GREENSBORO — A day after delivering a 40-minute stemwinder at UNC-Chapel Hill, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was a calmer and more measured version of himself Friday.
The crowd that came to hear the Vermont senator speak at Bennett College still loved him.
Sanders, one of the most popular candidates in a crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls, got lots of cheers and a few rounds of "Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!" chants throughout the 70-minute event Friday. The crowd seemed dominated by the college-aged students who are among Sanders' biggest fans, but the audience included plenty of people old enough to be their parents.
Sanders is an independent in the U.S. Senate and identifies as a progressive and democratic socialist. He sounded some of his favorite themes in his brief opening remarks to the Bennett crowd:
Public colleges and universities should be tuition-free. Student debt should be canceled. Health care for everyone is a human right. The nation should end its war on drugs and make marijuana legal. Men and women should be paid the same for the same work. Congress should pass comprehensive immigration reform. A tax on super-wealthy Americans will pay for all of this.
"For the sake of this country and the world, we need you to be actively involved in the political process," Sanders said. "We need you to be thinking big, not small."
Sanders, who turned 78 two weeks ago, stopped in Greensboro on the second day of a three-day tour of colleges in North and South Carolina.
On Thursday, media reports said Sanders drew a crowd of 2,500 to an amphitheater near the UNC-Chapel Hill bell tower. He was to leave Greensboro for South Carolina's Winthrop University for a Friday night rally. He's scheduled to speak Saturday at two colleges in South Carolina.
In Greensboro, Sanders toured the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, spoke briefly at the Global Climate Strike environmental rally at Center City Park and made his way to Bennett, where his supporters filled the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel beyond its estimated capacity of 800.
Sanders shared the microphone with several allies and surrogates who joined him on stage for what was billed as a town hall. Among his guests were author, speaker and Harvard University professor Cornel West; Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen (whom Sanders introduced as the future Secretary of Ice Cream) and rap star Michael Render, better known by his stage name Killer Mike.
"I'm surrounded here by rock stars," Sanders quipped at one point.
West, one of Sanders' staunchest supporters, drew big applause when he said college students aren't getting help with their massive student loans but banks got trillions of dollars worth of government help to survive the Great Recession.
"Why don't you treat your precious students in America as good or better than the bankers on Wall Street?" West said.
Adolph Reed Jr., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said 2020 is the most important election of our lifetimes.
"We finally ... have the opportunity to fight for what we want and really need instead of what we think we can get," Reed said. "We have been going through this 'lesser evil' thing for so long."
Actor Danny Glover encouraged the crowd to hold Sanders' feet to the fire after he's elected. First, though, they need to get him elected.
"If we can imagine it, if we can dream it," Glover said, "we can make it real."
Sanders took audience questions on immigration, transgender rights and the war on drugs, among other topics. The candidate agreed with most of his questioners, but one query was a little tougher than the others.
An N.C. A&T student wondered: Would Sanders be opposed to having Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another top Democratic candidate, as his vice president — or would he consider being her running mate?
The audience hooted but Sanders replied quickly: "After we win the nomination, we'll determine the VP."