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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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South Bronx Backs Bernie at First Such Rally in Decades

BRONX, N.Y. (CN) - In a New York City borough where politicians rarely linger for more than photo opportunities, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders capped off an address to more than 18,000 supporters with a bold prediction about the upcoming primary here.

"If we win here in New York, we are going to make it to the White House," Sanders said at Saint Mary's Park in Mott Haven on Thursday night.

Rallies by major presidential candidates are a rarity in the Bronx - there was the night in 1984 Jesse Jackson spent at a housing project here - but Sanders emphasized he is not running a traditional fundraising operation.

"We want a government that represents all of us, not wealthy campaign contributors," said Sanders, whose campaign announced later that night that it pulled in a whopping $43 million haul in March.

The senator estimated the average donation size per donor at $27, a statistic so familiar to his supporters that the crowd chanted it back with him.

"We want a campaign-finance system that is not corrupt," the senator shouted. "We want an economy that is not rigged. We want a criminal justice system that is not broken. We are determined that instead of spending trillions of dollars on a war in Iraq that we never should have gotten into, we are going to reinvest in the South Bronx and in communities all over this country."

Sanders has regularly slammed the current Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton for voting for that war during her first term as a New York senator.

Though Clinton's political career made some observers perceive a home-field advantage for her in New York, Sanders opened his remarks here Thursday night by reminding the crowd where he perfected his much-celebrated accent.

"As you know, I am the very proud United States senator from Vermont, but I am very proud that I was born here in New York City, that my wife was born in Brooklyn, N.Y.," Sanders said.

"My father came to this country at the age of 17 from Poland without a nickel in his pocket," he continued. "We lived in a three-and-a-half room, rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn. So, I learned a little bit about what it means to grow up in a family that has no money, and I also learned a bit about the immigrant experience. Those experiences I will never forget."

New York's primary on April 19 is a crucial contest for Sanders, who has narrowed the gap for pledged delegates - now 980 to Clinton's 1,243 - with landslide routs last week in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington.

Meanwhile, the most recent poll of the Empire State, released by Quinnipiac on Wednesday, shows Sanders whittled away what was once a 40-percent deficit to now only 12 points.

To pull off a come-from-behind victory, Sanders will have to dispel the notion that he performs poorly with Latino and especially black voters, who voted for Clinton overwhelmingly in the Deep South.

The senator's celebrity backers - filmmaker Spike Lee, actress Rosario Dawson and musician Rene Perez Joglar - said that the thousands of supporters showing up in the Bronx show the diversity of the Sanders coalition.


"Apparently, y'all are white," Dawson joked. "I might be having issues with my eyes."

Dawson, who has Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, has never been shy about using her movie-star platform to make a bold political stand. She got arrested protesting President George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention, and recently criticized her fellow Latina icon Dolores Huerta, for what she perceived as an unfair criticism of Sanders.

True to form, Dawson did not hold back about Clinton for suggesting earlier that day that Sanders did not take abortion rights seriously.

"Shame on you, Hillary!" Dawson scolded.

Clinton had knocked Sanders for recently telling CNN that it should focus on "serious issues" when a reporter asked him about Trump's outlandish - and since retracted - comments that women who have abortions should be "punished."

"To me, this is a serious issue," she reportedly told a crowd in Purchase, N.Y., earlier that day. "And it's a very serious discussion."

Calling Clinton's remarks "very misleading and divisive," Dawson said Sanders had been referring to the $1.9 billion in free media Trump receives for his outrageous rhetoric, citing a New York Times report.

To counteract this imbalance, Dawson called for a sit-in in front of CNN's Los Angeles headquarters.

"They're working against us, right now," she said of the cable network, which did not broadcast the rally.

Hitting a hot-button issue in the Bronx, Dawson roasted Clinton for her silence as a senator on the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy, which targeted 2 million people - mostly black and Latino - while she was in office from 2000 to 2006.

Despite his politically charged films, Spike Lee gave a far sunnier message, peppered with jokes and local color.

"This is the great thing about New York City: its diversity," said Lee, who sported what appeared to be a Civil War Union soldier cap, except without the intersecting rifles. "Look around. This is what makes us the greatest city on this earth and the Bronx, home of the 27-time world champion New York Yankees."

Underneath the loud cheers that followed, Lee heard some dissension in the ranks.

"Are those Mets fans booing?" he quipped. "I thought we were supposed to be unified up here!"

Perez Joglar, the Puerto Rican rapper from Calle 13, best known as Residente, gave a far more somber speech about U.S. colonialism on his home island, and meddling throughout Latin America.

Calling Puerto Rico the world's oldest colony and an "experimental island," Residente blasted U.S. Naval bomb testing and operations on the island of Vieques between 1941 and 2003, which ended under the recommendation of former President Bill Clinton.

A debt crisis ravages Puerto Rico today, exacerbated by a U.S. law that prevents the island's municipalities from declaring Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

"We are currently having an unprecedented economic crisis and have the highest rates of poverty and unemployment of any other place in the U.S., yet the U.S. government does not even allow us to restructure our debt," Residente said.

Both Democratic candidates support fixing the bankruptcy law, but Residente said he supports Sanders for speaking about the crisis early on - and also opposing brutal U.S. interventionism in South America.

"I support Bernie Sanders because he has spoken out against those Latin American dictatorships financed by the United States which left more than half a million dead or disappeared," Residente said, naming Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala and Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina.

The crowd booed as Residente said Clinton "dared to praise the likes of Henry Kissinger," the former secretary of state whom Sanders has criticized throughout the campaign trail and whom Residente called an "architect" of such regimes.

"I'm not with her," the musician thundered, flipping Clinton's campaign slogan. "It will represent an insult to consider yourself Latin American and vote for her, not just an insult to oneself but for the many victims who suffer from this history, an insult to the children who lost the parents and grandparents."

Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, who also endorsed Sanders, told the crowd that his district has the highest Puerto Rican population in the United States outside of San Juan.

According to City-Data.com, more than 74 percent of people in the zip code where the rally took place are Hispanic, and 22 percent are black. Signs throughout the rally announced support from ¡Mexicanos Para Bernie!, Puerto Ricans 4 Bernie Sanders and Muslims for Bernie, among other groups.

The rally filled both the field where Sanders spoke and an overflow field of supporters who watched via live-stream broadcast.

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