As voters went to the polls in South Carolina, and with Super Tuesday looming on March 1, about 300 people rallied for Bernie Sanders in downtown Oakland on Saturday.
Local group SambaFunk provided a pulsating drum soundtrack as Sanders supporters, many with children, rallied at Frank Ogawa Plaza before marching to a CitiBank branch to call attention to Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street donations.
Held at the same location as the Occupy Oakland protests of 2011, Saturday’s rally also focused on income equality and the needs of the poor and working class.
Luci Riley of National Nurses United told the crowd that by re-framing the debate, the Sanders campaign had already won. Issues such as a $15 minimum wage, crippling student loan debt and police brutality are now getting increased attention thanks to Sanders, Riley said.
“Our agenda was to re-frame the debate for the coronated one,” she said, presumably referring to Clinton, “and to put [these issues] on the platform of any candidate who wanted to run in our name.”
The Oakland rally was organized by #Movement4Bernie, a campaign run by the group Socialist Alternative. The group, which advocates for an end to capitalism, is supporting Sanders.
In addition, the rally was specifically billed as “family friendly,” with a sign-making station for kids and a “kids contingent” leading the march. Organizer Erin Brightwell of Socialist Alternative asked attendees to commit to a non-violent rally, which they did, by a show of hands. She said having a non-violent, family-friendly march was important to her.
“Oakland has gotten a reputation of being a radical city, in a lot of good ways, but I know that there are some people who get scared about marching in Oakland,” she said. “They think there’s going to be police, and kids in black masks breaking stuff, and it’s going to be dangerous. I wanted to make sure this march had a theme of being for families, safe for all people to come out.”
Two of the speakers at the rally were fifth graders: twin sisters Katya and Frida Schiesser of Alameda. Katya spoke of housing costs. “All over America, kids and their parents can’t afford rent,” she told the crowd. “People don’t just lose their homes, they lose their community, friends, neighbors, schools and lots of other things.”
Her sister Frida added, “If Bernie becomes president, we will have a great future.”
Bernard, 27, of Oakland, who declined to give his last name, showed up to the rally wearing a red, white and blue headband, Bernie T-shirt, short-shorts, and American flag socks and backpack. He thought Sanders would be at the rally, but wasn’t too disappointed when he found that wasn’t the case, saying Sanders is “always here, in my heart.”
Bernard said he and his friends have been supporting Sanders with small financial contributions. “We all make small donations when we can,” he said. “We’re all like, ‘We can skip breakfast, if we can donate like seven bucks.’ That’s what I do, seven bucks at a time.”
Kat, 21, who also declined to give her last name, said she and her friends stayed up all night making signs with poster board and markers, and traveled to the rally from Napa Valley. One of the signs highlighted Sanders support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. Kat said she identifies as genderqueer, her friends are transgendered, and she feels Sanders has been more consistent on LGBT issues than Clinton.
Kat said Hillary Clinton had previously supported the Defense of Marriage Act, referring to the 1996 law signed by her husband, former president Bill Clinton, which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. “She’s very flip-floppy on these issues,” Kat said. “It doesn’t show consistency and I don’t feel like I can trust her.”
The Oakland rally, one of dozens held today for Sanders across the country, comes at a crucial juncture in the Democratic primary campaign. On Saturday, Clinton soundly defeated Sanders in North Carolina, winning large percentages of African-American voters. On Tuesday March 1, Democrats in 11 states and one territory will go to the polls, awarding 865 delegates in one day, dubbed “Super Tuesday.”
The states and territories with Democrats voting on Super Tuesday are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and American Samoa.