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Bernie Sanders visits Grinnell for a pre-caucus pitch

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at Saints Rest on Saturday, Feb. 1. Photo by Ray Goedeker.


With two days remaining until the Iowa Causes, students and community members flocked to Saints Rest to see Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders speak one last time. The event, which lasted about an hour, was an opportunity for the campaign to build enthusiasm and to inspire new volunteers to canvass for the Vermont senator. About 80 attendees made it into the coffee shop, while campaign organizers estimated another 150 had to wait outside to avoid creating a fire hazard.

As Sanders, who was not originally scheduled to attend the event, spoke to supporters on the street outside, Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar highlighted the main points of his campaign.

“There is a beautiful, inclusive America that we export to the world. That beautiful America can exist, and we can make it happen with the help of President Sanders,” she said. “That America is one where there are no homeless people because we are going to invest in ending homelessness. … That America is one that says we are going to ensure that you have clean air and clean water. That America is one that says no kids will be separated from their families at the borders.”

After drawing extended applause, Omar was followed on stage by Washington congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. Jayapal described Sanders’ history of fighting for progressive causes. “I am really proud to be the co-chair of … the Congressional Progressive Caucus. … And guess who was the founder — one of the founders — of the Congressional Progressive Caucus back in 1991: Bernie Sanders,” she said.

Jayapal also compared Sanders to current President Donald Trump. “Let me talk about Bernie Sanders in office, what does that look like,” she asked the crowd. “It looks like a president who doesn’t hold up his finger and see which way the polls are showing in order to fight for what his heart says is right.”

Jane Sanders introduced her husband with an additional personal story. “I met Bernie when he was running for Mayor and I was a community organizer. We … organized a debate, and when he spoke, I felt that he embodied everything I believed in, and decide right then and there I wanted to work with him,” she said. “I can tell you he still embodies everything I believe in.”

Finally, the candidate himself took the stage for 20 minutes, going straight into an aggressive attack on Donald Trump. “What this campaign is about is whether we will continue to keep in office a president who lies all of the time, a president who believes he is above the law, a president who is a racist and a sexist and a homophobe, and a xenophobe and a religious bigot,” he said.

Sanders spent most of his speech reiterating the main points of his campaign. Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, ensuring equal pay, cancelling student debt, and stopping climate change all made prominent appearances.

“Here is my promise to you. We will run an administration that listens to scientists,” he said. “[My administration would] take on the fossil fuel industry, … would tell that industry that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet.”

The 78-year-old senator finished with a call to action. “If there is a low voter turnout on Monday night, we’re going to lose. That’s about it. If there is a high voter turnout, we’re going to win,” said Sanders. “Today, I am here in Grinnell to ask for your help in not only coming out to caucus for us, but in brining your friends and your family, and your co-workers, and anyone else you can find.”

The message was well-received in the room, as chants of “Bernie, Bernie” followed the senator out the door, and several students signed up to knock on doors. “This is my first time volunteering [for Sanders],” said Mack Trachtenberg ’23. “I’m fairly politically involved, so I volunteered a lot for NextGen last year, which is nominally non-partisan, but mainly democratic. … But it was more like to get the vote out generally for the midterms. … This is presidential campaign I’m volunteering for.”

While the majority of attendees were students, many community members, and even those from outside Grinnell, came to listen to Sanders, Omar, and Jayapal.

“I’m from California; I came here a couple of days ago to volunteer for Bernie,” said Rohan Jain. “I came to Iowa four years ago also to volunteer, and I decided to come back here because Iowa is the first primary.”

Both Jain and Trachtenberg emphasized Sanders’ honesty as a reason for their support, a sentiment matched by the three introductory speakers.

Campaign volunteers, attendees, and Saints Rest staff all described the event as a success. Cassidy Christiansen ’20, who supports the Sanders campaign and works at Saints Rest, helped organize the event.

“Saints Rest has hosted a lot of political and campaigning events, not just this election series, but in the past, … so there’s a long history of it,” said Christiansen. “The owner, Sam [Cox], is just a huge proponent of free speech and open dialogue.”

Sanders may not be the first, or last, candidate to visit the Grinnell coffee shop, but his campaign is counting on these last minute events to clinch a win in the Iowa caucuses, which will occur on Monday, Feb. 3. Sanders has consistently placed among the top 2 candidates in polls conducted during the second half of January, placing second with 21 percent to former Vice President Joe Biden’s 23 percent in a Jan. 29 Monmouth University poll, and first with 26 percent in a Jan. 26 Emerson College poll.

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