Bernie Sanders came to North Texas on a mission Thursday.
The Vermont senator and former Democratic presidential candidate told Texans that if they are unhappy with the way the government is being run, they should do something about it.
“Texas: Are you ready for a political revolution?” Sanders asked nearly 2,000 people gathered at the Verizon Theater. “We are at a pivotal moment in American history.”
That is why the 75-year-old politician has joined Democratic leaders on a multi-state “Come Together and Fight Back” tour geared to unite Democrats in opposition to Republican President Donald Trump and encourage people to run for office and become politically active. He didn’t keep most of North Texas from sticking with Republicans last year, but now he’s looking to the future.
Texas, a longtime red state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than two decades, was the latest stop on this tour geared to rev up Democrats not just for the 2020 presidential election, but the 2018 mid-terms as well.
“It’s about you,” Sanders told the crowd during a high-energy, nearly two-hour event. “We can transform this country. We can do extraordinary things in this country.”
But not, he said, when people stay home, tune out of politics and stop voting.
“Stand up, fight back and create an America we know we can become,” he said.
Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples warmed up the crowd, telling Democrats that she knows they are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
She said she and others are tired of Republicans “trying to gut public education,” “take away our healthcare” and “scaring our children with their immigration raids.”
And she encouraged the crowd to tell Sanders “we are ready to take off our boxing gloves and fight back.”
Thursday’s rally came as 54 percent of Texans disapprove of Trump’s job performance, compared with 42 percent who approve, according to a new Texas Lyceum poll.
Texas Republicans say they know exactly why Sanders and Democrats included Texas in this tour.
“Texas is unequivocally — if you are a Democrat — the most important state in the country,” said Tim O’Hare, who heads the Tarrant County Republican Party. “If the Democrats ever take Texas, there would never be another Republican elected to the White House or appointed to the Supreme Court.
“Fortunately, we (Republicans) have a healthy lead in the state.”
‘Has to be a movement’
DNC Vice Chair Michael Blake helped rally the crowd before Sanders spoke, saying that Texans and voters across the country must make changes now, getting politically involved and finding new candidates to run for office.
He took a few digs at Trump, saying the president “should get off the golf course and back to work.”
“We are going to fight back,” Blake said. “This is our time right now. Will you fight back with me?
“This cannot be a moment. This has to be a movement.”
Sanders, greeted with a standing ovation and cheers of “Bernie, Bernie,” said he realizes a lot of people voted for Trump because he said he was a “different type of politician.”
“The only problem was Mr. Trump lied,” Sanders told a cheering crowd. “It is one thing to give a campaign speech. It’s another thing to follow through when you are president.”
He said Trump is putting the top 1 percent of the country above the working class.
“To those people who voted for Donald Trump: Forget what he said. Look at what he is doing.”
And Sanders told the crowd to not doubt that they can run for office.
“One of the things the establishment does ... they make you think you’re a nice person but you’re not really (qualified) to be on the school board or the state Legislature,” he said.
Just take a look at the U.S. Congress, he said.
“Don’t think they’re a bunch of geniuses there,” he said. “Trust me. They are not.”
On Thursday, Sanders touched on many of the same topics he did during his presidential campaign — the need to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, provide free tuition for college students and ensure affordable health care and medicine for all.
As for statistics that show women earn 79 cents on the dollar of what men earn, “women deserve the whole damn buck,” he said to large cheers.
He also said the country needs criminal justice reform, tax reform, immigration reform, an established path toward citizenship and a guaranteed paid family and medical leave program.
Republicans decried Sanders’ visit and his message, particularly in Texas where Trump bested Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton 52 to 43 percent.
“After two embarrassing losses in Kansas and Georgia, the radical left is now bringing their failing ‘Democrat turnaround tour’ to Texas, headlined by Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t consider himself to be a Democrat, and his fellow socialist comrade, Keith Ellison,” Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler said in a statement.
“These divided Democrats have no clear message or vision,,” he said. “ ... Socialism has no home in Texas, and the Texas Democrats’ embrace of two avowed socialists will only push them further towards irrelevancy in our conservative state.”
A political inspiration
Thursday’s speech was the first time Sanders has spoken at the Verizon since he held a campaign rally here last February, before Texas voters headed to the polls, ultimately choosing Hillary Clinton over Sanders 65 percent to 33 percent.
His previous visit was on a Saturday. This event was on a weekday.
Thursday’s gathering drew a much smaller crowd, with organizers saying there were 1,867 attendees, compared with the more than 7,000 who attended last year.
Daniel Velasquez, a 21-year-old student at the University of Texas at Arlington, was first in line.
Velasquez, who arrived at the Verizon around 6:40 a.m. wearing a Barack Obama campaign shirt from 2008, saw Sanders here during last year’s rally and wanted to see him again.
“I wanted to see him again and hear him speak about his vision for the future,” said Velasquez, who voted for Sanders in last year’s presidential primary.
And he wanted to be first in line “to get on the front row to see the guy who transcended American politics.”
“I need to soak him up.”