Brookland Baptist Church’s congregation had a surprise visitor Sunday afternoon when Sen. Bernie Sanders popped in for an unexpected stop during Sunday supper here in West Columbia.
The Democratic presidential candidate, coming off a loss to Hillary Clinton Saturday in Nevada, worked the mostly African-American crowd, stopping to shake hands, take photos and hug a few small children who ventured up to him.
Sanders, campaigning in the Palmetto State ahead of Saturday’s upcoming primary, was joined at the church by his wife, Jane, and also Ben Jealous, the former NAACP head who has endorsed Sanders.
After mingling for a bit, Jealous introduced Sanders to the crowd as people milled around with plates of food.
“This is the most important place in the country right now,” Jealous told the crowd of a couple hundred people. “And you are the most important voters in the country right now. And there are people who will say to you, there’s a dreamer who’s running for president. And his dreams are so big, y’all shouldn’t dream that big. But in our community when they say, ‘Don’t dream big,’ we say, ‘Yes we can.’ And so I ask you ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to dream big?”
Before handing off the mic, he evoked Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying that there is no one in either party who is ready to fight racism, militarism and greed like Sanders.
“This is America, we should not be having more people in jail, largely African-American and Latino, than any other country on earth. So one of the points I have tried to make, we are going to invest in education and jobs … not more jails, not more incarceration,” Sanders said.
He also talked economics, citing President Barack Obama’s success in turning around the free-falling economy he inherited, though Sanders added that there is still work to be done to improve jobs. The crowd clapped more loudly at this point than any other, a clear demonstration of how popular the President is in South Carolina.
Sanders wrapped up by making his usual appeal to voters to help lead the country in a political revolution.
“There is going to be an important primary here in South Carolina. The country will be looking at South Carolina. I’m here to ask for your help, to help lead this country in a political revolution,” Sanders said.
That pitch contrasts with his speech Saturday night after his loss in the Nevada caucuses, when he ended by saying he was moving on to Super Tuesday — a series of contests scheduled for March 1 — skipping over the significance of the South Carolina primary.
Charles Jackson Jr, 37, a Columbia resident and worships at Brookland Baptist, said he thought it was smart for Sanders to stop by Sunday afternoon.
“He seems to really be about lifting up the lower class, and that is what the church is supposed to do. Him being here hopefully confirms what he represents in terms of Christian principles, morals and values,” he said.
Jackson said he’s still an undecided primary voter, adding that he may not reach a final decision until he enters the voting booth next Saturday.
Right now he sees Sanders and Clinton as possessing a similar record on African-American issues.
“In my limited view of things, I’ve assessed that they’re pretty much on the same wavelength with it. I think the two of them are saying what needs to be said — of course that’s politics — but based on their record, I think the two of them have shown some substantial evidence that they are interested and they are concerned with racial equality,” he said.
Jackson added that he thought most of the people in the room knew who Sanders was, though he conceded that Clinton “would be the more popular face, the more familiar name” if she were to walk in.