KENOSHA – The Randy Bryce campaign Monday rolled out some heavy-hitting fire and brimstone as it worked to motivate its base in its Nov. 6 quest to change the 1st Congressional District’s representation from Republican to Democrat for the first time in a quarter century.
Leading the charge at a gathering of several hundred Democratic and pro-labor faithful at the United Auto Worker Local 72 union hall in Kenosha was U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the standard-bearer of the progressive movement.
Speaking for about 45 minutes in the crowded, warm auditorium in the hall, Sanders melded a speech that: urged turnout for Bryce and other Democrats on the ballot on Nov. 6; blasted what Sanders called U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s attacks on working families through attempts at changing Social Security and Medicare programs; labeled Bryce challenger Bryan Steil a hand-picked Washington insider to succeed Ryan; and mercilessly derided President Donald Trump, whom Sanders called “a pathological liar.”
Sanders, who like Bryce pleaded for voter participation and grassroots campaigning this election, noted that 2014 had the lowest turnout in recent history of a midterm election.
“Almost two out of three Americans did not vote,” Sanders said. “And when you have an election where large numbers of working people don’t vote, people of color don’t vote in large numbers, young people don’t vote in large numbers, the results become clear and Republicans win.”
Sanders hit hard on what he termed the lies perpetrated by President Trump. As an example, he cited Trump’s 2016 campaign promise of providing healthcare for all, and his statement during his campaign that he was a different Republican philosophically than Paul Ryan. He also referenced the president’s recent appearance on “60 Minutes,” during which Trump refused to confirm or deny man’s role in climate change.
He then hammered home the progressive platform, which Bryce and other speakers also cited in varying degrees in their speeches: Medicaid for all and a single-payer health system; a $15 minimum wage; free post-secondary education; investment in infrastructure; women’s reproductive rights and freedom from harassment and assault; and comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as the “Dreamers.”
Sanders contends many of those initiatives can be financed with the wealthiest Americans and corporations paying “their fair share of taxes.”
The two-term senator and former congressman and Burlington, Vt., mayor who won 22 states, including Wisconsin, in the 2016 race for the Democratic presidential nomination, also blasted Trump for deepening divides among Americans.
“In our American history we have had conservative presidents and we have has liberal presidents, but all of those presidents have understood one simple fact: that one of the functions of the president of the Unites States is to bring people together not divide them up,” Sanders said.
“Good people, sometimes giving up their lives in the struggle, said we must not be a country of discrimination, we must not be a country of sexism, of racism, of homophobia and bigotry,” Sanders said. “Some of these people worked day and night, some of them were killed, in the fight to bring people together. Mr. Trump, we are not going backwards, we are going forwards. This is an election that will tell the American people and people all over the world what our values are.”
Bryce in the spotlight
Bryce, of Caledonia, recounted his story of how he transformed from an Army veteran, advocate for homeless veterans, union iron worker and finally became a political activist. Bryce poked fun at Steil for labeling him a radical.
“I don’t think it’s too radical to insist that everyone has access to healthcare, that’s why we need to pass Medicare for all. I also don’t think its too radical to insist that we keep families together and we don’t put kids in dog cages,” Bryce said, referring to the detaining of immigrant children at the U.S. border.
Predicting a “blue wave” of Democratic success in November, Bryce added, “and if you’re looking for reasons to fight, remember Wisconsin is the birth place of public-sector unions, unemployment insurance, (legendary progressive politician) Bob LaFollette and Earth Day,” Bryce said, “This isn’t just an election for working people, it’s a movement for working people. We can’t wait another two years for the next election.”
Steil’s campaign issued a statement about the rally, saying the Republican candidate would work to create more high-wage jobs, lower the cost of healthcare while protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions and “prepare the workforce for the jobs for the future.”
“Randy Bryce continues to run a campaign focused on anywhere but southeast Wisconsin,” said Andrew Iverson, a Steil campaign spokesman. “Whether it’s abolishing ICE or a $32 trillion government takeover of healthcare, Randy Bryce supports Bernie Sanders’ socialist agenda that will raise taxes on Wisconsin families and concentrate power in Washington, DC.”
For a little more than an hour, a series of speakers warmed up the packed auditorium before Bryce and Sanders took the stage. They included U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison; Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County, Ill., Board member seeking a congressional seat in a Chicago district; Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, the state director of the Wisconsin Working Families Part; and Angelina Cruz, president of the Racine Educators United, who introduced Bryce.
But none of those electrified the crowd the way state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, did. Sounding at times like a preacher or, as she put it with a reference to a well-publicized run-in she had a Milwaukee bank, like an “angry black woman,” Taylor implored those in attendance to work to get out the vote on Nov. 6 because “all that we love is on the line” in the election.
“Never lose your hope, because that’s what motivates us to keep on moving, to keep on pushing, to keep on dreaming,” Taylor said. “The way we have been able to make progress is when ordinary people put a little extra on the ordinary so extraordinary things can happen. We did it before and we can do it again.”