Bernie Sanders started Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday marching in Columbia, South Carolina, in solidarity with people celebrating the civil rights activist’s birthday. Later that same day, Sanders traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, where he spoke to an overflow crowd of at least 7,100 people at Boutwell Auditorium.
Bernie seemed pleased with the turnout and joked with rally-goers.
“There must be some mistake. Somebody told me Alabama is a conservative state.”
Inside the auditorium in Birmingham, 5,700 supporters packed inside to listen to him speak. Outside, another 1,400 watched a jumbo TV in an overflow area outside, despite freezing weather.
And on a day when people around the nation are celebrating Dr. King’s legacy, many forget that the leader of the Civil Rights movement was actually a democratic socialist who called for better wealth distribution. King also criticized the U.S.’s version of socialism, characterizing the country’s unfair treatment as “socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”
Look closely at the philosophies of both Dr. King and Bernie Sanders, and you will see similarities. And people are starting to take notice. Since the day that Sanders walked on Washington and heard MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, he has worked tirelessly for the advancement of the middle class, the poor, and minorities. Dr. King, however, had a more radical approach than Sanders, whose campaign platform is embraced by a significant portion of young voters.
According to History News Network, democratic socialism has “deep roots” in America. Programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and public schools are evidence of the United States’ acceptance of socialist programs that are meant to provide services equally to those who need them.
Before the rally, Bernie Sanders stopped at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, where four little girls were killed in 1963 after a bomb went off. Dr. King often preached here, so it is also a significant landmark for that reason, too.
Later, Sanders visited a jail in Birmingham and then stood outside at a podium and spoke to a crowd of people gathered to see him.
“The vision he had for the future in many ways remains unfulfilled. If we are serious about remembering his legacy, we will continue the fight for racial justice, economic justice and for a nation in which all people live with dignity. We still have a long way to go.”
A 2013 story in American Prospect narrates the story of how socialists made the 1963 March on Washington happen.
“…the challenge confronting African-Americans was always two-fold: to tear down the legal edifice of segregation that imperiled and degraded Southern blacks, to remake the American economy into a more egalitarian social democracy under which — and only under which — black Americans could actually prosper.”
On the r/SandersForPresident subreddit of news aggregator Reddit, user u/MisterTito wrote about his experience seeing Bernie speak at the Birmingham rally.
“I was there tonight. I’m 37, and this is the first presidential rally I’ve ever been to or heard a candidate speak in person. So maybe my impression is formed by inexperience with hearing these speeches in person, but Sanders’ plans sound really cohesive when you can hear him uninterrupted…
Cornel West was also very impressive. He was great at going on the attack in ways that Sanders won’t…he talked about how Hillary said she’d met MLK in 1962, but yet she was campaigning for Goldwater in 1964…The overflow crowd that could not get in, reportedly about 1,700 people, were directed to the park across the street from the venue. Sanders went out and addressed them before he made his speech inside at the rally. Pretty gracious of him.”
Those in attendance in Birmingham came from all over the state, with some attendees coming in from neighboring states Georgia and Mississippi. Another person on the same Reddit thread had traveled to Birmingham from Mississippi. He described how Bernie Sanders handled a woman passing out from the heat in the audience.
“I was there! It was great! Unfortunately the heat in the place was pretty high, one poor woman passed out. Bernie stopped for about 10 minutes to make sure she was OK and then came back with ‘and so that brings me to healthcare.’ I love this man.”
While the Birmingham event did show that the majority of the people at his rally were white and young, he continues to make inroads with the black community. Of particular help are rapper Killer Mike, Ohio Democrat Nina Turner, and prominent professor and activist Dr. Cornel West. Bernie Sanders understands he has a long, uphill battle to gain a foothold in the South, where most black voters support Hillary Clinton. As the number of his supporters continues to climb, Bernie’s campaign remains hopeful that he can attract more minorities voters to his side. And Birmingham is just a start.
[Photo: Hal Yeager/Getty]