Vermont senator, self-proclaimed “democratic socialist,” and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was introduced to a group of thousands in the Scope arena by House of Delegates member Michael T. Futrell on Tuesday. Futrell, the first African American to be elected in Stafford County, enthusiastically ushered Sanders on stage.
Sanders began the speech by clarifying that he, nor any candidate, can take care of it all. “[No one] can effectively deal with the…serious problems we face as a nation,” Sanders said, “unless there is a political revolution.” Touching on Norfolk’s military roots, he recognized those who have fought and died to protect our democracy.
He also attributes political change and revolution to grassroots organizations throughout history. “You are that democracy, not somebody else,” Sanders said. He believes change never comes from the top down, but from the bottom up, and that legislation is driven by activists.
“Change takes place when people outgrow the status quo,” said Sanders.
Sanders honored the revolutionaries who had the courage to talk about these topics when they were difficult, sometimes nearly impossible, to discuss in mainstream media. He cited examples of workers who formed labor unions, African Americans who struggled to overcome during the Civil Rights movement, women who fought for the right to vote, and gays who gained the right to marry.
Sanders claimed that 10 years ago, the mention of equal rights for the LGBT community and marriage rights in all 50 states would’ve been met with, “What are you smoking?”
The senator has revolutionized the way campaigns are funded in order to get the voices of these fighters represented. “Our campaign is about not getting advice from millionaires,” he said. By not taking PAC donations, he has less ties to the 1%’s demands. Including Goldman-Sachs, a bank that contributed to the crumbling housing market that greatly impacted the recession in mid-2000s, which holds high influence and guaranteed spots in Congress.
“We are taking on the most powerful people in the world,” Sanders warns, “Wall Street has an endless supply of money,” which they use to fund campaigns and call the shots, something Sanders said hinders help toward the working class.
However, the general public has shown up. Starting at a lousy 3%, Sanders has tightened the gap between him and Clinton for the Democratic nomination, currently closing the gap to 5% nationally. Sanders’ campaign raised $4 million in 9 months; when asked what the average contribution was, the audience knowledgeably erupted in unison, “27 dollars!”
“Think outside of the box,” Sanders said, “your job is to define what kind of country you wanna live in, don’t let them define what your choices are.”
Since his campaign is fully funded by the people of America, they are the ones Sanders claimed to be indebted to. “All over this country there is pain, whether you’re Black or you’re White…and Native Americans, there’s a lot of pain there,” Sanders said solemnly. “Our job is to talk about the pain, to talk about the reality of American life, and to determine how we go forward.”
“Want to hear a radical idea?” he asked as the crowd cheered. Sanders laughed and responded, “I thought you would.” He strives for an economy that benefits the working class rather than the bigwigs on Wall Street, asking for a higher minimum wage and increased taxes, with the bill footed by the rich.
While America is the wealthiest country in the world and the working class puts in longer hours than any industrialized country, Sanders claimed, 58% of all new income goes to the top 1% of Americans. The top 1/10% – about 20 people – own as much as 90% of Americans’ wealth – roughly 150 million people, with 47 million below the poverty line.
The mega-rich own offshore bank accounts, where the money put in cannot be taxed. Sanders considered this a “moral economic crisis,” leading to more wealth and income inequality than any major nation abroad, he claimed, worst in the U.S. since 1928.
Sanders suggested the crowd to ask, “Why?” An audience member answered, “Republicans!”
While they claim the poor are abusing welfare, Sanders countered that argument, exemplifying the Walton family of Wal-Mart. Workers at the superstore struggle, while the Waltons supposedly pick up a welfare check themselves. “It’s hard to get by these days on 60 million dollars,” Sanders joked, suggesting seriously the family should pay their workers better and increase benefits. “This is what a rigged economy is about,” he said, “and what Congress and media don’t want you to know about.”
Sanders outlined the 34 plus years of what he refers to as a “disastrous set of trade policies,” which he claimed numerous times he’s led the opposition against. He discussed factory shut downs and exportation of cheaper labor in countries such as Mexico and Thailand, where workers are paid pennies, and jobs are taken away from Americans. “I did not think it was fair for people in our country to compete against very low wage workers in China,” said Sanders. Denial of a 1999 trade agreement, which Sanders said Clinton voted for, led to American jobs lost.
“If [corporations] want us to purchase their products,” said Sanders, “they’re gonna have to start manufacturing these products in the US.”
In an effort to add even more jobs for the American people, Sanders hopes to move away from fossil fuels by enacting energy-efficient means and rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure. Sanders used Flint and a recent New York Times article on rapidly rising sea levels as examples of why we must rebuild, and noted these projects could created 13 millions jobs.
While Sanders hopes to curb unemployment and working class suffering by bringing jobs back to the American people, there is one group of workers he said the U.S. often forgets about – the youth. Unemployment rates in high school graduates are not only high amongst all racial groups, but disproportionately so over others. Teens are at 33% and Latinos are 36%, while African Americans are at an astonishing 51%.
Sanders said this “national tragedy you never hear about” is directly correlated with high incarceration rates, which are disproportionately young Black and Latino men. He claimed 2.2 million Americans are currently incarcerated – the largest jail population of any country, including China. A lot of these people are in for drug-related crimes, with Blacks four times more likely than Whites to be arrested for marijuana, despite equal consumption. Sanders believes marijuana should be decriminalized due to it’s serious sentencing and consideration as a Section 1 narcotic – sharing that spot with heroin.
Sanders recommends instead of investing in jails, use that money to invest in education to keep kids out of trouble. He claimed a college diploma is as essential as a high school diploma once one was in the workforce, and that free public college should be available to all. “In the year 2016,” Sanders said, “we have to talk about making public colleges and university tuition free.” He said current student loans should be subsidized as much as possible. “People should not be punished for getting a good education,” Sanders added.
“I have talked about unpleasant things in America,” Sanders said, “because I believe we can’t go forward until we face reality.” He discussed the unpleasant with passion for the American people, and a tinge of anger, pleading for necessary and major change.