GREENSBORO — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was greeted by a rapturous crowd of around 9,000 at the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center on Sunday night.
The crowd for the independent senator from Vermont skewed young, but did range from high school and college students to young families and senior citizens.
Still, for a campaign that has outflanked Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton on a host of progressive political issues, the audience was noticeably less racially diverse.
“It’s a very white crowd,” said Cheryl Pressman, 38, of Charlotte. “But right now, at this point in the campaign, maybe that’s not a surprise.”
Pressman, who is black, said many minorities feel alienated from the political process.
“But that’s one thing that I like about Bernie’s campaign,” Pressman said. “Maybe it’s early and the message hasn’t gotten out yet, but he is speaking to the issues that matter to all people and he’s taking on things on behalf of black and minority people that Republicans and Democrats don’t usually want to touch.”
Sanders’ campaign emphasized diversity throughout the event Sunday. Before his appearance, a Muslim-American student from N.C. State spoke as did a black flight attendant.
Sanders is besting Clinton in polls of early-primary states Iowa and New Hampshire. He will have to take on Clinton throughout the South as well — a traditional area of strength for her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
A North Carolina primary is expected in mid-March.
In his remarks, Sanders tackled everything from rising college tuition to environmental issues to police brutality.
The country turned a huge cultural corner on race when it elected Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, Sanders said.
“But we still have a very, very long way to go,” Sanders said. “We have to end all forms of institutional racism.”
Most police officers are honest and do a great job, Sanders said. But he is disturbed by recent beatings and shootings of black men and women by police officers, he added.
“I do not want to see local police departments that look like invading armies,” Sanders said. “A good police department is one that is part of the community, not one that looks like an oppressing force.”
Jasmine Murrell, 19, and Treasure Evans, 18, are UNC-Greensboro students who said they were drawn to the event by Sanders’ message.
“He seems to care about the future,” Evans said. “Most politicians are only talking about what’s happening right now. But he’s talking about all the issues that are going to affect us in 10 years when we’re out there, when we’ve got jobs and families.”