WINDHAM — Hundreds of voters turned out to “feel the Bern” on Sunday night as they welcomed presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders to Windham High School.
Voters packed the school’s cafeteria to listen to the Vermont senator talk policy and unity in his third stop of the day in New Hampshire.
Sanders received a warm welcome from Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream — a Vermont icon. Cohen supplied his famous ice cream to those who turned out.
Sanders explained the two reasons that fueled his second run for president, which comes three years after falling short to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 by just 8 percent.
“It is imperative that we defeat the most dangerous president in the history of this country,” he said of President Donald Trump.
He recalled the empty promises from Trump during his campaign tour in 2016, a man who Sanders called a pathological liar.
He said although the president told everyone he would provide universal health care, he instead supported legislation that would remove 32 million people from the health care they were receiving.
“We have a president who is a racist. ... We have a president who is a sexist, a president who is a homophobe, a president who is a xenophobe, and a president who is a religious bigot,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the second reason he launched his campaign was to end the war on the working class, which he came from himself.
“We need to rebuild the working class in this country and tell the 1 percent they cannot have it all,” he said.
In the last 30 years, Sanders said the top 1 percent in the country has seen a $21 trillion increase in their wealth, while the bottom half has seen a $900 billion decrease. The wealthiest three people in the country own more wealth than the entire bottom half, he said.
“I think the time is long overdue not only for us to talk about the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality, and to talk about the devastation to the working class of this country,” he said to applause. “The time is long overdue to not only talk about it, but it is long overdue to do something about it.”
Sanders preached his belief that public colleges and universities should be tuition-free, an idea that many have claimed is too radical. Sharing the statistic that 45 million Americans today are facing student debt, he said young people in the U.S. are unable to marry and have families because of their financial status.
Over the last four years, Sanders said the idea of tuition-free colleges is gaining resonance. In a competitive, global economy where young people need higher education to obtain good jobs, he said the idea is no longer a radical one.
To applause, Sanders cited climate change as the greatest threat the country faces.
“Climate change is not a hoax,” he said. “Climate change is a deathly, real reality that is already devastating our country and much of the world. ... Scientists from all over the world have told us — and this is really scary stuff — that we have all of 12 years, which is no time at all, to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels.”
The message of Sander’s campaign — “Not me, us” — is backed by his desire to create a sense of unity and a nation with a vision different from that of Trump. He said that vision is to worry about one another’s families, the people who sleep out on the street, and the children without health care or education.
“When people stand up and fight back, that is when change takes place,” Sanders said.
Katherine Colwell, 19, of North Andover, who will be voting in her first presidential election next year, joined her friends in listening to Sanders for the first time.
“I agree with what (he) says,” Colwell said. “I wish that this is all what would happen, but I think we need a more moderate candidate.”
Colwell and many others in attendance praised Sanders for his performance and his ability to get the crowd riled up. Morgan MacDougall of Boston said her hands hurt by the end from clapping so much.
Kelsey Foran of Worcester saw Sanders speak during his run in 2016 and was back to see him in Windham. This time, however, she hopes to see Sanders become more successful at voicing the same policies as before.
“I’m glad he’s keeping his platform the same,” Foran said.