Sanders campaign draws 11,000 to Vallejo

Clinton, Trump supporters also drawn to rallies in Bay Area before June 7 primaries

Denis Perez / The Advocate
Sen. Bernie Sanders discusses his democratic socialist platform to 11,0000 people across the Bay Area at an impromptu campaign rally at the Waterfront Park in Vallejo, Calif. on Wednesday, May 18.

Denis Perez / The Advocate

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

VALLEJO —  About 11,000 people from cities across the Bay Area converged to listen, promote or counter Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign platform at the Waterfront Park in Vallejo on May 18.

Even after the sun set behind the Mare Island Naval Complex across the Napa River as wind picked up and thousands of people left, he spoke passionately about a campaign that has nearly received 8 million individual contributions from working people and not through Super PAC’s or corporate donations.

“How much is the average contribution?” Sanders asked. The crowd shouted “$27.”

“To quote Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg,” he said. “’This is a campaign of the people, by the people and for the people.’”

“Now my opponent Secretary Hillary Clinton raises money in a slightly different way,” he said. “(Clinton) has super PACs which have raised millions of dollars from wall street and other powerful special interests. She has given speeches on wall street at $225,000 a speech.”

Jeers erupted from the crowd. Sanders supporters have been pressuring Clinton on social media to release the transcript of the speech she gave at a private Goldman Sachs event since Sanders released his tax returns during the New York primary debate.

He also targeted the Republican nominee Donald Trump for accepting money from large private investors, his former stances on not raising the minimum wage and his attacks on Mexican, Latino and Muslim immigrants and women.

Sanders (1,533) trails Clinton (1,768) by 274 pledged delegates while Trump (1,616) enters the last six republican primaries on a 10 state win streak as the presumptive nominee by June 7.

During his speech, Sanders spoke about his stance on addressing climate change with a carbon tax on corporations, demilitarizing local police departments, implementing a universal single payer health care, restoring gender rights, overturning corporate funding of elections, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, creating a comprehensive immigration reform plan, ending the war on drugs, mass deportations and lessening military intervention abroad.

The Young Turks Co-Founder Cenk Uygur introduced Sanders to a crowd of thousands of West Coast supporters as a proponent of these policies since he was fighting for civil rights for African Americans during the mid 1960s.

“You can’t fake a 40-year record,” Uygur said.

Outside the rally, one Trump supporter flew his plane over the Waterfront with a sign that read “Bernie is Done, Vote Trump,” while another circled his boat up in the river with a sign that read “Trump.”

But Trump supporter Petri Toivonen, known as the Vallejo “Boogieman”, was at the entrance of the rally exercising his right to free speech as people gathered before Sanders spoke.

Most people walking in line would begin to chant “Bernie, Bernie”, or shout, “fuck Trump,” as they passed by Toivonen touting his sign that read, “100 percent Trump supporter.”

“I expected insults, and don’t get me wrong I got some right away,” he said. “But I was taken back when a few people came up and asked to hug me or take a photo with me.”

Some people stepped out of the line to record themselves for social media as they danced around Toivonen playing “Fuck Donald Trump,” by Nipsey Hussle and YG.

“There were more insults. People came up and were harassing me, but when the sweetness came around it was a nice surprise,” Toivonen said. “But I guess I get the whole ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ hip-hop thing. When I was young I listened to punk rock, so I get it.

Carlos Flores, a Vallejo resident who immigrated to the Bay Area from El Salvador in 1984, confronted Toivonen as he held up his military identification on his way into the rally.

“I offered my life for this guy (Toivonen),” Flores said. “So he can have the right to come out here and speak his mind even if I think (Trump) is destroying democracy by blaming the weakest people, immigrant people who do not have a voice,” he said. “It’s unrealistic to deport 11 million people.”

Toivonen said he is voting for Trump because Trump is saying what a lot of people have been thinking. He said he also respects Sanders for shedding light on a rigged electoral system and economy, but cannot agree with Sander’s vision of a socialist democracy.

