VADO, New Mexico — On a hot and sometimes blustery Saturday, more than 3,000 Bernie Sanders supporters waited in line outside of Vado Elementary School in Vado New Mexico to see the presidential candidate and listen to his platform.
Several people made their own signs, some of which coined unique phrases on them. “They tried to bury us but they didn’t know we were seeds,” one sign read.
His message to his supporters in Vado focused on increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour across the country; providing free college education; using a tax on wall street to pay for students’ higher education; reducing the student loan interest rate; providing better quality healthcare for our veterans and everyone in the nation; and supporting a comprehensive immigration reform that would protect undocumented workers.
Prior to arriving he spoke in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is also set to speak in Albuquerque on Tuesday.
The Crowd in Vado
Vado, which is just south of Las Cruces and West of El Paso, was Sanders’ third stop in the state of New Mexico this week. The presidential candidate held his rally on the school grounds, which is surrounded by farmland and was highlighted by the picturesque setting of blue skies and the mountains in the background.
Diana Ramirez, an employee with the District Attorney’s Office in El Paso, said she and her brother arrived at the elementary school at 5 a.m.
They were the first to arrive.
Ramirez said she and her family have supported Sanders throughout his campaign. “I think the one thing that draws me to him most is this – getting rid of the politics in politics – and it really being just about the people and what the people are about. It’s not about who’s trying to give them (politicians) money to win elections.”
As they waited, several vendors selling Bernie Sanders T-Shirts, buttons, signs and other merchandise. Outside of the school, truck vendors were selling burritos, tortas and tacos.
Along the side of the road, an ice cream truck parked and used the opportunity to profit from the heat.
Las Cruces for Bernie, a group of volunteers who support Sanders and his campaign, were in the middle of the school parking lot seeking donations of about $20. The group also sold T-Shirts, apples, bananas, and home-made signs crafted by an artist.
Kathy Wooten, a volunteer for the group was impressed with Sanders’ choice to come to Vado – a population of about 3, 574 with the average household earning $35,834 according to newmexico.hometownlocator.com. The median household income is $28, 322.
“These are the people that are forgotten,” Wooten said. “These are the colonias that the federal government has identified as colonies that are underserved – they don’t have the infrastructure- he’s here to talk to these people. He cares. He’s the real thing. He could have chosen down the road in Las Cruces. Las Cruces is a little bit more – you know – substantial in population and we would flora him to be there – however he came where the need is. He wants to be heard by the Latino population he cares about them and people like them.”
As the sky grew brighter, the sun seemingly became hotter beating down on the crowd, as the line expanded and snaked around the entrance and started to form outside the perimeter of the school’s fence.
There was one protester who stood outside the gates, but was later asked to leave.
By 10 a.m. the line was a quarter of a mile away from the school. People who brought umbrellas to shade themselves from the heat kept them open, others dabbed themselves with sunscreen.
Nathan Cook waited with his mother, Cathy Vadney, outside the school perimeter. The two Las Crucens had arrived at about 9:30 a.m. and had to park about a quarter-mile down the road.
Cook said he felt obligated to come and support Sanders, whom he supports.
“I want to see Bernie – everyone else gets to see him so it’s my turn,” Cook said. “He’s got integrity. He’s been in the fight for a long time. I especially like that he was in the fight when it wasn’t popular – like when he wasn’t getting a lot of news and media attention. You look back sat the civil rights and his position on gay marriage, you know he didn’t do it because he was looking for a vote – he did it because he thought it was right. So I like that.”
When the crowd was finally allowed to enter, they went through a TSA security check process. Everyone who entered the site was screened
and had to walk through a metal detector.
Once inside, some people ran to find a spot, while others – mostly children – headed toward the school’s playground to play. To pass the time, the Sanders team provided entertainment to the crowd by Las Cruces acoustic band – String Awakening.
During lulls the crowd would chant, “We know Bernie’s got our back, he doesn’t need a SuperPAC!”
As he walked onto the stage the crowd erupted in cheers chanting “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie…”
“I’m running for president of the United States because New Mexico has the worst high school graduation rate in the country,” Sanders said to the crowd. “Over 30 percent of students in New Mexico are either dropping out of high school or they are not graduating when they should. Together we are going to change that and create an educational system of high quality that works for the kids of New Mexico and America.”
