Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called on supporters to spark a "political revolution" for his candidacy on Wednesday night, offering a rallying cry of "enough is enough" on a video simulcast to events across the country, including San Diego.
"The American people are saying loudly and clearly: Enough is enough," he said, standing before a bank of video cameras set up in a crowded Washington apartment. "Our government belongs to all of us and not just a handful of billionaires."
The Sanders campaign said more than 105,000 backers attended 3,500 meetings in homes, coffee shops, union halls and town squares, an effort to spread the message of his insurgent bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In San Diego, more than 700 people were expected to pack into the North Park Observatory Theater to show their support and watch Sanders on the big screen. Organizers say they have had to change venues three times as they gathered more RSVPs.
“I’m thrilled by the enthusiasm I’ve seen from San Diegans," said local organizer Aaron Truax in a news release. "Sanders’ message resonates strongly here and in many communities across the country. He’s the only presidential candidate who’s taking an active stance against the billionaire class, and standing up for wage earners. He wants money out of politics, and he means it."
As supporters sipped "Bernie Palomas," a Vermont maple syrup cocktail mixed by the event's host, Sanders made an impassioned argument for building a single-payer health system, tackling income inequality, eliminating student debt, addressing institutional racism, expanding family leave and raising a "starvation minimum wage."
"Bernie Sanders alone as president of the United States is not going to solve all these problems," he said, reading off a yellow legal pad with handwritten notes. "But when we stand together there is nothing, nothing, nothing that we cannot accomplish."
Sanders has ridden the populist wave surging through the Democratic party, attracting large crowds to rallies across the country with his unapologetically liberal message. In recent weeks, he's seized on Hillary Rodham Clinton's refusal to say whether she backs the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — both opposed by key segments of the Democratic base.
While Clinton remains the front-runner in the primary race, the Wednesday night event was intended as a show of strength for Sanders' candidacy. His campaign is trying to emulate the model used by President Barack Obama, who mobilized supporters against Clinton in the 2008 primary through an expansive organizing effort focused on networks of personal contacts.
Larry Cohen, a former president of the Communications Workers of America, encouraged backers to volunteer for the campaign — and sign up others to make calls, knock on doors and contribute.
"We're part of a historic moment but our job is to build a historic movement," he told the cameras. "Solidarity."
Sanders' unexpectedly strong showing has not gone unnoticed by Clinton's team. Her aides have signaled that they consider Sanders to be a legitimate challenger who will be running for the long haul, noting the $15.2 million he's raised, largely from small donors, in the first three months of the race. They believe he will find a measure of support in Iowa, where the caucus system typically turns out the most passionate voters, and New Hampshire, given Sanders' many years representing neighboring Vermont in Congress.
The Washington meeting struck a sharp contrast with Clinton's carefully stage-managed events. Host Manisha Sharma said she stayed awake until 2 a.m. cleaning the one-bedroom apartment, carefully storing odds and ends in cardboard organic milk boxes from Costco tucked into a wooden bookshelf. Beers were piled into a kitchen sink and a card table set up next to a small bathroom served as a bar.
After Sanders spoke Sharma presented him with a poster featuring a photo of Mahatma Gandhi's Salt March, the first major act in his campaign against British rule of India.
"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win," she told him, quoting Gandhi. "That's what you'll do."