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Biden Rally

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden tries to calm his supporters as demonstrators disrupt his rally at Renaissance High School on March 9, 2020 in Detroit on the eve of Michigan's primary election. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Biden Says 'The Bernie Bros Are Here' as Protesters Disrupt Detroit Rally to Denounce NAFTA, Champion Green New Deal

Activists from various groups interrupted the campaign event to highlight the Democratic frontrunner's record on trade and climate.

Jessica Corbett

At a Monday night campaign rally in Detroit on the eve of Michigan's primary election, former Vice President Joe Biden called protesters drawing attention to his record on trade and climate policies supporters of his rival in contest for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"The Bernie bros are here!" Biden declared in between urging the crowd to let the demonstrators go and reminding them that the rally wasn't for President Donald Trump, whose campaign events leading up to the 2016 election featured some violent clashes between Trump protesters and supporters.

"This is what's wrong with American politics," Biden said. "I'm not worried about it. It's just a reflection of what's wrong with American politics today... This is one of the things that Donald Trump has generated. This is not who we are. This is not who we are as a party. This is not who we are as a people. We got a lot of crazy folks around."

The first group to interrupt Biden's rally was protesting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 1994 trade deal that Biden supported as U.S. senator representing Delaware. The demonstrators at the Detroit rally unfurled banners that read "NAFTA Killed Our Jobs" and "Biden Betrayed Workers."

In recent television advertisements targeting Michigan and other March primary states, Sanders has highlighted Biden's vote for NAFTA and broader trade record. The senator has also slammed Biden's position on NAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China in statements to the press.

"I vigorously opposed these agreements; I helped lead the opposition to these agreements," Sanders said last week. "Joe Biden supported those agreements. And that is a fundamental difference about our approach toward the trade union movement and towards the needs of working people."

Shortly after the anti-NAFTA protest at Biden's rally, climate demonstrators raised signs that read "Green New Deal Now" and "Green Jobs for All," and waved a banner that read "This Is an Emergency."

The demonstrators included activists with Michigan Student Power and local branches of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), the Sunrise Movement, and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). On a national level, the latter two groups have endorsed Sanders.

The rally was not the first time in the past week that Biden has seized on the "Bernie Bro" narrative to dismiss his critics and Sanders supporters.

At a fundraiser in Maryland Friday, the former vice president told his supporters that "what we can't let happen is let this primary become a negative bloodbath. I know I'm going to get a lot of suggestions on how to respond to what I suspect will be an increasingly negative campaign that the Bernie Brothers will run... We can't tear this party apart and reelect Trump. We have to keep our eyes on the ball, in my view."

The remarks sparked a swift response on social media, particularly from women and people of color backing Sanders, who used the hashtag #BernieBrothers and explained why they support the U.S. senator from Vermont. "I'm a woman of color. I'm fighting for the kids in cages and the future of our planet," tweeted author and activist Leela Daou. "I stand with . Does that make me one of the ?"

The demonstrations at Biden's rally came after Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash led a Sunday night conference call with members across the country.

As VICE reported, "Prakash called for a return to the 'moral protests,' 'strikes,' and 'strategic disruption,' that catapulted the group from unknown advocates to a regular fixture in progressive politics," such as multiple sit-ins at the Capitol Hill office of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and the multi-day protest on the steps of the Democratic National Committee's building in Washington, D.C.

The Sunrise Movement, which advocates for a Green New Deal, is among the climate advocacy groups that have raised concerns about Biden's plan to protect the planet.

Although the campaign claims that "Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face," the former vice president has faced criticism for plagiarizing portions of his climate plan, particularly for lifting language about carbon capture and sequestration from a fossil fuel industry-backed group.

Sanders scored more than the double points that Biden received on the Sunrise Movement's climate scorecard, which was released in December 2019, before the group endorsed the Vermont senator for making "it clear throughout his political career and in this campaign that he grasps the scale of the climate crisis, the urgency with which we must act to address it, and the opportunity we have in coming together to do so."

Sanders also leads the climate scorecard maintained by Greenpeace USA, which has not endorsed a candidate. That assessment is based on each candidate's commitment to fully phasing out fossil fuels and championing a Green New Deal that launched a just transition to a 100% renewable energy economy while creating millions of "family-sustaining" jobs.

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