A capacity crowd turned out on February 14 for a last-minute campaign rally at the Mesquite Arena, starring presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
The appearance was announced only five days before, following Sanders' win of the primary in New Hampshire, and it was his only appearance in Texas. His last local appearance was at a campaign rally at a hotel in downtown Dallas in 2016.
A spokesperson for the campaign said the event was booked in Mesquite, home to the Mesquite Rodeo, because that was the only venue available on short notice. The arena holds 5,500 people.
A line formed down the parking lot, and vendors selling T-shirts, pins, and other memorabilia set up shop along the adjacent grass.
Doors opened at 6 pm, and local band The Vandoliers performed as the crowd milled in. Sanders' remarks were preceded by speakers that included SMU professor Omar Suleiman; LULAC President Domingo Garcia; attorney Lee Merritt; and a representative from the Sunrise Movement, a youth group fighting climate change.
Sanders opened with a joke about the venue. He had a couple good lines, but he definitely saved the best for first.
"I have never been to a rodeo in my life but I do work in Washington, D.C. and I do hear a lot of bullshit," he said. "Bullshit is not anything I'm unfamiliar with."
"Let me begin by making a dramatic announcement," he said. "Are you ready? We're going to win the state of Texas."
He acknowledged that everyone might not agree with everything he stands for, but said that the common ground was the importance of stopping a president whom he called a pathological liar, running a corrupt administration.
Sanders said that the message of his campaign was "us, not me."
"It says that we believe the function of human life is to work together to make a better life for all people," he said.
The other facet of "us, not me" had to do with the idea that true change comes from the bottom and works its way up, and used historical examples including the labor movement, civil rights, the women's movement, gay rights, and the environment.
"What we have got to do is change the political culture of this country," he said. "We need to make people understand that living in a democratic society means you have a responsibility to vote, and especially at this moment in American history. Nobody can sit it out — we gotta be involved."
His priorities include:
- increase minimum wage to $15 per hour
- pay women the same rate as men
- create jobs by rebuilding the country's infrastructure and building affordable housing
- increase funding for low-income Title 1 schools
- increase salary levels for teachers
- expunge college debt
- improve the health care system
- reform the criminal justice system, including ending capital punishment and ending cash bail
- legalize marijuana
- pass bipartisan immigration reform legislation
- shift away from fossil fuels to energy-efficient and sustainable fuel sources
"Donald Trump thinks climate change is a hoax — I think Donald Trump is a hoax," he said.
"We are sick and tired today of massive levels of income and wealth inequality," he said. "We are tired of tax breaks for billionaires while our kids can’t get a decent education. We are at that moment in history where we’re seeing people stand up and fight back and tell the corporate elite that this country belongs to all of us, not just the 1 percent."
"As a U.S. Senator, I know a little about the power of the 1 percent," he said. "I understand that the billionaire class has endless amounts of money, and the ability to buy elections. But at the end of the day, the 1 percent is still only 1 percent."
A poll by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune shows Sanders in first place among candidates in the Texas primary; Texas is the second largest Super Tuesday state, behind California.
Election day is March 3, but early voting begins on February 18.
Other candidates still in the race include Senator Elizabeth Warren, who came to Dallas in March 2019; ex-VP Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Mike Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Tulsi Gabbard.