Sanders, Omar rally thousands at the U + Photo Story


Sanders at Williams arena. Photo by Kori Suzuki ’21.

Abe Asher, Editor-In-Chief

The 2020 presidential campaign returned to Minnesota on Sunday night as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) rallied a raucous crowd of more than 10,000 at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota. 

Sanders’ visit, his second of the year, followed major events held by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who spoke on Macalester’s Shaw Field in August, and President Donald Trump, who spoke at the Target Center in October. 

This trip was set up for Sanders to appear with Omar — the 38-year-old first-term U.S. representative from Minneapolis whose immigrant background and outspokenness have made her a lightning rod during her short time in Congress. 

Omar formally endorsed Sanders on Oct. 15, the night of the last Democratic debate, followed shortly thereafter by her House colleagues Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich). 

Sanders held an event with Ocasio-Cortez in Queens, N.Y. two weekends ago and rallied with Tlaib in Detroit last weekend.

This weekend, it was Minneapolis’s turn. 

After a performance from Prince’s longtime backing band New Power Generation and a short speech from former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, Omar was introduced by her predecessor in Congress, current state attorney general Keith Ellison. 

“Together, we are going to send a powerful message with this president,” Omar told the crowd. “Your effort to coddle white supremacy, to ban Muslims from entering the United States, to call people at neo-Nazi rallies ‘very fine people,’ will fail.

“As a refugee who escaped war and persecution as a child, I am honored to stand with the son of a Jewish refugee who survived genocide,” she continued later. “The acknowledgement of pain and suffering is personal for both of us.”

Omar’s speech was characteristically blunt — and she drew a roar from the 10,000-plus when she said that she was proud to back a candidate who will “fight against western imperialism” and for a “just world.”  

Sanders, when he took the stage, forcefully defended Omar against the abuse she has faced from Mr. Trump and others and praised her as a “leading voice for justice” in the House. 

“There is no member of Congress who, in the modern history of this country, has been subjected to more vitriolic, hate-filled, racist attacks from Donald Trump and some of his supporters than this extraordinarily brave congresswoman,” Sanders said.

Just like Omar, Sanders spent the beginning of his speech linking his family history to hers — reflecting on how his childhood influenced his values and emphasizing the importance of interracial and intergenerational solidarity to his campaign. 

“People say that Ilhan and I make an odd political couple,” Sanders said. “But in fact, there is really nothing odd about it at all. Ilhan and I share a common link as the descendents of families who fled violence and poverty, and who came to this country as immigrants.

“But that is not just my story, or Ilhan’s story,” he continued. “That is the story of America.”

In a Democratic primary that has become divided between candidates promising sweeping changes to the structure of American society and those advocating more incremental reforms, Sanders left no doubt as to which side he is on. 

“If we have the courage to think big, not small, if we have the courage to take on the greed and corruption of the corporate elite, if we have the courage to get heavily involved in the political process, there is nothing we cannot accomplish,” he said. 

Sanders then moved on to present his agenda — focusing on the exploitation of the working class, climate change, healthcare and criminal justice reform — and gave a group of Macalester students high-profile shoutout in the process. 

When talking about the need to pass a Green New Deal, Sanders looked down to his right, and, smiling, said, “I see some people here from the Sunrise movement — thank you guys.” 

A number of those students in Sunrise shirts and hats had come from St. Paul along with scores of other Macalester students, arriving several hours in advance of the rally and securing positions near the podium. 

Sunrise tweeted a clip of the moment out to its thousands of followers, giving the moment national exposure. It has had an impact locally as well.

“We’ve had a few people contact us from around the Twin Cities asking if this hub exists,” Linnea Henrikson ’22 said. “Getting that recognition from a presidential candidate is really inspiring to know that what we’re striving for is also being recognized and worked on by people in politics.” 

Henrikson and fellow Sunrise activist Sasha Lewis-Norelle ’21 are both backing Sanders in this election — in large part because of his approach to climate issues.

“His climate plan is the most extensive and the most radical,” Lewis-Norelle said. “And what we need is radical change at this point.”

Sanders has made his push for a Green New Deal a significant part of his campaign — particularly in Iowa, a state that has experienced a near-record amount of flooding this year — and is expected to focus on climate issues even more in the coming months. 

Omar’s daughter Isra Hirsi, one of the leaders of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, has also endorsed Sanders and will appear with him, Ocasio-Cortez and others at a climate summit in Des Moines, Iowa this weekend. 

Sanders easily won the 2016 Democratic caucus in Minnesota, beating Hillary Clinton in all eight of the state’s congressional districts. Next year, however, he is set to face stiffer competition from the likes of Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, and home state Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn).

But Sunday’s rally showed that there is still plenty of enthusiasm for Sanders in Minnesota. The event was initially slated for the smaller Northrop Auditorium, but was quickly moved to Williams Arena to meet higher-than-expected demand for entry.

With less than three months to go before the Iowa caucus, the organizing effort on Sanders’ behalf has ramped up at Macalester as well. 

The group Students for Bernie was confirmed as an official interest group by MCSG in mid-October. It has held tabling events in front of the Campus Center, and plans to host debate watch parties in future months.

There is a similar group set up to support Warren — and while a number of Macalester students who attended the rally were full of praise for the Massachusetts progressive, they pointed to Sanders’ long record, platform, and theory of politics as having swayed them in this race. 

“One of the things that really sets Bernie apart is that he understands that change doesn’t happen just because you have someone in a position of power with some good ideas,” Students for Bernie chair Paul O’Connell ’22 said. “For substantive change, you really need a movement.

“Bernie has been involved in movements his entire life.”

Photos by Kori Suzuki ’21.