COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. Bernie Sanders is finding enthusiastic crowds in the Palmetto State on his two-day campaign swing.
About 2,000 supporters crammed into a ballroom at the Medallion Convention Center in Columbia Friday evening to hear Sanders’ populist message. Another 700 filled up overflow areas. They cheered on his plan to seek more from the “billionaire class.” And they shouted their approval as he called for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour because instead of “wages that are too damn low.”
Sanders repeated his call for a Medicare-for-all health care system, and called on Republicans to “let go for a minute of their right-wing ideology” and expand the Medicaid programs in deep red states in order to cover more low-income Americans with health care insurance.
“You can hate President Obama but don’t hate the kids and the working families,” he said in a voice raspy from the campaign trail.
An occasional “Amen!” was shouted form the crowd.
Earlier in the day, Sanders held a similar rally in the Republican stronghold of Greenville. The campaign said it drew a crowd of 2,800.
In Columbia, Sanders told the crowd that 27 percent of children in The Palmetto State are living in poverty. Meanwhile, in the past few years, the 14 richest people in the U.S. saw their income rise by more than $140 billion, he said.
“If we are a moral people we stand with the most vulnerable people,” Sanders said.
Sanders said his campaign has gained traction because he has focused on issues that impact regular Americans. The media, he said, often asks him why his candidacy is appealing to voters around the country.
“My answer is that the American people are sick and tired with establishment politics. They are sick and tired with establishment economics. And frankly, they are sick and tired with establishment media,” he told the Columbia crowd.
Sanders also renewed his call for a free college education for U.S. students. It will be paid for by taxing Wall Street transactions, he said. Wall Street was bailed out by the American people during the Great Recession, he said, and now must help the middle class.
“When Wall Street destroyed this economy because of their greed and recklessness they went begging to the middle class to bail them out. Now it is Wall Street’s time to bail out the middle class,” he said.
Sanders’ campaign has had trouble gaining support from African American voters. Two of his events have been interrupted by Black Lives Matter supporters. The campaign has responded by adding a “racial justice” tab on the issues section of his campaign website. And he has hired Symone Sanders, a young, African American civil rights activist and Black Lives Matter supporter, to be his national press secretary.
Symone Sanders, no relation to the candidate, introduced the candidate Friday evening. In her remarks she called referred to the campaign as a “multi-racial revolution.”
Sanders addressed ending “institutional racism” about an hour into his remarks in Columbia. “As everyone in this room knows, racism remains a much too real part of American life,” Sanders said.
He called for demilitarizing police forces, and ending minimum sentencing laws and other “major reforms to our broken criminal justice system.”
“Most police officers are honest and are trying to do their best. But let me also tell you that is in the case of any other public official, when a police officer breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable,” Sanders said, after listing the names of several African Americans who have died at the hands of police. “We should understand that lethal force is a last resort.”
More must be done to rid the country of “the hundreds of hate groups who can exist all over this country, groups that exist for one purpose alone and that is to foment … hatred against African Americans, or gays, or immigrants or jews — people who are different than them,” Sanders said.
“Justice Department should be much more active,” he said.
He also decried Republican attempts to roll back the Voting Rights Act. He said officials “trying to prevent people from voting … are nothing less than political cowards.”
Meanwhile, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said the senator met privately with several African American pastors and community leaders Friday about racial issues.
Sanders’ is scheduled to hold two more events in South Carolina today. He will be in Sumter at 11 a.m. and in Charleston at 7 p.m.