As one of the few presidential candidates to trek to California for a rally, not to raise money, Bernie Sanders roused a capacity crowd at Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on Monday by railing against what he called a “rigged” economy.
The Vermont senator, an independent running for the Democratic nomination, has drawn the biggest crowds of any candidate so far in this campaign. He said that more than 27,000 people showed up to hear him speak — a campaign spokesman said the arena held 17,500; others waited outside and were to get an audio feed of his speech.
“This is an economy which is rigged, designed to benefit the people at the top,” said Sanders, whose voice initially sounded hoarse before it soon improved as he emphatically delivered a speech that stretched to almost an hour.
“We have a message for the billionaire class, and that message is you can’t have it all,” he said to the crowd, many of whom were in their 20s and 30s.
Sarah Silverman introduced Sanders, telling the crowd, “His moral compass and sense of values inspires me. He always seems to be on the right side of history. It takes a very brave and very empathetic and very visionary person to do that.”
“Where other candidates are getting gigantic sums of money from billionaires, in exchange for compromising things, Bernie is not for sale,” she added.
(She also referred to the Koch Brothers, a frequent target of the evening, as the ‘the Cock Brothers.’)
The venue was the site of the 1960 Democratic National Convention, where John F. Kennedy secured the nomination.
Sanders called for a “grassroots political revolution” to push through a progressive agenda that includes pay equity, free college tuition at public universities, at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and single-payer healthcare.
On Saturday, two Black Lives Matter protesters took the stage at a rally in Seattle and refused to let Sanders have the microphone. He eventually left, and appeared at a larger event later in the day.
There was no such incident at the L.A. rally. The candidate, in his remarks, said, “There is no president who will fight harder to end institutional racism than I will.” Other speakers included Dante Harris, LAX local president of the Assn. of Flight Attendants-CWA, which has been pushing for a new contract with United Airlines.
A theme of his populist speech was the influence of money in politics. Although Sanders has, like other contenders, come to Los Angeles to raise money (at two fund raisers), he did not do so on this trip.
“As a woman, of course the first thought as a Democrat is ‘Oh, we are going to support Hillary,” said Kerry Allen, a student affairs officer at UCLA who brought her 14-year-old daughter, Katie. “But you know, he can’t be bought, and that is really important to me to get money out of elections. And I believe him when he says, he can’t be bought.”
She contrasted Sanders’ approach to the campaign to that of Hillary Clinton.
“We were coming [in] and wondering, ‘Would Hillary do something like this?” Well, first of all, she’s not worried about getting California’s vote. Secondly, I could see her doing a $500-a-plate dinner instead of doing some big thing.”
Clinton was in Los Angeles last week, and did have a public event, a roundtable at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Later in the day, she attended a fundraiser at the home of Scooter Braun, manager to Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.
In his speech, Sanders did not mention Clinton by name, even as his message was critical of such things as the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act during President Bill Clinton’s term.
Among those attending was actress Frances Fisher, wearing a “F— Politics. Vote Bernie” T-shirt.
“He’s been saying the same thing since the beginning of his campaign, whereas other people in the party keep changing their message depending on which way the wind blows,” she said.
“Bernie is very solid in what he is saying, and he has added certain issues when people have brought them to his attention,” she added. “I just believe what he is saying, because he says what I am feeling and I am thinking, and he puts voice to that.”
Update: Members of Black Lives Matter did not open the rally; members of Sanders campaign, speaking about the movement, did. Information was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.