Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders formally joined the 2016 Democratic presidential race on Tuesday, hoping to start "a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally."
Sanders, a political gadfly who rose to become mayor of Burlington, made his announcement on the Lake Champlain waterfront that had been one of the jewels of that tenure. Before he took the stage, friends and political allies told a crowd of thousands that Sanders had saved the park from being turned into condos.
"The lesson to be learned is that when people stand together, and are prepared to fight back, there is nothing that can’t be accomplished," said Sanders.
Other Sanders supporters, like environmentalist Bill McKibben, talked about his 16 years in the House of Representatives and nine years in the Senate, as an outspoken "Democratic socialist" who "means what he says." Ice cream moguls Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield compared their underdog battle against Pillsbury to the challenge Sanders would face as a populist insurgent candidate—a task that seemed impossible, until it wasn't.
"There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans," Sanders said. "This grotesque level of inequality is immoral. It is bad economics. It is unsustainable. This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about. This has got to change and, as your president, together we will change it."
Sanders's speech worked out the themes he'd developed in months of pre-campaign speeches and town halls in the early primary states. Climate change, he said, "is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating problems in the United States and around the world." America's health insurance market needed to be supplanted by "a Medicare-for-all single payer system." The wealthiest Americans needed to pay higher taxes; Wall Street institutions needed to be reformed and humbled.
"If a bank is too big to fail," said Sanders, "it is too big to exist."
Sanders, one of the most avowedly left-wing members of Congress, has risen steadily in polling since hinting at a bid. A November 2014 Bloomberg/Saint Anselm poll put his support in New Hampshire at just 6 percent to the 62 percent enjoyed by Hillary Clinton. At the start of May, Sanders had risen to 18 percent, benefiting from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren's repeated insistence that she would not run for president.
On Wednesday, Sanders will campaign in the cities of Concord and Portsmouth in that first primary state. His campaign, he said, would not be "about Hillary Clinton" or any other rival. It would be a campaign for economic reform, against the great wealth that Sanders blamed for the ruination of politics.
"American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections," said Sanders. "It is not about the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other incredibly wealthy individuals spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer."