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Thousands 'Feel The Bern' As Bernie Sanders Visits Kansas City

Cody Newill
KCUR 89.3
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders visited Kansas City Wednesday where thousands showed up in support.

Thousands of Kansas Citians crowded Bartle Hall Wednesday afternoon in support of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who visited just before state caucuses in Kansas and primary in Missouri.

State Rep. Brandon Ellington of Kansas City endorsed and introduced Sanders, who gave his speech to a crowd largely made up of millennials. In one of the most well received moments of the afternoon, Sanders reiterated his plan to slash the cost of college tuition through a tax on Wall Street speculation.

"We are listening to young people who are saying, 'Why is it that I have to be $50,000 or $100,000 in debt because I went to college?'" Sanders said as thousands raised their fists and cheered. "People are asking, 'Why should we be punished because we wanted an education?' That's wrong."

Sanders also spent plenty of time calling for an increase in the minimum wage and decrying income inequality, which has been a cornerstone of his campaign. His words found great reception in a city which attempted to raise the minimum wage last year, but was ultimately blocked by the Missouri Legislature.

"The federal minimum wage of $7.25 is a starvation wage," Sanders said. "Together, we're going to raise that to $15 an hour over the next few years." 

Sanders also used his speech to call for higher standards in policing and demilitarization of police forces throughout the country. 

Credit Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Many waited in line for hours to get into Bartle Hall where Sanders spoke.

Though most in the crowd were diehard supporters who are "feeling the Bern," some were skeptical. Sara Jawhari was born to Palestinian parents and emigrated from Saudi Arabia when she was very young. She said she's been less than impressed with Sanders' foreign policy stance in regards to the Middle-East.

"I currently do not support [Sanders'] stance on how to solve the Syrian refugee crisis," Jawhari said. "His stances on immigration don't match up with his foreign policy issues right now."

Jawhari said she's a registered Democrat and would likely vote for former Secretary of State and Sen. Hillary Clinton if she receives the Democratic nomination. But she said she respects Sanders' record of supporting and actively protesting for civil rights. 

Others at the rally weren't so flexible. Volunteer Paula Sayles said she's been a Sanders supporter for almost a decade, and even wrote Sanders in during the 2012 general election. And she said she's ready to do that again, even if Sanders doesn't get the Democratic nomination.

"That is upsetting to a lot of people, but in Kansas, my vote for a Democrat or a write in vote will count equally," Sayles said. "This is my vote, I can use it however I want, and this is how I choose to use it."

Both Sayles and Jawhari said they were worried that Donald Trump would earn the GOP nomination for president, furthering his divisive rhetoric against undocumented workers and Muslims.

Jawhari is a Muslim and said she has never experienced as much doubt and anger towards her culture as she has in the last few months.

"I'm team anything but Trump," Jawhari said with a laugh. "It's shocking that somebody of his despicable stature was able to secure such an important group of caucuses in Nevada."

Sanders himself seemed confident that a message of inclusion and diversity would resonate with the American public in November.

"Our job is to bring our people together: black, white, Latino, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans," Sanders said. "We will not allow Trump and the others to divide us up."

The Kansas caucuses will be held March 5, and the Missouri primary is set for March 15.

Cody Newill is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org. 

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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