Metro, News

At Providence event, students rally for Sanders

Rhode Island Students for Bernie brings guest speakers to Columbus Theatre

By and
Metro Editor and Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The R.I. Students for Bernie kickoff rally attracted an audience of about 200 to the Columbus Theatre, where several guest speakers addressed supporters Tuesday night. Speakers included activist and author Linda Sarsour and President and Co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy Jennifer Epps-Addison.

Some students piled onto RIPTA buses; others braced the evening chill to walk or bike. More made the trip in cars from across southern Rhode Island or neighboring Massachusetts. And yet, the large, diverse and passionate crowd that filed into the Columbus Theatre in downtown Providence Tuesday night for the Rhode Island Students for Bernie Kickoff Rally arrived driven by a similar message: This is not about one man — it is about a movement.

“When Bernie Sanders is in the White House,” said Linda Sarsour, one of the event’s guest speakers, drawing booming applause, “we are all in the White House.”

Sarsour, a political activist, author and Sanders surrogate offered impassioned words of support for Democratic candidate for president Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his decades-long career of fighting for the rights of marginalized people, while still insisting: “It’s not about me following Bernie Sanders, it’s about being a part of a political revolution.”

The event was organized by Rhode Island Students for Bernie, a volunteer-led, grassroots effort working to support Sen. Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Tuesday night’s crowd was a testament to Sanders’ ability to inspire and mobilize, said Jack Doughty ’22, a member of Brown Students for Bernie. “This is a symbol of what this movement means,” he said to the 200-person audience in the opening address of the night, “to our cities, our towns, our families, our country.”

Sanders has captured the support of young people and progressives in the Ocean State, receiving endorsements from the Sunrise Movement, the Democratic Socialists of America and a slew of current and former progressive politicians — among them Aaron Regunberg ’12, former state representative.

“As youth knowing that we are going to inherit a society, a political culture (and) a physical environment that is being decimated by corporate greed,” Doughty told The Herald, “we have an obligation to fight against systems of oppression that are forcing us as a society into these corners.”

This was a theme that dominated the event: the importance of grassroots coalition-building in working toward a just and equitable society.

Jennifer Epps-Addison, another of the event’s guest speakers, is the president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, an American advocacy group that promotes progressive politics. Her group endorsed Sanders early last month.

“There is a lot at stake,” Epps-Addison told the crowd. “But it is precisely because of the urgency of this moment that doing the hard work of movement-building becomes important.”

Epps-Addison spoke in lieu of Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton, who was unable to attend the event due to illness.

“Real change is never going to come from within the halls of Congress,” said Ben Bienstock ’20, an organizer with Brown Students for Bernie.

“Bernie understands that the power should reside with working people,” he added, “and that real change can only happen when people join together in a mass movement and take inequality and aggression head on.”

Doughty emphasized the importance of involving students from universities across Rhode Island to achieve a network capable of winning an election. “We are using this event as an opportunity to build a network of student activists around the state to elect Bernie Sanders president, and to deliver on leftist progressive policies,” said Doughty.

One of these policies that was brought up frequently during the event was “Medicare for All” which has become one of the key pillars of the Sanders campaign.

Ricky Zhong ’23, a member of Brown Students for Bernie, isolated Sanders’ health care policies like “Medicare for All” as one of the main sources of his support. “This is the third country I’ve lived in and I’ve seen a lot of things. When I lived back in Canada we had universal health care. … The concept of medical bankruptcy is completely foreign to me.”

Tuesday’s event follows a kickoff rally for Sanders, also hosted at the Columbus Theatre, Jan. 11. The venue was provided free of charge. Admittance was free but donations were collected to help offset the cost of the event.

The rally came less than a week before the Iowa caucuses, which will be held Feb. 3.

A CNN/SSRS poll released last week found Sanders leading former Vice President Joe Biden nationwide, 27 percent to 24 percent. Sanders won the 2016 Democratic primary in Rhode Island, garnering 54.7 percent of the vote and beating Hillary Clinton.

Regardless of Sanders’ recent gains in the polls, Sarsour believes it is still important for Bernie supporters to be fighting as hard as ever. “Winning is not enough,” said Sarsour. “We need a mandate.”

Despite the location of the event, the focus was not on the Rhode Island primary, at least not yet. Ocean State Democrats will head to the polls on April 28 for the Rhode Island Democratic primary.

Before, during and after the event, organizers implored volunteers to sign up for canvassing in New Hampshire, which will hold its crucial Democratic primary election on Feb. 11. “We need people to get on buses,” Alex Gourevitch, assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, told the audience. “If not you,” he asked, “who?”

Some 100 people from the event signed up to knock on doors, Doughty told The Herald.

At the end of her address, Epps-Addison led the audience in a call and repeat chant which captured the vibrancy, conviction and urgency of many who spoke and attended: “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!”

One Comment

  1. I think the university paper should never, never be a mouthpiece for a single presidential candidate. Why was this permitted to be published? This false “story” is just free advertising for one candidate. Real journalism would require the same incredibly embarrassing one-sided coverage for each presidential candidate— so where are those? Um… Hey “reporters” there might be (clearly) hundreds of millions of people who do not support an ancient white man who has achieved NOTHING in the Senate and gleefully destroyed the chances of the first female president. That you report actual members of Brown university departments by name makes Brown responsible for this embarrassing “journalism.” Shall we hear about all of the other campaigns in the same way? I look forward to seeing all of those equally fawning and one-sided “Reports”.

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