Almost 12 hours after the field of Democratic presidential candidates swelled yet again, Bernie Sanders arrived in North Charleston on Thursday night determined to be heard.
At a political rally that more closely resembled a church revival with call-and-response moments — both planned and impromptu — the senator from Vermont outlined his definition of justice.
"Brothers and sisters," Sanders began. "Welcome to the political revolution."
In his first visit to South Carolina since officially launching his 2020 presidential campaign, Sanders attracted a crowd of more than 1,600 people inside the gymnasium at Royal Missionary Baptist Church, the very space where California Sen. Kamala Harris, who is also running for president, addressed more than 1,000 people last month.
In a nearly hour-long speech, Sanders cited a swath of policy positions he promised to champion as part of his broader vision of American justice.
He listed medicare for all. Raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. Tackling climate change. Ending the cash bail system. Ending the practice of separating children from their mothers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Overturning the "Citizens United" case, a Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for candidates.
"I'm not running for president just to become president," Sanders said. "If I became president and could not accomplish what we want to accomplish, what is the point?"
At 77, Sanders is the oldest in the already crowded class of 2020 candidates, some of whom he admitted have picked up popular parts of his platform, like increasing the federal minimum wage and universal health care, that he said were once considered "too radical."
"Now, our job is to complete what we started and we are going to turn our vision and our progressive agenda into reality," he said to applause.
The latest candidate to join the growing list of presidential candidates on Thursday was Beto O'Rourke, the 46-year-old Democrat from Texas who lost his U.S. Senate race to Ted Cruz by 3 percentage points.
Nivea Bruner, of Ladson, sat close to the podium where Sanders spoke. She arrived hours early. She wore a denim hat she bought for $3.97 that she said she had decorated the night before with the words "Bernie 2020" in red and white paint on the front. She heard about O'Rourke declaring his candidacy, but she's already set on Sanders.
"Beto is young and energetic, but it's not his time, " she said. "Bernie has experience. And when he talks, you're listening to someone who could be your uncle. You trust him."
Four black South Carolina state lawmakers — state Reps. Wendell Gailliard, JA Moore, Krystle Simmons, and Terry Alexander — voiced their support of Sanders moments before he spoke, two of them opting to use prophetic terms.
Gilliard, a Charleston Democrat, said Sanders was a man with "a heart full of grace."
"This is a movement. When I first met the senator, one thing I realized is that he had a heart full of grace," Gilliard said. "He’s a bridge builder, not a bridge burner. We have a bridge burner in the White House and we have to get him out."
When Sanders took aim at President Donald Trump, the crowd erupted.
Almost 50 minutes into his speech, a supporter in the crowd shouted out, "We are going to win!"
Sanders calmly responded, "We are."
The last time Sanders ran for president here in 2016, Sanders not only struggled in South Carolina, he was pummeled. Hillary Clinton won by taking 73 percent of the approximately 370,000 votes cast, winning every county in South Carolina during the first-in-the-South primary.
Sanders left the state early, abandoning it to pitch his platform in Midwestern states.
State Rep. Terry Alexander, D-Florence, has been in contact with the Sanders campaign for months and led a prayer ahead of the Sanders event Thursday. In the days leading up to the appearance, Alexander said this campaign isn't about redemption for Sanders.
"He already has a base here in South Carolina. What we're going to attempt to build on that base," said Alexander.
Despite the setting in North Charleston, a city where U.S. Census Bureau data estimates the population is 47.2 percent black, the crowd at the Sanders town hall was mostly white.
Dimitri Cherney, a white liberal Democrat who has a tattoo of Sanders on his right forearm, was an early Sanders supporter in his 2016 campaign. The three-time congressional candidate said the event had more diversity than the last time Sanders campaigned in South Carolina.
On Friday, Sanders will continue his two-day swing through the Palmetto State when he holds a roundtable discussion on health care 1 p.m. at the International Longshoremen's Association hall on Morrison Drive.