By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
Sen. Bernie Sanders stirred a crowd of thousands into a frenzy in downtown Missoula on Wednesday where he cast suspicion over the Democratic Party’s delegate process and accused corporate media of ignoring one of the largest grassroots movements in American politics.
Sanders, who took the stage at 12:35 p.m. in Caras Park, said the nation is ready for a political revolution, one that’s being fueled by a younger generation of voters.
“We need a government that represents all of us, not just the 1 percent,” he said, repeating one of his campaign’s primary themes. “The ideas that we are bringing forth, our vision for economic justice, social justice, racial justice, for environmental justice – that’s the future of this country.”
Sanders arrived in Missoula fresh off another victory in West Virginia, where he won 51 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 35 percent. He described West Virginia as a working-class state where people are putting in longer hours for lower wages.
Sanders drew a parallel to Montana and it’s own low-wages. During his campaign, the Vermont senator has advocated for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour – a line that drew sharp applause from the overflow crowd.
“What the people of West Virginia said last night – and what I believe the people of Montana will say on June 7 – is enough is enough,” Sanders said. “The same old establishment politics and establishment economics aren’t going to address the many crises we have, and they aren’t going to take us to where this great county needs to go.”
While his campaign is fighting an uphill climb in securing the Democratic nomination, Sanders said, the battle isn’t over. Eight states remain in the party’s primary, and with a strong turnout, he believes he will secure more pledged delegates than Clinton as the party’s convention heads to Philadelphia later this year.
Still, Sanders focused a portion of his speech on the delegate process, raising concern over the role party insiders play in politics.
“It’s a little bit weird that Secretary Clinton won support from 400 super delegates before anyone else got into the race,” Sanders said. “That’s the establishment talking, not the American people talking.”
Sanders also took aim at the corporate media, saying it hasn’t fairly covered the race despite his recent landslide victories in West Virginia and Indiana. But he doesn’t believe voters are daunted by what they hear on television.
“If you turn on the media, turn on the TV, they’re going to tell you the campaign is over, that Secretary Clinton has won,” Sanders said. “Apparently the people of Indiana and West Virginia didn’t get the message. I think that next week, two states that vote won’t get the message, and on June 7, when you vote, Montana will not get that message.”
Sanders also cited a new poll that found Clinton would likely defeat GOP front-runner Donald Trump by a 44 percent to 38 percent margin. The same poll shows Sanders defeating Trump 51 percent to 36 percent.
He urged his party’s delegates to pay attention.
“I’d say to those super delegates in states where we won landslide victories, listen to the people of your state,” Sanders said. “I say to every delegate going to Philadelphia for the Democratic convention, what’s most important is that Donald Trump not become president of the United States.”
The anticipation from Sanders’ supporters heading into Wednesday’s event was high. Local police, aided by the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Secret Service, had established tight security around the park.
Thousands waited hours to access Caras Park, with lines extending down Front Street and across the Orange Street Bridge. The venue was small and many failed to access the rally, despite traveling long distances to attend.
“I wanted to see Bernie – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see him speak live,” said Christine Harris, who traveled from Plains in hopes of attending. “I like that he’s pushing for women to get paid maternity leave. It’s one of the big things for me.”
Before Sanders took the stage, several local people took the microphone to energize the crowd. They included Bob Giordano, the director of Free Cycles and the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation.
“Sen. Sanders has been an inspiration, seeking solutions to climate change, political money, social justice for all walks of life,” Giordano said. “The policies coming out of (Washington) D.C. matter. Lets’ support the people who have the passion, determination and courage to put this country on the right track.”
Rebecca Holman had similar sentiments. At the podium, she recalled marching on Washington with the civil rights movement when she was 7 and finding inspiration when attending a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.
She placed Sanders in the same league, calling him a once-in-a-lifetime candidate.
“A leader like this comes along every so often in a lifetime – a leader that brings us together for a cause that is so core to our American values and heritage that all people matter, not just millionaires and billionaires,” said Holman. “You can all proudly say you are currently part of the biggest grassroots movement in U.S. history.”
Sanders opened his speech with a greeting to Montana. He marks the first presidential candidate from either party to visit the state during the 2016 election cycle.
“Thank you Missoula,” Sanders shouted. “What an honor to be in such a beautiful state, on such a beautiful day, and with such beautiful people. I want to thank all of you for being here, and for understanding in the depths of your hearts that this country needs a political revolution.”