A woman clamoring for a glimpse of Bernie Sanders stood behind temporary bleachers on the football field at Santa Monica High School, wondering how to get closer to the candidate as he spoke to thousands of supporters Monday night.
“We have to push through,” she told her companion. “That’s the only way.”
It was a sentiment that would have resonated with the U.S. senator, who was stumping in Santa Monica about two weeks before the state’s primary election June 7.
The 74-year-old Democratic candidate has vowed to continue his campaign despite rival Hillary Clinton’s presumed delegate lead heading into the party’s convention.
“If you promise not to tell her,” Sanders told the crowd jokingly, “we’re gonna win here in California.”
Sanders’ stop in Santa Monica was part of a swing through the Golden State that also includes events in Vista, Irvine and East Los Angeles as well as Anaheim, Riverside and San Bernardino.
During an impassioned speech at Samohi that lasted about 70 minutes, Sanders challenged the status quo on a wide variety of issues, including campaign finance, climate change, health care and higher education.
He spoke of a “rigged economy” that has produced poverty and dramatic income inequality, advocating for a higher minimum wage and for the elimination of the gender pay gap.
“I’m tired of seeing the middle class shrinking, shrinking and shrinking,” he said.
He decried aggressive police tactics and questioned the country’s criminal justice system, saying too many people are incarcerated. He called for an improved approach to mental health, arguing that more can be done to help needy citizens.
Sanders backers recently filed a federal lawsuit attempting to extend California’s voter registration window past the May 23 deadline to the day of the primary. The candidate said he fares well when turnout is high.
Sanders this week named five people to the 15-member Democratic platform committee, multiple media outlets reported. The committee appointments are controlled by the party chair, and the concession to Sanders was seen as an attempt by the party establishment to appease his supporters. Clinton chose six members.
Still, Sanders took shots at a system that he said has discounted his campaign from the onset.
“When we began 12 months ago, nobody took us seriously,” he said. “Nobody took you seriously.”
Crowds waited in lines for hours to attend the Sanders rally, which welcomed a diverse swath of Santa Monica residents and supporters from throughout the region.
Attendees posed for photos with a balding, bespectacled elderly man on the field who wore a white sweatshirt emblazoned with the words, “I am not Bernie.”
The smell of marijuana floated through the evening air as a middle-aged man sat on the turf with a joint, smoking it minutes before Sanders called for changes in how the drug is classified by the federal government.
Backers donned Sanders shirts, wore commemorative pins, held American flags and carried handmade signs. “The only BS we need is Bernie Sanders,” read one. “The establishment is shaking,” read another.
Sanders was introduced by Dick Van Dyke, who suggested that Sanders’ age shouldn’t be a barrier for his candidacy.
“I’m 90,” the award-winning entertainer said, “and I like to give young politicians like Bernie a chance.”
Also speaking before Sanders was local Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre, a Samohi alumnus who put the Sanders campaign in the context of political and social activism in Santa Monica.
“It’s fitting that Santa Monica High would be the host for a presidential candidate that puts people before profit,” he said.
The Santa Monica police and fire departments assisted with traffic and crowd control for the local event. Authorities issued a notice Monday morning that traffic delays were expected from 2 p.m. into the late evening.
“Thank you, Santa Monica,” Sanders said to raucous cheers.
There were Santa Monica connections to Sanders’ campaign well before he arrived for the rally at Samohi.
In March, Samohi alumna Kesha Ram voted for Sanders in his home state’s Democratic presidential primary. But she’s not your average voter. The University of Vermont graduate, who introduced Sanders at a campus event during her time in college, is currently running for lieutenant governor in Vermont.
“Bernie gave me my first big break,” she told the Daily Press recently. “I owe him quite a bit for that.”
Last month, a pro-Sanders stand-up comedy show was held at Finn McCool’s pub on Main Street to collect donations for the candidate.
Santa Monica-based oncologist Paul Song, a prominent Sanders supporter, was widely criticized last month for comments he made during a Sanders event in New York. He referred to Democratic politicians as “whores” for being beholden to pharmaceutical giants, insurance companies and other large corporations.
“Dr. Song’s comment was inappropriate and insensitive,” Sanders said in an apology. “There’s no room for language like that in our political discourse.”
People in the region have poked fun at Santa Monica’s political leanings on Twitter, observing the city population’s support for Sanders in recent months.
“if the election was based on bumper stickers in santa monica,” local information technology professional Jessica DeVita wrote, “bernie would win.”
“Pretty cool that I can go to a Bernie Sanders rally anytime I want just by walking to the Santa Monica Public Library,” screenwriter Jason Mayland wrote.
But probably not like the one Monday night.