Bernie Sanders adds race, civil rights to his stump speech

Updated 10:31 AM EDT, Fri July 3, 2015
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(CNN) —  

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator currently rising in polls against Hillary Clinton as they vie for the Democratic presidential nomination, responded to critics who say he hasn’t done enough to appeal to non-white voters during his raucous rally in Madison, Wisconsin, on Wednesday.

“All of you are aware of the tragic history of racism in America,” Sanders said to a predominantly white audience on around 10,000 people. “But for a very long time, African-Americans and their white allies came together and they struggled and they stood up for justice and they stood up to lynching and they stood up to segregation and the stood up to a nation where African-Americans couldn’t even vote in America.”

Sanders added, “And change came about, not as much as we would want.”

The new refrain came during a portion of Sanders’ stump speech where the senator speaks at length about the slow process of change.

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“All of you who are here this evening, I think, have an understanding about how real change takes place in our country and has historically taken place,” Sanders said. “You are aware that change takes place from the bottom on up. It is never from the top on down. People on top are usually the last to know.”

The new focus on race relations comes at a time when the country as a whole has turned it’s attention to such issues, in the wake of the Charleston massacre and a series of police-related deaths of African-Americans.

Sanders also turned his comments on race and the fight for civil rights into a case for more economic equality.

“So as a nation, we have a right to be very proud of the successes that we have seen because of the struggle of millions of people to create a less discriminatory society. That is something we should be proud of,” Sanders said. “But there is one struggle in which not only have we not succeeded but in which we are losing ground and that is the fundamental struggle for economic justice.”

A CNN/ORC poll released last month found that 5% of non-white voters supported Sanders for president, compared to 10% of overall voters who support the independent senator. Other polls have found Sanders similar results.