A diverse group of people came out in large numbers to support the 78-year-old self-described democratic socialist. What could not be ignored were the scores of young people chanting in the stands where Donald Trump held his re-election rally just weeks ago.
According to a campaign spokesperson, 7,488 attended to unite against climate change and to listen to Sanders’ goals on criminal justice reform in the United States, as well as his plans to increase taxes of Wall Street and billionaires.
Against a wall of boo’s for front-runner Joe Biden, Sanders spoke on the now two-person race for the democratic presidential nomination.
“Joe Biden is a decent guy. I know that if I win the nomination, he will be there for me, and if he wins, I will be there for him,” Sanders said. He added, “Our differences are minimal compared to the differences we have with Trump.”
On Thursday, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ended her presidential campaign, leaving Sanders as the most progressive democratic candidate in the race. This comes just days after her March 7 town hall meeting was scheduled for Mesa, Arizona.
Sanders issued an invitation to Warren supporters to join his campaign because of their similar issues.
In his 45-minute speech, Sanders addressed gun safety legislation: “We will pass universal background checks…We will do away with the gun show loophole and end the sale of assault weapons.”
The crowd cheered and stood in applause for his support of Roe v. Wade, equal rights for women in the workplace, a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, and marijuana legalization.
He told supporters his campaign is about creating a government that doesn’t just work for a few, but for all.
“As you know, the message of our campaign is ‘Not me, but us,’” said Sanders. Deafening chants of “Feel the Bern” and “Bernie” filled the venue.
“What this campaign is about is not only defeating Donald Trump, but also fighting for a political revolution. Real change never takes place from the top down but from the bottom up.”
Turnout for the event was smaller than the Trump rally, but the crowd’s energy was jovial, supportive and optimistic despite harassment from supporters of Donald Trump.
During the opening of Sander’s speech, a man in the stands unraveled a flag with a swastika on it. The flag was quickly taken from him and he was escorted out by police and later in the rally, another in the crowd unraveled a Trump 2020 flag.
Outside, a Trump 2020 helicopter hovered over the event and Arizona State University student Taylor Schaub raised her middle finger in protest. She said she stands against Trump and supports Sanders because she feels he is her candidate.
“He represents the people who have never had a voice before. I think he stands for us. I never had a candidate who genuinely cares about my rights as a student, as a woman, and as a person of the LGBT community,” Schaub said.
Octavia Lowery drove six hours from Northern Arizona to attend the gathering.
“I’m here to voice my concern for my people,” Lowery said. Lowery is a member of the Navajo Nation and said oil pipelines and uranium mining are key issues for her, along with education.
“I’ve been calling him ‘Cheii Sanders.’ It’s like ‘grandpa’ in our language. It’s almost like saying ‘That grandpa is going to be the leader for us,’” Lowery said in reference to Sanders. “And we look towards our elders, and grandpa has a lot of things to say and I believe in him.”
Phoenix Vice Mayor and guest speaker Betty Guardado praised Sanders’ solidarity with Disney workers who went on strike to protest for fair wages and hotel housekeepers who stood up for fair treatment and against sexual harassment.
“Today, our nation is facing one of the biggest threats to the American Dream, and it’s coming from the White House,” said Guardado. “We must come together to defeat Donald Trump.”
As a former hotel housekeeper turned city mayor, Guardado spoke with pride about her history and becoming an organizer for her former union.
“A year ago, I decided to run for the Phoenix City Council. I know, right? Someone that looks like me: a former housekeeper, an organizer, a wife, a mom, and of course, a Latina,” Gaurdado said in her address.
After the rally, Keytha Fixico sang Indigenous pow-wow songs with a group of men. He said he attended the rally to represent the tribal nations behind Bernie.
Fixico, from the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, said, “One of the things I’m really behind him on is his tribal sovereignty views for tribal people across the country.”
“The current administration that is over this country right now is overlooking our tribal rights,” Fixico said. “Pretty much what it comes down to is that I respect Bernie because he respects our people.”
When asked what Bernie Sanders represents to him, Fixico responded, “Hope.”