According to the New Mexico Public Education Department High school dropouts in New Mexico face a 13 percent unemployment rate and earn an average income of $11,426. In Dona Ana County, the graduation rate for the 2014 cohort was at 72 percent, with 28 percent of students not finishing school or dropping out. According to the New Mexico Department of Health.
During his speech, that lasted about an hour, Sanders spoke about drug abuse, immigration reform, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, his support for gay marriage, equal pay for women, global warming, healthcare, higher education and the debt owed the Native American population in this country.
Sanders also chastised his democratic opponent, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for receiving financial contributions from Super PACs.
“Time and time again the contracts and treaties – as they were negotiated they were broken and ignored. Meanwhile we owe the Native American people a huge debt of gratitude that we can never repay. The Native American people have taught us so much, and maybe the most important lesson that they have taught us is that we as human beings are part of nature. We must live with nature, and if we destroy nature we are destroying ourselves. But yet today, if you go to a Native American reservation or a Native American community what you see is very high levels of poverty and unemployment.”
Sanders then transitioned over to global warming and spoke of New Mexico’s potential for using solar and wind-powered energy.
On immigration reform Sanders said if Congress did not pass a comprehensive reform, with a path to citizenship, he would use his executive powers as president to do all that he could do to change that.
“There are 11 million people in this country today that are undocumented and many of those people as we speak today are being exploited on the job because when you have no legal rights,” Sanders said. “When you cannot legally defend yourself you employer can cheat you and rob you of your wages….I will end the current deportation policies. Our immigration approach should be to unite families, not divide families.”
This campaign, Sanders stressed, was a campaign that listened to all minorities in this country. Again and again, he spoke about poverty and chastised the top one percent in America. “Poverty is a death sentence,” he said.
On the same note Sanders mentioned Trump’s recent tweet regarding his Taco Bowl and how he “loved Hispanics.”
“Donald Trump will never be elected president because the American people will not support a candidate who insults Mexicans and Latinos,” Sanders said over a cheering crowd. “…who insults Muslims or women; who insults African Americans or veterans. Our job is to bring our people together, to create a government that works for all of us – not just the one percent. And we will never allow people to divide us up.”
“Whoa,” Sanders said and followed by asking the other half how many of them were underinsured with high deductibles and high co-payments.
“Together,” Sanders said. “We are going to change that.”
But change, Sanders said, comes from the bottom up – not from the top down.
The New Mexico primary is on June 7.
The Fourth Wall.
So did I feel the Bern? In a manner of speaking – yes, yes I did, except it was more of a burn. Temperatures reached the high 80s and some reporters, like myself, came ill prepared. At the end of the day, my arms were so red and they began to hurt on the drive home. (They are now scaly and itchy.)
One thing I noticed was that many of the people in the crowd had water before they arrived, but the secret service and TSA took it away upon screening. However, some never had their water replaced.
At times, event volunteers would meander through the ecstatic crowd – before and during Sanders’ speech – with large gallon-sized waters in their hands. As the volunteers walked through the crowd with one – sometimes two – gallon-sized jugs of water in their hands, they would offer people water, sometimes in pint-sized cups; and sometimes they could only offer to fill up the empty water bottles that the crowd members had in their hands.
If people got thirsty they were also offered a route to a water fountain – but that meant ultimately losing their place in line or their spot in the crowd.
It was not a very efficient way of distributing water and not every member in the crowd was offered a sip.
At the end of the event, members of the crowd ran toward Sanders as he exited – only the barriers that had been placed there kept them from him.
Once the excitement wore down, people walked to their cars, and on the way there – a group of college students found a water hose laying on the grounds and asked if it could be turned on.
People drank from it, refilled their drinks and in one instance, a young woman leaned down, pulled her hair forward and poured the water on the back of her neck – and then all over her head.
She turned to the surprised group behind her and said, “That was so worth it!” and walked away.
A few others applauded her idea – but weren’t brave enough to try it.
I’m just sorry I had expensive equipment with me and had a formal jacket on – I totally would have followed suit.
Photos By Stephen Hinojosa, Special to the ElPaso Herald-Post. To view his work, click HERE.