“I can’t really say much about Bernie other than he is a socialist. A communist sympathizer,” he said. “He constantly makes references to implementing the Scandanavian socialist system — but Scandanavia is not America. You can’t compare the two systems because it’s a smaller country with closed border, a single culture and language.”

Gregory Mitchell, chief of staff for Jrmar Jefferson’s campaign for Congressional district 7, who also stood at the entrance of the rally handing out information about Jefferson running to represent Sanders at the state democratic convention disagrees with Toivonen.

Mitchell said people in public office should focus on improving access to information, recreation areas, and rebuild the aged infrastructure in low income communities instead of casting blame.

(Sanders) appeals to everybody no matter if you are white, black, yellow, red, brown, or part of the LGBT community,” He said. “We don’t need any more churches, or liquor stores. We have enough of those in the Bay (Area), Sacramento and cities all over California.

“We need to elect someone who will use taxpayer money to build libraries, community centers, parks and bring small business ownership back to the people who live in the community instead of fast food companies and liquor stores — churches are fine, but we have enough of those.”

Adrian Bourgeois, a musician under moniker “Pop/Art” from Burbank, was hired to play at the event. Bourgeois,28, said he has been to a few Sanders rallies in Southern California, but this is the first time he had been asked to perform at a political rally.

“I’ve been skeptical about politics my entire life. I never felt I could truly trust of get behind a presidential candidate like I have with Sanders,” Bourgeois said after his performance. “He isn’t bought and he can stand up for people because he isn’t tied to anything else. And for someone like that I could go to the ends of the earth for or sell my guitar.”

Cynthia Diiovio, a volunteer at the Sanders campaign office in Petaluma at the rally, said she initially supported Clinton because she thought it was time for the first female president after America elected its first African-American president with Barack Hussein Obama for two terms.

But Diiovio,65, said after some research, and listening to speeches and debates, she found that Clinton does not have the foresight, integrity or advocacy for human rights, like Sanders, to beat Trump.

She said she is reminded of the antiwar movement of the late 1960s and 70s when young people were enthusiastic about changing society through a democratic process.

“I’m very excited. I didn’t think (Sanders) would make it this far. He didn’t have the money and we all knew (Clinton) had money and the delegates before this started,” she said, “yet here we are almost a year later and the majority of working people are strongly supporting Sanders. We can win, and all of this is a result of a campaign that listens to (working) people.”

While Flores confronted the trump supporter at the gate, he partially agrees with Toivonen. Flores said Sanders ideas are too radical to actually become a reality and that is why he is voting for Clinton.

“I like (Sanders) platform, but I have been supporting Hillary Clinton since Bill Clinton was president. She is a smart woman,” he said. “She is the better person for the job even though she is being attached to so many negative things right now. She knows how politics works.”

Toivonen said he would support Sanders before Clinton if he must. “(Clinton) is the most corrupt one of them all.”

Later in the speech, Sanders told the audience he plans to take the campaign to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Penn. to ask the super delegates to endorse him based on various national polls, which show he does better against Trump than Hillary, and address the fact that most had already pledged allegiance before the elections started.

Diiovo, Mitchell and Bourgeois said if Sanders does not win the nomination at the convention that does not mean she will be voting for Trump. “I think he is out of his mind.”

Toivonen, trump supporter, said main stream media outlets have put a negative spin against Trump supporters and labeling the platform as misogynist and racist.

Artist John Paul said he made the trip from Oakland to document the nearly mile-long line leading to the Sanders rally and contribute to a movement that does not fit into the democrat or republican narrative using oil paint on canvas.

Paul said he was inspired by the long crowds and lines he saw online. He also said he decided to paint the lines because Sanders does not represent the status-quo that exists in a political duopoly.

“The painting is about people who support a candidate enough to come out and wait in line just to hear him speak,” he said as he stood beneath tree cover about 25 yards away from the line. “I hope he gets a big crowds of people in November.”

Sanders, Clinton will be campaigning throughout Southern California over the next weeks with six democrat primaries remaining.