PORTLAND, Maine—Speaking to an overflow crowd at the kick-off of their eight-city nationwide tour, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez, and local leaders on Monday night credited the activated grassroots movement that has risen up against President Donald Trump as showing the path forward and vowed to fight alongside the working class in order to push beyond resistance for a bold progressive agenda in 2018 and beyond.
"There's a new sheriff in town. But it's not me. And it's not Tom Perez, and it's not even Bernie Sanders. It's all of you."
—State Sen. Troy Jackson (D1-Maine)After offering a litany of Trump's regressive policies since taking office, Perez said the most remarkable thing is not what's been happening at the White House or on Capitol Hill.
"The most remarkable thing," said Perez, "is what you all did across this country—here in Maine and across America. Because you know what, folks, January 20th was an important day, but January 21st was far more important. Millions of Americans, led by women, came out and said 'Donald Trump, you do not stand for our values.'"
While the majority of the crowd was clearly energized by Sanders—with Perez receiving an initially cool reception from some—the night again and again focused on the power of the grassroots movement, the so-called 'resistance' which has mobilized in towns and states across the country.
The idea that a Sanders-style progressive populism remains key to winning back voters in places where Trump was able to capture the working-class electorate was taken up by state Sen. Troy Jackson, currently the Democratic leader in the Maine Senate.
"Where I'm from," said Jackson, as he referenced his family's long tradition in the logging industry in the state's most northern region, "people live far removed from powerful elites who seem to hold their destinies in their hands. Back home, I never saw a Big Pharma or insurance company lobbyist, but I saw the prices of prescription drugs skyrocket so that my neighbors and my family couldn't afford to stay healthy. And I saw insurance companies, with their insurance so complex and expensive, so that people stayed sick because they couldn't get the medical care they deserved. When I was working in the woods, I never met a Wall Street executive or hedge fund manager, but I did see hard-working people watch helplessly as their retirements disappeared and their homes were foreclosed upon. And I wasn't in the room when forces conspired to saddle my family, and millions of other families like mine, with the unbearable weight of student debt—a load that is holding back an entire generation of Mainers and Americans, who should be off building a better future for themselves and for their kids."
The antidote to Trump and the broader Republican takeover of local and state governments, explained Jackson, is people harnessing their shared experience and finding common cause with one another.
"There's a new sheriff in town. But it's not me," Jackson said. "And it's not Tom Perez, and it's not even Bernie Sanders. It's all of you. Because justice and equality are not achieved by any one man or any one woman. It's going to take all of us, standing together to demand a better world, and do the work necessary to win it. It's going to take a movement of people joined together for living wages and equal pay. So join together for free college and universal healthcare. Join together for racial justice. And join together to combat climate change. And finally, join together to seize those levers of power—so that these families here on the ground who have been ignored for far too long—can finally have a grasp. Together we can topple these entrenched power structures, take control of our own destinies, and build the world that we all deserve."
In his speech, Perez admitted the recent rise in people telling him they simply "don't know what the Democratic Party stands for anymore."
"We are the majority. It is time we flexed our muscles."
—Sen. Bernie SandersAs such, he said it is now the party's job to regain trust and earn back the support it has lost. "I'm here to tell you what we stand for," he said. "We believe in a government and economy that works for everybody, not just the powerful special interests. We believe America works best when it works for everyone. We believe we must respect the dignity of every person. We believe that zip codes should never determine destiny and that every single person is gifted and talented. We believe that our diversity is one of our greatest sources of strength—something to embrace, not fear. Somos los Estados Unidos, no somos los Estados Dividos! We believe that when unions succeed, Americans succeed. We believe that when unions succeed, the middle class succeeds. We believe that healthcare is a right, it's not a privilege. We believe that no one who works a full time job should live in poverty in this country. We believe that when women succeed, American succeeds. We believe that our nation can and must be strong and compassionate. And we believe that climate change is a real threat, it is not a hoax."
Though these general pronouncements, detached from specific policies, could be seen as empty platitudes from a party looking to regain footing, both Sanders and Perez spoke in favor of a $15 minimum wage, achieving pay equity for women, combating climate change, tackling criminal justice reform, offering debt-free higher education at public colleges, protecting and strengthening the existing social safety net programs, and offering better sick pay and parental leave for working families.
By far the biggest applause line of the night came when Sanders said he would soon be announcing a 'Medicare for All' bill in the U.S. Senate.
With the crowd on its feet, Sanders said, "The insurance companies may not like it. And the drug companies may not like it."
At this point someone in the crowd yelled, "Fuck 'em!" Sanders paused and said, "That's not quite the words I would use... But not bad, not bad."
There was, in fact, a good deal of swearing and raucousness both off and on the stage Monday night with Perez himself expressing passion on several occasions.
"Those Republican leaders and President Trump don't give a shit about the people they were trying to hurt," said Perez as he decried the recent attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act—an effort that would have seen millions lose their health coverage.
Perez also denounced Trump's recent budget outlines with colorful language, saying, "They call it a 'skinny budget.' Well, I call it a 'shitty budget' because you know what… budgets are moral documents."
Sanders said that what the progressive grassroots movement and a "radically transformed Democratic Party" must now do in tandem is send a clear message to lawmakers like Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, right-wing governors across the country, and Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress: "Our vision for the future of this country is a very different vision than yours and our vision—and I want everybody in this room tonight to know this—our vision is the of the American people. Poll after poll tells us—you can go to the most conservative parts of America and you ask people whether they think it makes sense to give tax breaks to billionaires and cut Social Security and Medicare and Meals on Wheels and after-school programs and people will look you in the eye and say, 'Are you crazy?' That's not what America can be."
"We are the majority," Sanders continued. "It is time we flexed our muscles. It is time we got involved in a way that we have never done before. It is time to make the political revolution."
By way of encouragement, Perez thanked those in the crowd for being "the resistance" and said that "causing good trouble" by marching and organizing is the key for all those willing to act on behalf of their values.
And Jackson left the crowd with a similar message.
"All of you," Jackson told the crowd, "are in firm control of this movement and this party. No matter what the actions of yesterday's power structures, today you are the conductors of the new symphony of the new Democratic Party."
After Monday night's kick-off, the "Come Together and Fight Back" tour is now headed to Kentucky, Florida, Nebraska, Utah, Montana, Arizona, and Nevada.
Watch the full event: