Monday, January 18, 2016

Bernie Sanders MLK Day Birmingham Rally Draws Thousands, Overflows Into the Streets

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday observed the holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by touring the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The senator stopped beside a plain marker along the side of the church commemorating four girls who were killed in a 1963 bomb blast at the church where King often preached.

“The vision he had for the future in many ways remains unfulfilled,” Sanders said. “If we are serious about remembering his legacy, we will continue the fight for racial justice, economic justice and for a nation in which all people live with dignity. We still have a long way to go.” Sanders also stopped at the Civil Rights Institute, a museum where he touched the bars of the Birmingham jail cell where King was held.

Sanders later addressed a packed nighttime rally at Birmingham’s Boutwell Auditorium. There were 5,700 supporters jammed inside. Another 1,400 braved unusual sub-freezing weather to watch on a jumbo TV in an overflow area outside. 

“There must be a mistake. Somebody told me Alabama is a conservative state,” Sanders said to loud cheers. In his remarks at the rally, Sanders also invoked the memory of King. “To truly honor Dr. King we must fight to carry out his radical and bold vision for America. He saw the relationship between racism and economics and war. That was his courage.”

At one point in the evening Sanders proudly emphasized that the average donation from his supporters is $27. Though a diverse crowd, there was a noticeable preponderance of Millennials who answered his calls for student loan relief and tuition free college with extra vigorous cheering and applause, many yelling "We love you Bernie" to which he replied "I love you too."

Near the end of the rally Sen. Sanders stopped his speech and hushed the room, taking a ten minute break to allow paramedics to tend to a spectator who collapsed in the standing room only crowd.  The room came together in cheers as the person was able to stand and walk out of the main area. Senator Sanders urged members of the crowd to call for water or to be led to a seat if they needed attention as the unexpected influx of supporters stuffed the venue to overflowing.
Sanders finished the night by laying out the key elements of his platform which include single payer healthcare, tuition free public universities and a $15 minimum wage.