Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally to kick off his 2020 U.S. presidential campaign in Brooklyn, the New York City borough where Sanders grew up in a rent-controlled apartment. “I know where I came from,” he said. “And that is something I will never forget.” | Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images
Sanders’ allies have long pushed him to talk more about his past, arguing that it is a powerful story that could help him build trust with Americans who feel attacked President Trump.
By HOLLY OTTERBEIN
03/02/2019 02:58 PM EST
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Bernie Sanders finally got personal.
After rarely talking about his early years in his first chase for the White House, the Vermont senator started his 2020 bid here at a rally highlighting his origins as the son of an immigrant, a lower-middle-class child and a young civil rights activist.Story Continued Below
Sanders and a group of speakers that preceded him, including South Carolina state Rep. Terry Alexander, criminal justice activist Shaun King and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, sought to weave together his little-known personal history with his well-known left-wing policies.
They also contrasted Sanders’ life story with that of President Donald Trump’s.
“I did not have a father who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers, casinos and country clubs,” Sanders said. “I did not come from a family that gave me a $200,000 allowance every year beginning at the age of three.”
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Sanders and others said that he helped lead the first known sit-in at the University of Chicago, attended the March on Washington and was arrested while protesting school segregation.
“This is not some exaggerated myth,” King said. “This is the origin story of a political revolutionary.”
They also talked about Sanders’ childhood in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, where economic stresses often weighed on his household, as well as his experience of seeing his parents die at a young age. Sanders said his fathers’ family members were “wiped out” in the Holocaust.
“I know where I came from,” he said. “And that is something I will never forget.”
Sanders’ rally was held at Brooklyn College, which he attended for one year. Tomorrow, he is continuing the tour of his roots with an event in Chicago, where he graduated from college and participated in the civil rights movement.
Sanders’ allies have long pushed him to talk more about his past, arguing that it is a powerful story that could help him build trust with Americans who feel attacked by Trump.
Sanders failed to win over most older voters in 2016, especially those of color. Since announcing his 2020 campaign last month, he has announced a diverse group of top aides and co-chairs, including Turner.
In many ways, Saturday’s event was a peek at the personal origins of Sanders’ class rage that has powered his political career.
The rally was also likely designed to show what his supporters believe is the breadth of his coalition, featuring a diverse array of speakers, including some from states that Sanders lost in the 2016 primary such as South Carolina and Pennsylvania. Scott Slawson, an Erie labor leader whose union went on strike this week and whose members’ employer was criticized by Sanders in his CNN town hall, also talked at the event.
The Sanders campaign estimated about 13,000 people attended Saturday’s rally.
Though Sanders and others spent a great deal of time highlighting his biography, his speech began and ended in a familiar place: He railed against income inequality and “the billionaire class,” the “insurance companies” and the “drug companies.” He also spoke about criminal justice and an anti-interventionist foreign policy.
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