In union jacket, Bernie Sanders speaks in Hibbing

Bernie Sanders thanks the audience after addressing a crowd at the Hibbing High School auditorium on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. (PHOTO: Wes Bailey)

Bernie Sanders after being introduced before an Iron Range crowd at the Hibbing High School auditorium on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. (PHOTO: Wes Bailey)

By Aaron J. Brown and Courtney Kerns / Photos by Wes Bailey and Courtney Kerns

This morning Bernie Sanders brought his Democratic Presidential campaign to the historic Hibbing High School auditorium on the Mesabi Iron Range. Wearing a United Steelworkers jacket from Minntac Local 1938, the Vermont Senator took the same stage where a teenage Bob Dylan once played.

Hibbing is in the far northern reaches of Minnesota, one of the states Sanders’ campaign needs to win during next week’s Super Tuesday collection of primaries and caucuses. About 800 people were in the audience.

Mining and labor garb were easy to find in the audience at the Bernie Sanders rally in Hibbing on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. (PHOTO: Wes Bailey)

Mining and labor garb were easy to find in the audience at the Bernie Sanders rally in Hibbing on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. (PHOTO: Wes Bailey)

While the location was remote, Sanders chose Hibbing to highlight examples of how unfair trade practices affected American workers and their families. Here on the Iron Range, miners have lost jobs to steel dumping and a glut of iron ore on the world market.

Before his speech, Sanders met with Steelworkers in the school library. About 2,000 miners are currently out of work in this region, waiting to get called back or receive funding for retraining.

Sanders also met with representatives of several Northern Minnesota bands of Ojibwa people and one band of Dakota people.

Former State Rep. and County Commissioner Tom Rukavina introduced Sanders, offering a significant Iron Range endorsement in the process.

I wasn’t able to attend the rally, but two friends of mine were able to cover the event for me: Courtney Kerns and Wes Bailey.

Courtney observed that some of Sanders message was similar to what’s he’s been saying all along, but he did make special note of the Steelworkers plight on the Iron Range.

He talked about how his campaign decided early on to not solicit corporate donations, saying the people are his Super PAC.

“We got you, Bernie!” someone shouted.

“I’d rather have you on my side a million times over than Wall St,” replied Sanders.

In striking his familiar criticism of his primary opponent Hillary Clinton, Sanders lamented the former Secretary of State’s speaking fees for talking to executives at the Wall Street Investment firm of Goldman Sachs. Sanders said he would release all his Wall Street meeting transcripts, before pantomiming reaching in pockets, flinging nothing into air.


Sanders spoke briefly on the follies of the Iraq war, but did not touch on any proposed foreign policy positions or actions.

In a message that would resonate locally, Sanders said the United States needs to rebuild its manufacturing capacity. Doing so would also allow the country to address wages, saying the federal government must go to a $15/hr minimum wage. That proposal along with pay equity for women earned cheers.

In a crowd that skewed young, he said youth unemployment was a direct cause of large minority jail populations Jail population too high, he said. He proposes investing heavily in jobs and education for reservation and inner-city youth. (Invest in jobs and education, not incarceration).

Sanders said the college degree is equivalent to the high school degree 50-60 years ago. He calls for tuition-free public colleges and universities. He said kids, parents, and teachers will benefit from knowing kids will be able to go to college or post-secondary education regardless of the family’s income. He added that not every kid can/should go to college, so vocational education is equally important. “We need plumbers, carpenters, pipefitters,” said Sanders.

Sanders struck familiar chords on climate change, citing the need for immediate action. He says producing clean energy technology domestically is a way to address the issue while also creating jobs in America. He said infrastructure spending could also create jobs, criticizing the notion that we can’t consider doing so. He deflected such criticism saying he will pay for all his proposals with taxes on offshore corporations and Wall Street.

Sanders probably due his biggest cheer here talking about the need to overturn Citizens United, stopping the flow of big, unrestrained money into campaigns.

On health care, Sanders had an interesting exchange with an audience member. Sanders position is that the Affordable Care Act is a good start, but not good enough because of high premiums and deductibles. He favors “Medicare for all,” or single-payer insurance. One woman said her union health plan still cost her $1,000/month in deductibles. “That is insane,” responded Sanders.

“Real change in America comes from bottom up, not from top down,” said Sanders near the end of his talk. “No one gives you dignity, you have to fight for it.”

Sanders also called out Republican frontrunner Donald Trump on his bigotry, racism and divisiveness, said we will only survive as a country by all standing together.

Sanders appearance in the Hibbing High School auditorium is full of possible interpretations.

For one thing, this ornate, beautiful architectural wonder was born of a deal between the Oliver Mining Company (U.S. Steel) and the city of Hibbing as part of a deal to move the town five miles south to access new veins of iron ore. The era where this happened was a period of great change on the Iron Range. After two major strikes in 1907 and 1916, the mining company began to see that it needed to give the community something to keep workers on the job.

Sanders needs this visit in Northern Minnesota to translate into votes at Tuesday’s Precinct Caucuses here. Minnesota is one of the states Sanders must win to have a viable shot at the Democratic nomination against current frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Young voters are driving Sanders enthusiasm even in a place like the Iron Range, where the populations skews older. (PHOTO: Courtney Kerns)

Young voters like these outside Friday’s rally at Hibbing High School are driving Sanders enthusiasm even in a place like the Iron Range, where the populations skews older. (PHOTO: Courtney Kerns)

Sanders did achieve one very difficult thing at Friday’s rally on the Iron Range: an audience that included large numbers of people from many generations, including many young people who brought their parents instead of the other way around.

That was the case for one young man who talked to Courtney.

Jesse Wagner,22, of Hibbing was 20th in line starting at 6:35 a.m. He brought his dad along. Why the excitement?

“Well, it’s not very often the probable leader of the free world comes to your little town, you know? He’s a candidate I respect, just looking at the options. He’s not resorting to hate or leading his campaign through racism or fearmongering.”


  1. Thanks for covering that for the People, Aaron. We seldom hear the whole story from Monopoly Media. I wanted to come over, but I couldn’t. This guy is the real deal, the only chance we have to turn the tables on oligarchy.

  2. You forgot to mention this:
    “He spoke to a smaller than expected crowd. Campaign officials expected about 2,000 people, however less than half that number showed up.” -KBJR TV

    • I said about 900 people showed up. Capacity at the auditorium is 1,800. I don’t know what the campaign expected. I feel people can decide whatever they want about the size of the crowd.

    • Don’t think there was any expectation quoted of number attending as this was an unscheduled stop or short notice stop. But the lower part of auditorium was nearly full…thinking perhaps 1200 people. Everyone was fully engaged to the moment. Don’t think I’ve heard a more altruistic political candidate speak. Well written Aaron. Bernie spoke to several issues with insights to cause and reasons that were clear to need, not just some flowery answer or self promotion. Thanks for writing…it was another bit of history for Hibbing pride.

  3. My guess is many supporters attended the event in Duluth recently, unaware there would be an event in Hibbing, and didn’t/ couldn’t make plans to attend another.

  4. Thanks for covering this.
    My take on attendance is this… The auditorium was nearly full. If you factor in the many supporters who were behind Sanders on stage not would’ve been near capacity.
    But the best thing is that the crowd was very diverse. There were bald-headed mine workers, students, women, minorities…every faction of Iron Range voter. And the people were engaged and passionate about Sanders’ message.

  5. With 8 out of 10 of us not trusting Hillary not to mention the multiple investigations surrounding her, we need a solid backup plan. It’s good we’re feeling The Bern…

  6. It was early morning, it was cold, it was short-notice.

  7. Jess, it’s also good to see presidential candidates being adults talking about issues and their policy positions seriously vs insulting their opponents with schoolyard taunts (who trowels on the most makeup, who sweats the most, who peed their pants), deliberately dropping foul-mouthed remarks, devolving into shouting over each other during debates (who is the biggest con artist, who is the toughest alpha male) and harebrained assertions they can fix what ails America with nothing to back them up and zero chance of happening or improving average Americans’ lives.

    The rest of the world is watching 3 Stooges cartoons. What a national disgrace.

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