The first student-led political rally of the year took place yesterday, and it was held in support of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Nearly 250 students came out to the Student Union Mall, the lawn behind the Student Union, to listen to student speakers articulate their reasons for backing Sanders. Information about voting and voter registration forms were also dispensed, as well as email lists to try to gather volunteers to campaign for Sanders.
The event was run by Students for Bernie Sanders. The group is technically unofficial.
The rally began at 5:15 p.m., after stickers, signs, and issue pamphlets had been handed out. Students assembled in a semi-circle to hear their peers speak.
Bennett Cognato, vice president of Students for Bernie Sanders and a 7th-semester political science major, opened the event with a short explanation of the program for the evening, before introducing the president of Students for Bernie Sanders, 5th-semester political science major Daniel Byrd.
Byrd said the event's numerous date and time changes may have had something to do with the smaller-than-expected student turnout, before launching into a spirited, surrogate Sanders stump speech.
Repeating the line “We need a president who,” Byrd addressed and championed Sanders’ positions on raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare for all citizens, free public higher education for all citizens, immigration reform, income inequality, reduced military spending, global warming, and Sanders’ aversion to big money.
One of the biggest cheers of the night was when Byrd said, “We need a president who’s gonna get serious about the issue of global warming.”
Haadiyah Ali, a 3rd-semester political science and Africana studies double major, was the next student guest speaker. Ali spoke eloquently on the issue of race.
“If you didn’t notice, I’m kind of black, and Bernie Sanders is the only president in this election who cares about black people,” Ali said. “If we are going to have a country, a diverse country, where black and brown children can grow up and not be shot in the streets, Bernie Sanders has to be the next president of the United States.”
This statement was met with huge approval from the collected students. Ali also praised Sanders’ positions on demilitarizing police forces, ending the war on drugs, and the pay gap between black women and white men.
“Political violence against black and brown bodies in this country is tradition… Bernie Sanders is here to start a new tradition,” Ali concluded.
The next speaker was Arianna Dines. Another member of Students for Bernie Sanders, Dines talked about her personal experience of getting excited for Sanders’ candidacy on campus and about women’s issues.
The formal part of the event ended, but students stuck around to take pictures, chat about Bernie Sanders, and register to vote.
Tim Marcinek, a 5th-semester classics and Mediterranean studies major, talked about why he came to the rally.
“Most of the things I’ve heard from Bernie Sanders are from social media, and I want to experience something first hand, I want to ‘Feel the Bern,’” Marcinek said. “His ideas seem like something you don’t see in mainstream media. Mainstream media doesn’t want to cover Bernie Sanders because Bernie is totally against mainstream anything.”
There were scores of pro-Sanders signs in the crowd, as well as signs supporting LGBTQ rights and immigration reform. One sign read “Support Sanders because we cannot continue to be a country where millions of undocumented immigrants are made so vulnerable because of their immigration status. No more for profit detention centers.”
The woman holding that sign was Allison Martinez-Carrasco, a 5th-semester urban and community studies major.
“I really do like that he is someone who puts a humane perspective to the fact that there are millions of undocumented immigrants in this country,” Martinez-Carrasco said. “I think it’s about time we have a president that passes comprehensive immigration reform for every undocumented immigrant in this country…I’m here because I’m ready for a president in this country that actually gives a damn about the undocumented immigrant population. I’m one of them, and I’m sick of waiting.”
An Eastern Connecticut State University student, Scott Manierre, was also at the event.
“My friend called me and asked me if I wanted to ‘Feel the Bern,’” Manierre said. “I’ve seen Bernie on a couple YouTube videos and he’s really got some good beliefs in him, and I support most of his ideas.”
UConn chants and chants to “Feel the Bern” rang out towards the end of the event on the Student Union Mall. Two Trump supporters were vocally in attendance, but were laughed away.
After the 40-minute rally ended, some students hung around to talk, others went to their next activity. Students for Bernie Sanders members were satisfied. Students at the rally were energized. It wasn’t as big as it was supposed to be, but it felt important.
“I think the rally went spectacular,” Byrd said. “I think the people that were here were super involved and super excited to get involved at the next events that we have. We had a good turnout, so many signs and buttons and stickers, we had Fox CT come, UCTV come, WHUS – I don’t know if this could’ve gone better."
Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.