U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., spoke to more than 2,000 in Charleston Sunday evening, a gathering he said might be the largest crowd he’s spoken to while promoting his book “Our Revolution.”
In a speech that largely focused on themes the senator might have spoken on while he was campaigning to be the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, Sanders challenged the people of West Virginia to resist any efforts by President Donald Trump to become an authoritarian and undermine the country’s court system.
“What he is doing is what demagogues have always done, and that is to pick on minorities and try to divide this country up,” Sanders said. “What a real statesman attempts to do — what good government is about — is bringing people together to improve life for all.”
Sanders, who handily won West Virginia’s Democratic primary, told an energized crowd in Charleston’s Municipal Auditorium that more people should run for office and they shouldn’t be deterred from losing an election. When he first entered public service, he won the Burlington, Vermont, mayoral race by just 10 votes.
“So what if you lose, you’ll win the next time,” Sanders said. “Let me just tell you, I also know one of the things that really troubles me when I talk to people, they say, ‘You know Bernie, I just don’t know enough about education or economics or health care to run.’ I work in the United States Senate. If you saw some of the guys in the United States Senate, your confidence in yourself would soar.”
He used his own presidential bid to motivate people considering running. Who would have thought, he mused, that the guy planning to run against Hillary Clinton would almost secure a presidential nomination?
Among other things, Sanders challenged Trump to keep a promise he made during the campaign to not cut funding for Medicare and Social Security. Some politicians saw Trump’s nomination of Tom Price as Health and Human Services secretary as a sign the administration plans to change the program.
Sanders kicked the night off by rebuking the cancellation of a town hall event he planned to hold with MSNBC at the Welch National Guard Armory on Monday before it’s sudden cancellation Friday night.
“Don’t know how it happened, but let me tell the people who did that -- if you think we are not going back to McDowell County, you are very mistaken,” Sanders said. “We are going to go back, because I was there during the campaign… I was enormously impressed by the dignity and courage of the people there who stood up and talked about the issues and talked about a new future. That moved me very much.”
Sanders said he would still go to McDowell County and his staff was actively trying to find a building -- even without MSNBC. If they can’t find a building? He’ll hold it in the streets, he said.
In a Facebook post prior to his speech in Charleston, Sanders wrote that he wanted to bring the show “All In with Chris Hayes” to McDowell County to highlight how poverty affects people. The post notes that McDowell County has the lowest life expectancy of any county in the nation.
Federal and state policy is the reason the West Virginia National Guard reneged on its commitment to host a town hall with Sanders, and MSNBC, according to a release from a state official Sunday afternoon.
With only two days notice, the event, slated for Monday at the Welch National Guard Armory, was canceled.
“U.S. Department of Defense policy does not permit the use of military facilities for political and election events and specifically includes town hall meetings as an example of such activities,” the statement reads. “The West Virginia State Armory Board has a similar policy.
Lawrence Messina, director of communications for the state’s Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, provided the statement to the Gazette-Mail after the spokeswoman of the state’s National Guard did not respond to a request for comment Saturday and Grant Herring, Gov. Jim Justice’s press secretary, also didn’t respond.
“Once the details of the proposed event were shared with the Adjutant General’s office on Friday afternoon, it became apparent that it would run afoul of DOD and State Armory Board policy and the request could not be accommodated,” the statement said.
Sanders’ supporters gathered outside the governor’s mansion on the Kanawha Boulevard Sunday afternoon to protest the decision. The group of approximately 25 people chanted and held signs more than an hour.
“The truth is, bad things happen when good people do not stand up and fight,” Sanders said. “That’s what we’ve got to do.”