Published April 13, 2016
The 2016 primary presidential campaign came roaring into UB’s Alumni Arena on Monday night. A total of more than 11,000 people waited — some for hours in the misty rain — to see Democratic candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.
Doors opened at 4 p.m. for the 7 p.m. rally, and when Alumni Arena was filled to capacity, approximately 3,000 people were still outside, where UB Special Events set up a large TV screen so they could watch the speech. Sanders postponed his formal talk to address the overflow crowd first.
Once he was inside the arena, the crowd gave Sanders a booming welcome, clapping and chanting. Sanders spoke for about an hour, kicking off his talk with reference to the settlement announced on Monday between the federal government and Goldman Sachs regarding the investment bank's actions in relation to the 2008 financial crisis.
From there, he covered a broad range of economic issues, from trade policies to the gap in wealth between the richest Americans and the rest of the country. He talked about college tuition, the minimum wage, pay inequities between men and women, high poverty rates among Native Americans and discrepancies in incarceration rates among whites and African Americans for possession of marijuana. He spoke of marijuana’s listing as a Schedule 1 drug alongside opioids such as heroin and described legislation he has introduced to remove it from that list.
His words were often punctuated by thunderous applause.
The audience was youthful and relatively diverse. Union workers also were prominent, many wearing shirts noting membership in such unions as the Communication Workers of America and the New York State Nurses Association. Even a few Canadians came down from southern Ontario for the rally.
The event was held after the Sanders campaign was invited to UB by the undergraduate Student Association, which was responding to a petition drive launched by UB Progressives, a student group.
The rally was one of many political events that have drawn huge public interest as Democratic and Republican presidential candidates traverse the state in advance of the April 19 primaries.
Among attendees at the UB rally was Aaron Krolikowski, a 2009 graduate of UB who returned to Buffalo in 2012 after earning a PhD from the University of Oxford.
“I showed up with some friends at 3 o’clock, and the line was already snaking all the way around Alumni Arena,” he said. “We went a quarter of the way around the stadium, and people just kept coming … It was pretty insane.”
He said despite the cold rain, the atmosphere was festive, with strangers talking to one another in line and sharing in the experience of seeing a major presidential contender.
“It made me very proud that one of the only national-scale political rallies in my voting lifetime in Western New York was taking place at UB. When I was standing on line with a couple of other UB alums, we were saying that having Sen. Sanders visiting during primary season is like having an additional Distinguished Speaker in the series,” Krolikowski said, referencing the campus lecture series that brings high-profile speakers to UB each year.
He noted that it’s rare that New York State would be featured so prominently in a presidential primary, given that elections here often are not very competitive.
“It might be the only time in our lives that New York matters in an election,” he said, “and it was great that UB was able to be a part of that story.”