Berning Down the House: Sanders’ Boston Rally Floods Convention Center

An estimated 20,000 supporters packed into the BCEC to hear the Democratic presidential hopeful speak.

Photo by Kyle Clauss

Photo by Kyle Clauss

Two days after Hillary Clinton held court with Boston Mayor Walsh and State Attorney General Maura Healey in Dorchester, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders drew a estimated 20,000 people to his latest campaign stop in Massachusetts, according to staff.

Hundreds of supporters filed down Summer Street to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to hear the white-haired Vermonter speak Saturday evening. A handful of button salesmen dotted the route, shaking off the October chill, while “Feel the Bern” could be seen scrawled in chalk on plywood all across Fort Point.

A trio of speakers representing the key tenets of Sanders’ platform warmed the crowd—a reported 4,000 of which overflowed into a spillover room, according to Sanders’ campaign staff. Karen Higgins, co-president of National Nurses United, talked affordable healthcare. Jimmy O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union ATU, took a shot at Governor Charlie Baker’s efforts to privatize some MBTA services.

“I’m sick and tired of presidential candidates that says one thing to get elected and then screws us later,” O’Brien said. “Bernie understands that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. As Bernie says, ‘Enough is enough.'” Jillian Brelsford—a UMass Boston nursing student and “future Brookline health professional”—bemoaned student loan debt, saying: “Millennials look at Bernie Sanders and see a man who honors the work that we will be doing.”

Bill McKibben, a climate change activist, quipped that Sanders’ campaign is “a moment for gray, aging Vermonters, removing his Red Sox cap to reveal a thinning dome. (McKibben penned an essay for Boston magazine on Harvard University’s unwillingness to divest from fossil fuels.)

Sanders, 74, wasted little time before touting his publicly funded campaign’s credentials. “Let me be as clear as I can be: I don’t have a Super PAC. I don’t want a Super PAC. And I don’t need a Super PAC,” he said.

Sanders had strong words for the 2016 Republican field, calling their most recent televised debate “a very painful experience” and “like watching a parallel universe.” He accused Republicans of benefiting from low voter turnout, calling them “political cowards.”

“If you don’t have the guts to defend your ideas in a free election, get another job,” he said. While speaking on immigration, Sanders called Donald Trump a demagogue.

Besides President Barack Obama, for whom he offered measured praise, the only other Democratic politician Sanders mentioned was U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who received a sizable pop from the crowd. “As your senator Elizabeth Warren reminds us, this is a rigged economy: heads they win, tails you lose.”

Photo by Kyle Clauss

Photo by Kyle Clauss

Sanders, whose speaking engagement in Seattle was shut down by Blacks Lives Matter protesters in August, dialed up his rhetoric on race relations, taking aim at the “institutional racism that…allows unarmed African Americans to be killed by police officers.” Later, Sanders called for the demilitarization of police departments and an end to mandatory minimum sentencing.

Late in his speech, Sanders offered his condolences for the victims of Thursday’s mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon while calling for “a revolution…in mental health,” along with stronger background checks for gun sales, closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” and ending the sale of semi-automatic weapons.

“All of us are disgusted, frustrated, bewildered, in seeing every month or two months, someone walk into a school, walk into a church, and start killing people. Our hearts go out to Oregon,” Sanders said.

After nearly two hours, Sanders exited the stage to Neil Young’s “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World,” but not before imparting one final message:

“Thank you, and welcome to the political revolution.”