“There is an earthquake going on here,” proclaimed Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as a crowd of over 3,000 rallied in the Kaiser Permanente Arena last Tuesday.
Santa Cruz locals and UC Santa Cruz students queued up as early as 5 a.m. to witness Sanders talk about income inequality, affordable health care and accessible higher education, among other issues. The sea of faces that filled bleacher seats were predominately young people.
“I think [Sanders] represents all the ideas we are concerned with as students,” said third-year UCSC student Marlet Andaya.
The line to the rally stretched about a mile long from the arena to Third Street and Riverside Avenue as 4,000 to 5,000 people waited to get in. Sanders’ 1 p.m. start was slightly delayed, as he addressed thousands of overflow supporters at the entrance with a concise rundown of his speech that would be elaborated in the arena.
Recent UCSC graduate Anna Coloma spends her free time volunteering for Sanders’ campaign. She said she supports Sanders’ platform for affordable higher education, including making tuition free at public universities, cutting student loan interest rates and implementing a tax on every stock, bond and derivative.
“Being a poor student, growing up and getting some aid from the government — but not enough — and having to work 50 plus hours a week just really sucks throughout school,” Coloma said.
She’s in debt along with millions of other Americans and says she regrets the decision to go straight to a four-year university instead of taking the less expensive community college route. UCSC graduates in 2014 left campus owing an average of $22,583, with 63 percent of the graduating class in debt.
“For the next 20 years I’ll be paying off my student loans, given I have a steady income,” Coloma said.
As Sanders stepped up to the podium, audience members immediately became a deafening symphony of stomping, applause and cheers. For an hour, Sanders vocalized the ideals that have defined his campaign as anti-establishment, progressive and for the middle class.
Sanders said he wants to fix the problems of what he calls the “rigged economy,” where people are working multiple jobs to sustain basic living standards.
“The Democratic Party has got to be the party of the working class, not the 1 percent,” Sanders said.
He reiterated the concept of “political revolution” multiple times by criticizing the “corrupt election system.” With recent polls showing Clinton’s 13-point lead in California, Sanders urged the crowd to vote to neutralize the influence of superdelegates. Clinton currently has 543 superdelegates compared to Sanders’ 44.
Despite Sanders’ emphasis on his strong points, some students felt as though he didn’t address some important topics.
“I want to hear more foreign policy,” said UCSC fourth-year Kyle Franks. “That will be something new that he hasn’t really addressed thoroughly. Hillary talks about it a lot, and it is just something that we look for in a new commander in chief.”
UCSC student Alice Raschke believes the rally has the potential to simultaneously fragment and unify the Santa Cruz community. Political rallies carry the potential to magnify ideological groups, and in Santa Cruz that took the form of verbal harassment by political rivals.
“I definitely saw some polarization when we were in line,” Raschke said. “People were driving by and they were angry, and we had a pro-Trump guy yelling personal insults at people.”
Despite instances of vehement debate and verbal harassment, student attendees expressed their hope in Sanders and his platform. This enthusiasm for Sanders took on an air of defiance when speakers Erik Eriksen, a core member and delegate of Santa Cruz for Bernie, and Watsonville Mayor Felipe Hernandez discussed the candidate’s low delegate count.
“Even if he doesn’t win the election, he is setting an everlasting precedent for the future generations to get more politically involved,” said fourth-year UCSC student Faisal Fazilat. “That is what the ‘political revolution’ is all about.”