Western PA progressives take the stage at campaign rally headlined by Sanders
By Aaron Warnick
Current Contributing Writer
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders headlined a stage full of progressive candidates at Carnegie Mellon University on Sunday. The campaign event was billed as a rally to support Braddock mayor John Fetterman’s candidacy for lieutenant governor.
Fetterman and Sanders were joined by Sara Innamorato and Summer Lee. The two Democratic Socialist candidates, running on progressive agendas, won strong primary victories in May. The overall message of the rally was that progressive politics is a winning strategy.
“The people are catching on that there’s something seriously wrong with this country.”
Sanders said during his speech: “Raising the minimum wage, healthcare for all, making public colleges and universities tuition free, protecting Roe versus Wade, transforming our energy system, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, on all of those issues, the American people are with us.”
Attendees snaked down the stairs leading to Rangos Auditorium before the event. The crowd didn’t quite fill the room but the final count was more than 900, according to the Fetterman Campaign.
The first in line was Nick and Yvonne Burns. The couple traveled from Johnstown to support Fetterman. They started the line at 11 a.m., more than two hours before the crowd was allowed to file into the auditorium.
“He gets it. He knows,” said Nick Burns, a member of United Steelworkers Local 2635. “He represents struggling areas. He also is very anti-Trump, which helps a lot.”
It would be an understatement to say that only “some” people turned out just to see Sanders.
“I need to see him,” said Jeremy Killion, a Carnegie Mellon student. “It’s going to be hard to be as excited about anyone as I was about Bernie in 2016.”
Killion came with several other students from the Heinz College’s School of Public Policy at CMU.
“I’m most excited to see Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato,” Owen Stevenson said. Stevenson canvassed for Lee, who handily defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Paul Costa for the District 34 Pennsylvania House seat.
Mary Caldwell and Donna Semega came from Greensburg to see Sanders, but were also excited to see Fetterman after meeting him at another campaign event. Beyond his height, the two were impressed with his candor.
They said that with a lot of other politicians in Pennsylvania, when they talk, “it’s a lot of ‘BS,’” Semega said. “Fetterman’s concise. Not a man of a whole lot of words. He gets the main idea.”
“I know a person within five minutes of talking to them,” Caldwell said. “He seems alright.”
Gisele Fetterman, the candidate’s wife, served as the emcee. She first introduced Derek Zanetti, who performs under the stage name of Homeless Gospel Choir. Zanetti, armed with a guitar and a single chord, sang protest songs on topics ranging from Republicans with “God on [their] side,” to “big pharma.” He was followed by beat-boxing 8th-grader KeVaughn Organ. The 13-year-old from Munhall earned massive applause from the crowd.
After the beats, and a pitch to recruit volunteers, the progressive candidates took the stage.
Sara Innamorato was first. The climax of Innamorato’s speech came when she referenced the new McCarthyist campaign strategy from state Republicans — compiling and distributing a list of candidates that support socialized programs.
“Instead of fighting for issues that impact working people’s lives,” she said. “They want to waste your money spreading fear and further dividing us.”
“Now, I’m going to make it easy for the Republican leaders compiling that list. My name is Sara Innamorato, S-A-R-A I-N-N-A-M-O-R-A-T-O. You’ve seen it on a yard sign. Put my name on top of that list.”
“This movement will not be stopped,” Summer Lee told the crowd following Innamorato, urging attendees to get out and vote in November. “We deserve better and we are demanding better.”
Lee acknowledged how state Republicans refer to progressive candidates as “scary socialists.”
“The GOP and those fear-mongers want us to think that we’re not the same; that we can’t come together,” Lee said. “In November of this year, we are going to turn out in droves to prove them wrong.”
“We’re going to build power on every level … the people will reclaim our power.”
With her children in tow, Gisele Fetterman took a turn at the mic: “Since I might soon be your second lady, otherwise known by the very unflattering acronym S.L.O.P., I thought this might be a good time for us to get to know each other better,” Fetterman said.
As the young Fettermans danced near the podium, Gisele highlighted the Fetterman campaign’s progressive goals.
“This America is for the many and not the few. It’s for you. It’s for steel town that is coming back from the brink of destruction,” she said. “It’s for that little girl from Rio who found a country that loved her, even without papers. Who was even elected as a delegate for Bernie Sanders in 2016.”
Following his wife, John Fetterman briefly took the stage.
“You know, I’m really living my best life. I have three wonderful children and an amazing spouse who is everything. Fetterman said. “And I get to introduce Bernie Sanders at two rallies in two months. Winning. Hashtag winning.
“Let me tell you, I can’t say much more than these amazing, dynamic women have already said and what our special guest is about to say.”
And he really didn’t. He kept it short.
“In Pennsylvania in 2018 right now, it is all on the line … We must make sure Governor Wolf wins a second term.” Fetterman said. “Governor Wolf is a firewall protecting labor, women’s health care, paid vacation … If you love it and you care about it or you benefit by it, Scott Wagner wants to take it away from you and we can’t let that happen.”
Fetterman started a “Bernie” chant and then exited stage right after embracing Sanders.
“Bernie, I love you!” a woman yelled from the crowd as Sanders started to speak. The animated, vocal crowd chimed in a lot.
“Thank you very much for electing Gisele’s husband as Lieutenant Governor,” Sanders said after the declaration of love.
“What the political revolution is about is taking a hard look at where we are as a nation today and having the courage to stand up to up the billionaire class and demand a government at the local, state and national level that represents all of us, not just people on top,” Sanders said. “The people are catching on that there’s something seriously wrong with this country.”
Sanders detailed the progressive agenda for a little over a half hour.
“You go out on the streets of Pittsburgh, and you ask people whether they think it is a good idea to give tax breaks to billionaires [someone from the audience yelled “No!”] and then cut social security, medicare and medicaid, they will you that you are nuts. Nobody believes that except for Trump and the Republican leadership”