Bernie Sanders is an optimist, albeit a pragmatic one. When watching one of his recent rallies, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and passion of his message. And why not? This is a man who chooses to see the best of humanity while understanding the inner workings of the worst.
Despite close losses on Tuesday in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio, Bernie Sanders continues to inspire and fire up supporters who often implore him to run as an independent should Hillary get the Democratic nomination.
His rally audience in Seattle was diverse — middle-aged men in jeans and plain shirts, grandmothers in floral sweatshirts, young adult males in full beards, and young women with tongue piercings.
Seattle station KIRO reports the crowd at Key Arena exceeded 17,300 on Sunday, and judging by the video of the event, it was fairly diverse. That speaks to his wide appeal in Western states where he holds an advantage over his rival, Hillary Clinton.
Displaying his sense of humor, Sanders reminded the vast crowd inside the arena that not long ago, same-sex marriage was still an unimaginable goal.
“Ten years ago, if somebody jumped and said, ‘I think that gay marriage will be legal in 50 states in the year 2015,’ the person next to them would’ve said, ‘You are nuts, what are you smoking?'”
Later, his attention segued to the various minorities: African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. In recent days during his tour of the American West, he has met with various tribal leaders to discuss issues unique to indigenous people in the U.S. In Arizona, he addressed the tragic reality of many who live on and off reservations.
Sanders called out the U.S. government for its deplorable treatment of Native American tribes throughout the nation’s history. It’s a topic he’s mentioned before, and one which he’s made a prominent issue of late.
“From the first day that settlers came to this country, the Native American people have been lied to. They have been cheated, and negotiated treaties have been broken. We owe the Native American people so, so much.”
Western states such as Arizona and Washington have high populations of Native Americans. His words and actions have resonated with a large portion of tribal nations, resulting in several recent endorsements by prominent Indian leaders, such as Navajo president Russell Begaye, who said that Sanders is the only president who seems to take indigenous issues seriously.
In Phoenix, Sanders called on the United States government to return sacred lands back to Native Americans. His Senate bill, Save the Oak Flat Act, acknowledges how the federal government, yet again, has attempted to strip Native tribes of their birthrights and sacred grounds.
In Arizona, he spoke of the tragedies that often befall indigenous people on a much larger and more frequent scale than they do other populations.
“Today in America, one in four Native Americans are living in poverty, and the high school graduation rate is 67 percent, the lowest of any racial demographic group. The second leading cause of death for Native Americans between 15 and 24 is suicide. And that speaks to incredible despair.”
“One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. Most of the offenders are non-Native. Most of the programs dedicated to the tribal nations are underfunded. That has led to inadequate housing, inadequate health care, inadequate education, and insufficient law enforcement.”
“Today, Native Americans have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of uninsured than the population at large, and even those who have health coverage have difficulty accessing the healthcare that they need.”
Bernie Sanders is poised to perform well in Western states on the next Super Tuesday. Washington, Arizona, Idaho, and Utah all look favorable for the progressive Vermont senator as his message continues to resonate with large swaths of the American population.
[Photo: Matt Mills McKnight/Getty Images]