Warren — she is from here — so I think that it would be kind of dumb for her not to come,” Guevara said. “So, currently, we are in the works of getting her to come, but we are just trying to lock in a date and the logistics of where, when and all of that. But other than that, I know Warren is definitely coming.”