The line stretched nearly all the way around Affton High School Sunday morning to get into the gym to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak.
Sanders was scheduled to appear at 12:30 p.m. Waiting in the drizzle beforehand were people from the metro-east, some curious, some already Sanders supporters.
“I want to see him in person,” said John Hilgeman, of Belleville. “There’s a certain energy you see when you see someone in person.”
Hilgeman saw Sanders’ Democratic rival Hillary Clinton on Saturday and described her as “very vibrant.” Hilgeman declined to say who he would support in Illinois’ primary on Tuesday.
Shirley Allen, of O’Fallon, said she became a Sanders supporter after reading his books. “All of which are readily available at the public library,” she noted.
An hour and a half before the start of the event, the gym was full. Spontaneously, chants of “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” went up from the crowd.
Before Sanders spoke, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) warmed up the crowd.
Actor, producer and director Danny DeVito introduced Sanders, who took the stage about 1 p.m.
Allen said she hoped Sanders would discuss campaign finance reform and foreign trade policies.
Sanders didn’t disappoint Allen.
“We have a corrupt campaign finance system,” Sanders told the crowd of 2,291. “America is not about billionaires buying elections.”
Sanders pointed out the he was against the North American Free Trade Agreement, commonly known as NAFTA, because it cost Americans jobs.
Mass incarceration was the product of a failed war on drugs, Sanders said. Addiction, he said, is a health issue.
“Instead of locking people up, we need to get people access to treatment when they need it,” Sanders said.
Unlike Clinton, Sanders opposed the war in Iraq.
Sanders told the crowd that he was running for president for working people so they could earn a living wage.
He spoke about a gap in wealth between the “top 1/10 of 1 percent” of Americans, which he said owned as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.
“Stand up. Fight back and create a government that works for us, not just the 1 percent,” Sanders said.
He said he was running for senior citizens, to protect and expand Social Security. He was running for women, he said, to ensure they received equal pay for equal work. He was running for African Americans because there had been enough unarmed people shot in the street. Sanders said he was running for Latinos, who deserved a comprehensive immigration policy to attain citizenship. Sanders said he was running for Native American people because they deserved to be treated with honesty and respect.
Teris and Briana Gosier, of Fairview Heights, already have thrown their support behind Sanders because of his universal healthcare policy.
“Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) didn’t go far enough,” Teris Gosier said. “We live in one of the most privileged countries in the world. Healthcare should be a right.”
Teris Gosier served with the U .S. Army in Iraq in 2009 to 2010 and said he also appreciates Sanders stance on medical marijuana for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.