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Bernie Sanders Rally Draws Big Crowds In Phoenix

By Alexandra Olgin
Published: Sunday, July 19, 2015 - 8:27pm
Updated: Friday, July 31, 2015 - 10:36am
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(Photo by Alexandra Olgin - KJZZ)
Bernie Sanders' supporters crowd the Phoenix Convention Center.
Alexandra Olgin/KJZZ
Bernie Sanders speaks in Phoenix on July 19, 2015.

The progressive Netroots Nation conference brought Democratic presidential hopefuls to Phoenix this weekend. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley tried to garner support among Arizonans.

More than 11,000 people filled the Phoenix Convention Center on Saturday night to support Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont. Sanders drew about three times as many people as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump did in the same room last weekend.

RELATED: Trump's Phoenix Rally Draws Crowds, Protest

“When we were coming to Arizona somebody said it was a conservative state,” Sanders said. “What are they talking about?”

The stump speech messages from the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist senator resonated with the audience. Sanders spoke of income inequality and increased protections for workers.

“When millions of people have nothing to spend we are not creating the jobs that we need,” he said. “That is why I believe that what our economics should be about is putting money into the hands  of working people and not the billionaires.”

His calls for free higher education drew out first time voters like Jenna Bellantoni, who is starting college in the fall.

“I know a lot of people going to college this year who are already going to struggle with student loans. It’s a big issue right now,” Bellantoni said. “The possibility that could be alleviated in the future is a really exciting prospect.”

Not everyone was impressed with Sanders’ speech. Phoenix resident Gary Heath was disappointed Sanders didn’t spend more time on climate change.  

“He was just skimming across the top of stuff,” Heath said.

Sanders touched on problems with the criminal justice system and law enforcement toward the end of his talk. But it had become the focus of a town hall style interview earlier in the day with him and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another Democratic presidential candidate.

Black Lives Matter activists marched to the front of the room chanting, “What side are you on black people? What side are you on?” during the town hall and demanded both candidates talk about police discrimination.

Phoenix activist Tia Oso got on stage and took control of the microphone.

“We are going to hold this space,” Oso said. “We are going to acknowledge names of black women that have died in police custody.”

Oso questioned O’Malley about how he would change policing.

“What is your agenda going to be to make sure that black lives do matter?” she asked. “And that as the leader of this nation will you advance a racial justice agenda that will dismantle not reform, not make progress but will begin to dismantle structural racism in the United States.”

O’Malley was able to respond with, “White lives matter, black lives matter, all lives matter,” before he was drowned out by the demonstrators. The activists kept control of the room through Sanders time as well.

At his rally that evening Tempe resident Isaela Blanc said the visit by Democratic presidential hopefuls is the result of a changing tide in Arizona.

“We don’t see it as this progressive liberal democratic place” Blanc said “We see it as very republican, very red and I think there is a change,” Blanc said.

She thinks more people will be out to vote in the 2016 presidential election. An optimistic view when Arizona voter turnout in 2012 was lower than the 2008 and 2004 elections.

Sanders is gaining popularity, but many think his chances of beating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination are slim. But there’s more than a year until the Arizona democratic primaries in August 2016.

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