By Sofia Lynch
The lines snaked around Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Center parking lot, as approximately 9,000 people awaited Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ arrival on Presidents’ Day. With this being his first visit to Michigan in this election season, students alike were excited to hear his messages about income inequality, aggressive action to address the environment, and the need to restructure and reform campaigns.
“You are the future of the country. You’re not going to stand aside while a handful of campaign contributors determine the future,” Sanders stated when discussing campaign reform.
The mention of college tuition being eliminated and removing marijuana from the schedule 1 list of illegal controlled substances was responded to with an out pour enthusiasm from many attendees. The idea of $15 hourly minimum wage also didn’t disappoint.
Sanders encouraged everyone in the audience to vote for him in the primaries on March 8, and mentioned his previous landslide victory in New Hampshire.
“Our campaign has come a very long way in the last nine months. When we began, we were 30 points down in New Hampshire,” Sanders said. “Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. When we began, we were way down in Michigan, and it ain’t going to turn out that way, either.”
Sanders’ campaign has recently reached Ann Arborites directly through the opening of a campaign office on Packard Street earlier this year. Despite being a newer location, Sanders’ state campaign director, Ryan Hughes, says campaign efforts have been alive in Ann Arbor since January 2015.
There have been 100s of volunteers coming through the office – knocking on thousands of doors and making phone calls every night, Hughes said.
“Our efforts are focused on volunteer to voter contact,” Hughes said.
Sanders campaign office, as well as his recent visits to Michigan, have elicited excitement from the Ann Arbor community, and has drummed up many dedicated volunteers like 27-year-old Drew Hunter Clark. Clark trains phone callers and manages data, and also attended Sanders’ EMU rally, doing crowd control on the main floor.
“I think that a lot of people really do support Bernie Sanders, but sometimes they’ll forget, ‘Oh, Tuesday is the primary, and my vote counts’,” Clark said. “So our job is to make sure that those people who really do support Bernie, and that want to let their voice be heard, actually make it out.”
Clark pointed out how voter turnout has been low for Democrats at the primaries thus far this election season.
“We’re trying to make sure that all Americans are really involved in the political process because that’s really what democracy is about – it’s everyone’s voice, not just a passionate few, but all of us.”
From the numbers that poured into EMU’s Convocation Center, those passionate about Sanders were far from few. One WCC biology major, 20-year-old Tom Devine, was one of the many high-energy rally attendees.
“It’s a pretty big event,” Devine said. “It seemed like something I would look back on in 20 years and say, I went there… His ideas are big, some people may say they’re unrealistic, but if he could follow through with what he wants to do in this country that would be incredible.”
-Additional reporting by Madi Tortora