Metro-East News

Mostly young crowd packs SIUE arena for Sanders’ rally

SIUE students get crowd ready for Bernie Sanders appearance

SIUE students exhorted the crowd as it waited for the appearance by Bernie Sanders Friday morning at the Vadalabene Center on campus. Sanders,a Vermont senator is vying with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Up Next
SIUE students exhorted the crowd as it waited for the appearance by Bernie Sanders Friday morning at the Vadalabene Center on campus. Sanders,a Vermont senator is vying with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The line before the doors opened for the Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders rally stretched around the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville basketball arena.

Many got to the arena early, hoping to be up front like at a rock concert.

The first supporters to line up for the rally were Caitlin Rutz and Destiney Kunkel of Edwardsville, and Hannah Meyer of Wood River.

“He is consistent; I have never seen one point in time when his views changed,” Rutz said.

The college students started the line at 3 a.m. to ensure they would be up front at the rally. They had to grab some blankets to keep warm overnight.

“I do like the reduced price for college. I think it would be really helpful. If we want everyone here to get an education, why not make it a little easier for them to do so?” Kunkel said. “Even with the taxes, I’m OK with my money going to help other people.”

Meyer said more than half the states remain in the primary season, and she is confident in Sanders’ chances at capturing the nomination.

“I feel like the younger generation, if we could just get them out and voting, that’s the issue,” Meyer said. “A lot of younger people like him but they’re not voting in the primaries, which is very important. I definitely plan to do so. I’m encouraging … everybody I talk to vote for him in the primaries. It’s really important for getting him in the running for the office.”

Eventually the SIUE basketball arena was packed. Prior to the 45-minute speech, the crowd did the wave and went through various chants: “You can’t stop the movement” and “Feel the Bern!” among others.

Those sitting in the arena bleachers even stomped their feet like a basketball game was about to be played.

When Sanders entered the arena, the noise in the building with a 4,000-seat capacity, was deafening.

Phylllis Werner, 60, of Harden was older than most of the crowd on the college campus. She sat in the bleachers, rather than stand on the floor.

She is a Sanders’ supporter and said people shouldn’t be afraid of democratic socialism because it won’t lead to communism.

“I like how he thinks about the people of this country,” Werner said. “The government’s job is to take care of us. Education, health care, security. That’s what we contribute the money for.”

Alvin Humphrey lives near Goreville and drove two-and-half hours Friday morning to come to the event.

“I wanted to see Bernie. … He’s by far and away the most interesting moral candidate that’s been on the scene for a very long time,” Humphrey said. “When I hear I him talk, I hear somebody who speaks earnestly and truthfully. When I hear Hillary (Clinton) talk, I hear a very skillful liar.”

Elizabeth Clements came from Kirkwood, Mo., with her three children, Jack, 9, George, 4, and Annabelle, 1, and her sister Mary Wilson.

“It’s important for them to see the political process, Bernie is really important to our family and I wanted to share it with them and maybe something they could remember,” Clements said.

Clements said she agreed with Sanders on raising the minimum wage and it is something important for the region.

“Our family will have some teenage workers in a couple years and after that they will be going to college. I’d like them to have a chance at a good education and more affordable than I got,” Clements said. “Campaign reform is important to me. Everyone should have a say at who gets elected, not just the billionaires.”

Rob Polzin, 26, of St. Louis said he thought Sanders’ speech, which touched on economic and social issues, among other things, was fantastic.

“The idea of how he went into the history about how all this change comes from the bottom, whether it be civil rights or anything else, it’s really inspirational,” Polzin said.

Polzin is confident of Sanders’ chances on the nomination.

“I think he has a better chance than the media gives him credit for. It’s still really early in the process,” Polzin said. “I think he’s the best candidate for the general election.

Alexandra Whittaker, 23, lives in St. Louis, but is originally from Edwardsville and said she enjoyed the speech.

She looked forward to hearing his comments on education. The former Eastern Illinois University student who studied to be a teacher had to drop out because it was too expensive. She now works for a bank.

“I think he made a good point saying we have to value the people who are teaching our youth, and we also have to value higher education,” Whittaker said. “It’s not something the privileged should go to, it’s a basic human right.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat