Twenty-two minutes after 7 p.m., Sen. Bernie Sanders took center stage at the Montana Pavilion in Billings on Wednesday.
Thousands lined up outside for hours awaiting his speech, many coming from beyond Billings to see the presidential candidate.
After receiving a deafening welcome, Sanders smiled and thanked the crowd, noting the thousands in attendance packed into the Pavilion.
He kicked off his speech by citing the momentum of the campaign.
“We have now won victories in 19 states in this country,” Sanders said, referring to his latest primary wins in Indiana and West Virginia.
It didn’t take long for Sanders to swing at his rival for the Democratic nomination Hillary Clinton, referring to her delegate count before the race.
“That’s not a democracy,” he said. “That’s supporting her special interests.”
Sanders temporarily shifted his attention from Clinton and fired at presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, saying while he and Clinton disagree on many issues they both agree “it would be a disaster if Donald Trump became president.”
During his speech, Sanders said his campaign focuses of the future of the country.
“What I’m very proud of, in virtually all of the primaries and caucuses so far, we end up winning and by a large margin – younger people.”
“What does that mean? That means our vision of economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice, that is the vision for the future of our country.”
The Vermont senator stuck to his talking points seen in other speeches early on, admonishing the current campaign finance system and income inequality.
“We will not accept that in America,” Sanders said.
He scolded the Walton family, owners of Walmart: “Get off welfare, pay your workers a living wage.”
Sanders hammered home his continued pledge for a $15 an hour minimum wage and closing the gender pay gap.
“That is why I know every man in this room will stand with the woman in the fight for pay equity for women workers,” Sanders said to a cheering crowd. “But it’s not just making sure people are earning decent wages. We have to create millions of decent paying jobs in this country because real unemployment is not what you see in the newspapers. What you see is official employment at five percent, that’s not real unemployment because real employment includes the people who’ve quit looking for work and there are millions of people working part-time who want to work full-time.”
He said focusing on infrastructure, including in Montana, can be the first step in creating “13 million jobs through a trillion dollar investment rebuilding our infrastructure, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Sanders ripped the trade agreements that have disincentivized factory manufacturing in America.
His speech switched gears, stating the campaign was doing well due to those in support of his message.
Much of the allure to the Sanders campaign lies with his disdain for the higher education system, indebting students tens of thousands of dollars.
“Everybody knows how important education is to our lives,” he said. “Everybody knows if our economy is to succeed into the future we need the best-educated workforce in the world. We should not be punishing people for getting an education, and we should be rewarding them.”
Sanders once again said public college should be free.
“What sense is it when people do the right thing and get an education, they’re saddled with debt that sometimes takes decades to pay off?”
“That is why I believe those who have student debt should be able to refinance those loans at the lowest interest rates they can,” Sanders said.
Financing would come from Wall Street with a “speculation tax” which would bring in enough money to create free public education and “substantially lower student debt.”
The speech turned to immigration, with Sanders declaring 11 million undocumented illegal aliens within the United States deserve “comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship.”
National priorities would change under the senator’s leadership, Sanders said, where the focus would shift away from rebuilding cities overseas, instead American towns would receive the help.
Nearly 45 minutes into his speech, Sanders spoke of Native Americans and the struggles they face in 2016.
“We have a debt to the Native American people we can never fully repay,” he said.
If he is elected, “we will change our relationship with Native American people,” Sanders promised.
The topic dovetailed into his battle for better acceptance of climate change.
“It is caused by human activity and it is already causing devastating effects in the United States and many parts of the world.”
Sanders admitted he was “standing in coal country, I’m aware of that.”
“We have a moral responsibility to make certain that we leave our kids and our grandchildren, is a planet that is healthy and habitable.”
The crowd roared when Sanders said its important the country move toward fully developing renewable energy.
“I believe if we are smart, we do not have to make the trade off of jobs versus environment. We can do both,” Sanders said.
In his legislation, Sanders has placed $41 billion to ensure any community in America that is impacted by the transformation of the energy system receives the help needed.
“Our job is to make sure workers who want nothing more than to earn a living and take care of their families are not left high and dry,” Sanders said.
Healthcare has become another topic ripe for discussion in his campaign. Sanders once again pledged support for universal healthcare for Americans while calling out the “greed” among pharmaceutical companies.
“Healthcare is a right of all people, not a privilege.”
With both hands wrapped around the podium, Sanders repeated: “Real change” comes the “bottom on up.”
“Nobody at the top every gives you what you need,” he said. “You’re going to have to stand up and fight for it.”
Sanders ended the night with a minimum wage discussion, saying five years ago the idea of doubling the minimum wage to $15 would have been considered “crazy.”
“If I’m President, we’re going to raise the minimum wage to $15 a hour in every state.”
He rang off all the platforms he is running on which included fixing the income inequality within the United States, shoring up the gender wage gap, providing new mothers paid maternity leave, healthcare issues, and expensive public college tuition.
“We have a corrupt campaign finance system. We have a rigged economy. We have a broken justice system which has more people in jail than any other country,” Sanders said. “We have a Wall Street where the business model there is based on fraud. And people all over this country are looking at the status quo and they are saying louder and louder, ‘Not acceptable.'”
“And that is what this campaign and the political revolution is all about … I say we can make real change in this country.”
Reporter: Dustin Klemann