GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders told a North Carolina crowd Sunday night that young people — particularly blacks and other minorities — are being devastated by high unemployment stemming from an inequitable economy and erosion of voting rights engineered by Republicans.
Wrapping up a weekend campaign swing through the South, the independent Vermont senator told a raucous meeting hall and an overflow crowd totaling more than 9,000 people "to join the political revolution" of his upstart campaign based less on big money and more on equality.
"The American people are sick and tired of establishment politics. They are sick and tired of establishment economics and they want real change in this country," Sanders said near the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, "and that is what this campaign is about."
While polls show Sanders doing well against Hillary Rodham Clinton in early-primary states of New Hampshire and Iowa, Sanders also will have to go toe-to-toe against Clinton in Southern states. The North Carolina primary is expected in mid-March, about two months earlier than normal, in a bid by state lawmakers for the ninth-largest state in the country to wield more influence.
Sanders' stops in Georgia and the Carolinas are in areas where black voters are expected to comprise substantial portions of the primary vote. Black voters cast 37 percent of the ballots in North Carolina's 2008 Democratic presidential primary, when Barack Obama defeated Clinton. And Clinton still has a strong advantage in North Carolina within the black community, thanks in part to former President Bill Clinton. She already has visited the state for fundraising.
Sanders had an ethnically diverse array of speakers and supporters featured prominently on the arena stage. Still, the crowd of college-age students and liberal-leaning older adults within the main meeting hall was overwhelmingly white.
Sanders emphasized during his speech problems specific to young people and those caused by lingering institutional racism. He cited data showing "real" unemployment among black high school graduates between 17 and 20 years old at 51 percent and a study that found 69 percent of young black people who drop out of schools end up in jail.
"What we are doing is turning our backs on an entire generation of young people," Sanders said. His solutions included free college tuition, an overhaul of the criminal justice system and a massive federal infrastructure program that would create jobs.
He criticized efforts by Republican lawmakers in North Carolina and other states to change voting laws after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key portion of the federal Voting Rights Act in 2013.
The North Carolina legislature reduced the number of early voting days, eliminated same-day registration during early voting and mandated photo identification to vote in person. The North Carolina legislation remains in the courts.
"Hours after that decision, you had Republicans all across this country figuring out ways as to how they could suppress the vote of poor people, of old people, of people of color," he told the crowd. He also lamented the deaths of young black people during altercations with police.
Sanders talked up his opposition to trade deals over the last 20 years, some of which were blamed for sending North Carolina textile jobs overseas, never to return. He said he was now primed to lead opposition to an Asia-Pacific trade deal.
Sanders was expected to address a crowd likely to be more conservative Monday in Lynchburg, Virginia, at a convocation at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.