COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (CN) – Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was joined by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as he stumped on the campus of Iowa Western Community College to spread his messages of solidarity across regions, remaking the economy from the top down and addressing crises in health care and global warming.
As one would expect when appearing with the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, the message the two delivered touted the nation’s ability to transform political and economic systems to benefit all citizens, particularly those who have been denied an opportunity to improve their lives.
Much of the night was focused on unifying the disparate factions and different regions of the nation, including assertions that the efforts of President Donald Trump to “divide people up” is the reason why the first-term Republican will not win re-election.
“People sometimes say Alexandria and I are an odd couple,” Sanders joked. “That’s okay, I’m not ageist. Diversity is what makes us great. That is something Trump and his friends will never be able to tear apart. We become more human when my family cares about your family, and your family cares about my family.”
Sanders, a senator from Vermont, delivered his refrain to over 2,400 supporters about what the progressive platform offers Americans, from Medicare for All to cancelling student debt. But most of the night was dedicated to encouraging people to make changes in government and their lives.
“What this campaign is about is a new vision about what we are entitled to as human beings,” Sanders said. “When tens of millions of people stand up for justice, there is nothing the corporate elite can do to stop it.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed the senator in October before a crowd of 25,000 people in Queens, New York, alluded to how transformative this message can be. This week marks the one-year anniversary of her election to the House of Representatives. Until she took office, she was working as a bartender without insurance in New York City. Sanders’ unlikely success in the 2016 Democratic primary famously inspired her to run for Congress.
“I felt like I didn’t deserve a good life,” Ocasio-Cortez said of her earlier perspective. “In the wealthiest nation in the world, we can choose to become an advanced society. At the core, that’s the decision we need to make. Millions of Americans going without insurance is not a coincidence, this is a consequence of the system we have, one that prioritizes corporate profit at any and all human cost.”
On her first trip to Iowa, Ocasio-Cortez said she came because she wants to learn and grow as part of an effort to “stitch together” the nation.
“There’s a lot of talk about unity. I want something better. I want solidarity. I’ll fight for Iowa, if you in Iowa say you will fight for the Bronx,” she said.
The crowd was receptive to this message, as health care, corporate malfeasance and global warming were on the minds of those in attendance.
Ashlyn Plooster, a Native American woman who traveled from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota with her young son, said that the world is ready for change.
“Mother Earth is ready for change,” she emphasized, noting that she is a big fan of the Green New Deal. She has called herself a “Bernie fan” since he traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2016. Plooster was at that event and gushed about how she shook Sanders’ hand.
“He’s a role model,” Plooster said. “Getting Native American voices heard is important.”
Leah Mueggenberg of Omaha, Nebraska, said that her regrets about how the last presidential election turned out are what compelled her to attend the event. “I didn’t do much in 2016, but I want to do better,” she said. Sanders’ Medicare for All health care plan is the key issue for her.
Ryan Roenfeld of Glenwood, Iowa, is drawn to Sanders’ authenticity. “He’s not a corporate shill,” Roenfeld said. He was a county delegate for Sanders in 2016 and is still a supporter.
Like many other attendees, the presence of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a key motivation for Roenfeld to spend his Friday in a cramped community college gymnasium. He admitted that he did not think Ocasio-Cortez would help Sanders much with most voters in western Iowa – what is traditionally a conservative stronghold – but he likes how she’s “a pain in the butt” for corporations and her political opponents.
A Quinnipac University poll released Wednesday pegged the race in Iowa as a virtual four-way tie with three months to go before the first-in-the-nation caucuses. Senator Elizabeth Warren led with support from 20% of those polled, followed by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (19%), Sanders (17%) and former Vice President Joe Biden (15%). Sanders leads among those who identified as very liberal and those without a college education.
On Saturday, both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez will appear at the Climate Crisis Summit at Drake University in Des Moines, which also features author and environmentalist Naomi Klein and leaders from US Youth Climate Strike and the Sunrise Movement.