Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders capped a weekend in Louisiana with a Sunday night rally attended by some 4,500 people at the Pontchartrain Center near New Orleans.
“I don’t know that we can squeeze any more people in here,” Sanders said as he looked out on the cheering, sign-waving crowd packing the convention hall. “Some people told me Louisiana was a conservative state. I guess not.”
“Which leads me to why I am here. I think my colleagues in the Democratic Party have made a serious mistake. They have written off half of America, including Louisiana. The time is now for us to fight in 50 states in the country,” he said.
“When people have no work, when kids have no food, when people have no health insurance, that’s where we should be,” Sanders declared.
“Our campaign so far is surprising a lot of people,” he added. “People are catching on that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we do economics and politics in America today. They want new ideas and they want to make fundamental changes in the way we do business in our country.”
In an hour-long speech, Sanders detailed a wide-ranging agenda to create jobs, help rebuild the middle-class and reform Wall Street by breaking up the biggest banks in America.
He also called for more than doubling the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage and He said the United States must guarantee workers paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave and at least two week of paid vacation a year as part of a “family values” agenda. His proposal for a massive federal jobs program to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure would support 13 million decent-paying jobs.
Earlier Sunday and in a speech on Saturday to one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations, the senator discussed economic inequality and institutional racism. He said those “parallel problems” must be addressed together. “We have to end institutional racism, but we have to deal with the reality that 50 percent of young black kids are unemployed, that we have massive poverty in America, that we have an unsustainable level of income and wealth inequality,” he said during a Sunday morning interview from New Orleans on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., also had linked discrimination and poverty, Sanders said. The senator had made the same point in Baton Rouge on Saturday in an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King once led.
Earlier Sunday, Bernie and Jane Sanders attended services at the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. The senior pastor, the Rev. Fred Luter, Jr., welcomed what he said was the first-ever presidential candidate to attend a service the church, which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.