On the surface, you wouldn’t expect Bernie Sanders to excite the college crowd. He’s a 73-year-old white man who, after 25 years in Congress, has earned a reputation as a serious-minded policy wonk.
However, at Friday night’s Sanders Town Meeting at The Medallion Center, the crowd was full of college students.
Consistently, across the nation, Sanders has been exciting millennials and young people, and though a lot of his platform has special appeal to the college voting bloc — especially his initiative to make public universities tuition-free — there’s a more fundamental answer: he’s a self-professed revolutionary.
“What I am calling for is not just your support; I am asking you to be part of a political revolution. A revolution which transforms our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally,” Sanders said.
A Sanders rally is not a comforting affair. Sanders believes that there are deep, institutional issues in this nation, and for one and a half hours, he outlined them in detail.
Sanders touched on immigration reform, health care, climate change and more, but most of the issues discussed tied back to his core issue: income inequality.
“We’re living in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, but most Americans … don’t feel that because they’re too busy working two or three jobs when almost all of the new income and wealth is going to the top one percent,” Sanders said.
That’s the part one of Sanders’ pitch, but what makes him so exciting to his supporters – what turns town halls into spirited rallies — is his call to action.
“Whether they like it or not, their greed is going to end, because we are going to end it for them,” Sanders said.
USC Students for Bernie Sanders, the university's pro-Sanders volunteer organization, attended the event. The group plans to reach out to other student organizations to spread Sanders' message and to push voter registration on campus. Laura Godenick, fourth-year psychology student and member of the group, praised his moral center.
"I think a huge reason why students are really excited about Bernie is he is honest and he is moral. You don’t see that a lot in politics," Godenick said.
Adam Wolf, fourth-year psychology and French student, was an undecided Democratic party supporter there to see what his options are.
"I think everyone here is convinced that we all want to make a change, but we’re still waiting to see if it’s possible," Wolf said.
The crowd, as a whole, was enthusiastic even as the crowded room grew uncomfortably hot. Sanders' message of getting money out of politics resonated, prompting cheers when he said he wouldn’t use SuperPACS and boos when he mentioned Citizens United.
“We have a situation where one family, the Koch brothers, the second wealthiest family in America, is prepared to spend 900 million dollars in this election cycle,” Sanders said. “When you have one family spending more than either political party, that is not democracy. That is oligarchy.”
Sanders also spoke out against police brutality, simultaneously saying cops have a hard job but must be held accountable when they break the law. From his perspective, the best police are a part of the community, not militarized.
After being interrupted by Black Lives Matter protestors in Seattle, Sanders has been vocal about fighting institutional racism. His press secretary, Symone Sanders, opened the topic for him in a brief speech before Sanders took the stage.
“Economic inequality and racial inequality are parallel issues that must be dealt with simultaneously,” she said.
Sanders spoke to a packed house — the venue was filled to capacity at 2,700 and overflowed into the next room and the lobby. Though Sanders was angry and frustrated at the state of the nation, he kept coming back to a message of hope. He can’t do it alone, he stressed, saying his supporters have the power to make lasting change.
"It gives young people power," Godenick said of his message. "It makes us feel like we can make a difference. It makes us feel like we have some sort of control over our future."
Sanders called for a coalition across age, race, religion and sexual orientation.
“If we stand together as a nation … there is nothing that, together, we cannot accomplish,” he said.