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By Christen McCurdy | The Skanner News
Published: 31 March 2016

After Austin Aviles works got off work Friday morning, he went directly to Moda Center to hear Sen. Bernie Sanders speak. 

“He's honest,” Aviles said of the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential hopeful. “Even in his sentences, when he talks, everything is we, it's never, ‘When I become president, when I do this.’ It’s, ‘When we do this.’”

Doors for the rally didn’t open until 11 a.m., and it wasn’t until 1 p.m. that the U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential hopeful took the stage -- but crowds began lining up as early as 7 a.m. to hear him speak.

Ennada Lagouit, an international student from Morocco, left Corvallis at 6:30 a.m. with her friend and fellow student, Veronica Gonzalez, to ensure they’d make it to the rally on time.

“As an international student, I stand for a lot of what he says. He has a lot of international fans,” Lagouit said, adding she’s not a fan of Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ rival for the nomination, due to her positions on foreign policy.

Sanders went on to win Washington’s caucus Saturday and clinched victories in Alaska and Hawaii the same day.

Exit polls on the racial breakdown of Saturday’s caucuses are not available. Critics have noted all three states have notably smaller Black populations than the national average and that Clinton’s wins in southern states were apparently solidified by Black voters.

On the other hand, Alaska and Hawaii are two of the most racially and linguistically diverse states in the nation, and Sanders polls well with younger voters of all races, enjoying a slight edge over Clinton among young African Americans.

According to the polling firm Edison Research, 51 percent of African American Democratic voters aged 17 to 29 said they support Sanders, versus 48 percent supporting Clinton. Sanders leads 66-34 among young Hispanics who are likely to support a Democrat.

"For me as a young person and a young Black person, Bernie seems like the candidate that is speaking most to my experiences and is talking the most about bettering my life as a Black young person,” community organizer Llondyn Elliott told The Skanner while waiting outside for Sanders’ address. “And he is on, I guess, the gay radar also. And so he speaks to multiple levels of myself, whereas other candidates might only speak to one of them or probably not any of them.”

Specifically, Elliott mentioned Sanders’ proposed policies on higher education – including tuition-free education.

“For me, I didn't go to college because I figured it would be too expensive. I figured that I didn't have enough money to go where I wanted to go and go to the school I wanted to attend,” Elliott said.

Last August Sanders drew a record crowd at Moda Center. The 19,000-capacity venue was packed then as it was Friday, and it was estimated that thousands more were turned away or stayed outside to watch his speech. A Seattle event the day before drew national attention and controversy after two protesters associated with the Black Lives Matter movement took the stage and asked for a moment of silence for Michael Brown on the first anniversary of his death.

Sanders spoke on racial justice at several points during his address in Portland, saying American people are “too smart” to support a candidate – namely Republican frontrunner Donald Trump – who has insulted Latinos, Muslims, women, veterans and African Americans throughout his campaign. He also said Trump’s lengthy campaign demanding President Barack Obama release his birth certificate was racist: “My father was born in Poland, and I find it interesting that no one has asked for my birth certificate. Do you think it has to do with the color of my skin?”

Sanders also promised to demilitarize police, hold cops accountable when they break the law and make sure police departments reflect the diversity of their communities – and said the United States must “rethink the so-called War on Drugs.”

Friday’s event was also the site of one of the most memorable and widely covered moments in Sanders’ campaign so far. A bird swooped into the auditorium near the stage, catching his attention and then, briefly, perched on the name tag on his podium.

“I think there’s some symbolism here,” Sanders said. “It doesn’t look like it, but that is a dove asking us for world peace.” Photos and images of Sanders with the bird went viral almost immediately.

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