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Jim Luebke (left), of DeKalb, talks with Steven Kapitan, of DeKalb, at the Bernie Supporters debate watch party on Thursday at Pizza Pros, 1205 W. Lincoln Highway.

DeKalb Area for Bernie, a local campaign organization in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, had a debate watch party 6:30 to 10 p.m. Thursday at Pizza Pro’s, 1205 W. Lincoln Highway. There, attendees applauded candidates’ health care, criminal justice and education plans while enjoying pizza and beverages.

The free event was mainly centered on the viewing of the third Democratic primary debate, which began 7 p.m. on ABC News, but those in attendance were also welcome to socialize, get information and swag.

Dave Rathke, DeKalb resident and organizer with DeKalb Area for Bernie, said the goal of the organization is to engage with voters in the community about what Sanders represents and the structural changes needed in the U.S., while also lending a hand in the campaign outside the area.

“We’ve been sending people to Iowa, like we did four years ago,” he said. “We’re sending people out to knock on doors, because there’ll be the first caucuses of the first contest in the country.”

Rathke @ debate

Dave Rathke, of DeKalb, attends the Bernie Supporters debate watch party on Thursday at Pizza Pros, 1205 W. Lincoln Highway.

The 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses will take place Feb. 3.

There will be a Bernie 2020 community canvass in Clinton, Iowa, every Saturday until Feb. 1. Volunteers will meet at 8 a.m., 148 N. Second Street in DeKalb. Other future events will be announced on a Facebook page called DeKalb Area for Bernie.

In addition, the NIU chapter of Students for Bernie, a political organization, will have its kick-off event 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at DuSable Hall. More information can be found at: facebook.com/ourrevolutionniu.

Vivian Meade, of DeKalb, Campus Corps leader for Sanders’ campaign at NIU, said her biggest reason for supporting the senator is his commitment to a Medicare-for-All system.

“When I was 20 years old, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome,” she said. “And finding and keeping health insurance was extremely difficult.”

During the debate, Sanders defended the cost of his health care plan while incorporating his now-viral “wrote the damn bill” line from the previous debate into his response. This was greeted with applause from attendees.

In addition to Medicare for All, Meade believes tuition-free college is a policy of Sanders’ that appeals to DeKalb County residents.

“Coming to school here is costly,” she said. “And we do have a lot of undocumented and DACA students in this community that have trouble affording [it].”

Sanders said during the debate part of his mission is to make debt-free public colleges and universities, including HBCUs, a reality for all Americans.

Jacob Maas, of DeKalb, organizer with DeKalb Area for Bernie, said DeKalb is a “great Bernie area,” and that the consistency of Sanders’ platform is one of his “biggest advantages” as a candidate.

“Bernie’s been fighting the fight longer than any of [the other candidates] have been,” he said.

Sanders received 8,315 votes, or 66.43%, in the 2016 Democratic general primary in DeKalb County.

Rachael Sills, of Aurora, on the other hand, believes Sanders’ consistency isn’t something a majority of voters will recognize.

“They’re only looking at what he’s saying now, or they’re only looking at what people are saying now, if they’re even looking,” she said. “They’re not engaged yet.”

Sills also believes climate change is the most critical issue at the moment, and that Sanders’ Green New Deal, which aims at reaching 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation in the U.S. by 2030, is the best solution for combating it.

While Sanders wasn’t asked directly about climate change during the debate, he did advocate for global unity in fighting the issue, while criticizing the U.S.’s excessive military spending.

“I don’t think we have to spend $750 billion a year on the military when we don’t even know who our enemy is,” he said.

Rathke believes Sen. Elizabeth Warren did well in the debate, but holds that Sanders has been truer to many of the same positions longer than she. And Maas said former HUD Sec. Julian Castro stood out and would be his first choice if Sanders wasn’t running.

Attendees applauded other candidates for their remarks during the debate, such as Sen. Cory Booker’s call to recognize “environmental injustice in communities of color” and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s openness about his assault weapons buyback proposal: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

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