By Libby Allen and Alexandra Werner-Winslow
BU News Service
More than 20,000 people packed into the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center Saturday night to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who had energy to spare after attending a smaller rally that morning in Springfield.
“I don’t need a Super PAC,” Sanders said, gesturing to a crowd that exceeded stadium capacity by several thousand.
With a team of nearly 300 volunteers, the rally was one of Sanders’ largest to date; a spokesperson for Boston for Bernie estimated that, in addition to the thousands inside the event, there were as many as 8,000 people listening in an overflow area outside.
Jameson Brown, a 26-year-old from Jamaica Plain, was impressed by the spirit of the crowd, which dotted the packed stadium floor with homemade signs.
“The energy that’s coming in, it’s interesting to see that towards a non-traditional candidate,” Brown said.
Sanders’ call for reforms to health care, education, criminal justice and climate change were welcome fare for the progressive crowd. In standard fashion, he made income inequality the centerpiece of his 90-minute speech, calling the minimum wage an untenable “starvation wage.”
“Wages in America are just too damn low,” Sanders said. “[The minimum wage is] a level of income that nobody can survive on.”
But Sanders was not without critics Saturday night. Kalsey Flynn, an attendee at Saturday’s rally who works in higher education, said she is skeptical of his proposal to make four-year colleges and universities tuition-free.
“Completely free isn’t as accessible as people think it is,” said Flynn. “I’ve worked in colleges both in the U.S. and abroad, and I don’t think we can support our infrastructure with completely free tuition at public universities.”
Nonetheless, Sanders’ comments about youth unemployment and student debt drew some of the loudest cheers from an already raucous crowd, which one rally volunteer estimated to be roughly 70 percent students.
In addition to appeals to his younger followers, Sanders remarks also catered to Massachusetts’ labors unions. Jim O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, Local 589, was one of several Boston-area speakers to warm up the crowd before Sanders’ remarks.
“I’m tired of politicians saying one thing to get elected, then turning around and screwing us over,” O’Brien said.
Sanders’ campaign has unabashedly focused on a leftist progressive policy that he’s been championing for years in the House and the Senate, which some have criticized as radical and socialist. But Sanders didn’t seem to mind Saturday night–closing his address, he got right to the point: “Welcome to the revolution,” he said.