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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, address the crowd at a rally at the South Charleston Community Center on Thursday afternoon. Sanders spoke in McDowell County Thursday morning at an invitation-only round-table. Sanders also spoke at a Morgantown rally at the Waterfront Place Hotel on Thursday evening. (Photo: West Virginia Press Association/Dalton Walker)

May Looking Bright for Sanders as Political Revolution Marches On

Describing poverty as a "death sentence" for millions of Americans each year, Sanders supporters remain inspired by his call for a politics from below

Coming off a big win in Indiana and with the Democratic Party holding four more primaries this month, May could end up showing a resilient Bernie Sanders campaign despite the concerted effort of the mainstream press to count him out.

With upcoming contests in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, and the territory of Guam, Politico reports Friday that Sanders could be poised for another upcoming "win streak" against rival Hillary Clinton:

Sanders points to his record of winning 18 states and the narrow margin separating him and Clinton in national polls as cause for remaining in the race.

He contends that he’s the strongest Democratic candidate against presumptive GOP front-runner Donald Trump, and holds out hope that more super delegates in the states where he won will ultimately line up in his camp.  Wins in West Virginia and Oregon, following his victory last week in Indiana, would bolster his argument...

With the West Virginia primary next Tuesday, Sanders has been campaigning heavily in the state where he has put his main focus on lifting up workers and the scourge of poverty that impacts large portions of the state and remains a too-often ignored epidemic nationwide.

At a meeting held at food bank in McDowell County, West Virginia on Thursday, Sanders told those gathered that it is a national shame that in the "wealthiest country in the history of the world" more than  47 million Americans live in poverty. In his opening remarks at what was billed as a community roundtable event, Sanders described his understanding of the problem:

Let’s be clear.  Living in poverty doesn’t just mean you don’t have enough money to buy a big screen TV, a fancy laptop computer, or the latest version of the iPhone.

It goes much, much deeper than that.  In America today, being poor not only means you are less likely to have a grocery store in your community selling healthy food, far too often it means you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from.  In fact, 15 million children in America today are living in families that struggle to put enough food on the table.Living in poverty means you are less likely to have access to a doctor, a dentist, or a mental health care provider.  And if you are lucky enough to see a doctor it means you are less likely to afford the prescription drugs a doctor prescribes to you.  In fact, one out of five Americans between the ages of 18-64 cannot afford to fill their prescription medication at a drug store. 

Living in poverty means you are less likely to have access to public transportation — which makes it harder to find a job.

It means you are less likely to have access to child care.  And you are more likely to do drugs and engage in self-destructive activities.

If you add all of these things up, what you will find is that yes, far too often, poverty is a death sentence in America.

In an interview with NPR this week, Sanders talked about why the focus on poverty is so important both in terms of the real people who experience it everyday and what it says about the political realities of the country, including what he sees as the shortcomings of the Democratic Party establishment. Sanders said:

I think one of the challenges we face, what my campaign is about, is making it clear that the Democratic Party must be on the side of working people and low-income people. Now I'm talking about poverty, and in this campaign I'm talking about the fact that we have the highest rate childhood poverty of almost any major country on Earth. That we have 47 million people living in poverty ... that we have 29 million people who have no health insurance, and we have thousands of people who die every year because they don't get to a doctor on time.

The Democratic Party must make a stand, and the stand is that you cannot be on the side of Wall Street. You cannot be on the side of that pharmaceutical industry — which, by the way, charges our people the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs — you gotta make a stand. And the stand we gotta make is the stand with the people in McDowell County, W.Va., and poor people and working people all over this country.

While the upcoming May primaries give the Sanders campaign "reasons to believe," as Politico puts it, his focus on such issues as free higher education, Medicare for all, and addressing surging income and wealth inequality that is fueling the support he's receiving.

Kelsey Pack, a 22-year-old from Beckley, West Virginia who attended a Sanders event later on Thursday in Charleston, described to the Charleston Gazette why hearing Sanders' message up close was only part of why she was so excited to attend.

"It wasn’t necessarily about seeing him in person; it was about being surrounded by like-minded people," explained Pack. "I wanted to be part of the experience and part of the movement, and to be able to say that I was here."

"I already do know why I’m voting for [Sanders] — that’s solidified. I wanted to be around other people who are voting for him or thinking about voting for him. There’s such a stigma around the people supporting him being 'freeloaders,' and I wanted to see for myself that that isn’t the case."

And Debra “DL” Hamilton, a local campaign volunteer, told the Gazette she became involved because she believes so strongly in the Democratic presidential candidate’s vision for the future. 

"I’m an activist and also an active Democrat, and Bernie combines every sign I’ve ever carried with the real possibility of a future to believe in," Hamilton said. "West Virginia needs a future to believe in."

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