This past Sunday, September 29th, presidential candidate and United States Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, paid a visit to the New England College campus for a town hall meeting in the Great Room of the Simon Center. The event was not scheduled to start until 2:30 in the afternoon and doors were scheduled to open at 1:30, however, by 1:00 there was already a line of people eager to see the senator stretching across the front porch of the Simon Center.
The Great Room itself was decked out for the event, with handmade signs endorsing the senator as well as printed signs on all of the seats. Prior to the event ice cream was served in the Simon Cafe and live music was played in the hour leading up to the event.
The event not only filled all of the available seats in the Great Room, but also a number of chairs set up on the fourth floor overlooking the room. Luckily for those who were not able to make it inside, the senator was able to briefly address them outside the Simon Center where he gave an abbreviated version of his speech, going over some of his main talking points.
Once inside the senator greeted all those in attendance saying that we as a country “are living in an unprecedented moment in history and we need an unprecedented response,” and that as president he “will be an unprecedented president,” before jumping into the issues at hand. He started off by addressing that Donald Trump is unfit to continue with a second term in office because he is, in the senator’s own words, “a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, and a religious bigot.” Furthermore, he said the current president is not the only source of corruption which this country is faced with, but rather there is a whole corrupt system rooted in the tyranny of the billionaire class.
This led to his first talking point, what he believes to be the flaws in our current economic system, and what he intends to do as president to fix them. He started with the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which has effectively allowed large groups such as corporations to, in essence, directly advocate for certain political candidates and buy votes, substantially swaying the results of elections. As president, Sanders has a plan to overturn the Citizens United decision and “put an end to billionaires buying elections…and go back to one person, one vote.”
Following this, Sanders began to speak on his well-known tax on the wealthy, explaining how it would work using Jeff Bezos, the C.E.O. of Amazon with a net worth of $107.8 billion as an example. In Sanders’s plan “[the government] will ask him to pay a mere nine billion dollars a year more in taxes.” Sanders then justified this plan by stating “If you are worth a hundred and fifty billion you can afford to pay nine billion.”
Sanders’ plan is to create what he calls “an economy that works for everyone,” rather than an economy that only works for the top 1% of American earners. In order to do this, Sanders promised that, as president, he will raise the federal minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, instead of seven dollars and twenty-five cents, the current federal minimum wage which has not been raised since 2009.
Following that, Sanders got into his plans for free college education and the cancellation of student debt, an issue which he has been extremely vocal on since the time leading up to the 2016 election. For years Sanders has been saying that public universities and colleges should be free and pointed out that now twelve states in the U.S. are in the process of moving towards free education at their public colleges and universities.
Sanders addressed that four years ago his idea was radical and to many it seemed more or less unrealistic, however now “The issue is not whether or not it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen, and with your help, we are going to make it happen very, very soon.”
Moreover, aside from making education free for future generations, Sanders outlined his plan to cancel all student loan debt using some of the money acquired from his tax on the wealthy, “If we can give tax breaks to billionaires and bail out Wall Street,” he said in reference to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 as well as the tax breaks which were given to billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in 2018, “please tell me why we can not cancel all student debt in this country and pay for that with a tax on Wall Street’s rich?”
Along with paying for higher public education and forgiving student loan debt, Sanders has a plan to provide healthcare to all American citizens as the U.S. is “the only major country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee healthcare to every single citizen.” According to the senator, the reason this has been allowed to happen is the same corruption which allows billionaires and corporations to buy elections allowing pharmaceutical companies to profiteer and extort people, because of a lack of regulation by the government.
Sanders argues that the lack of regulation not only allows the drug companies to decide outlandish prices for the medications which they sell but also allows them to knowingly sell addictive products, which only contributes to the nationwide opioid epidemic.
Sanders plans to enforce more regulations on the pharmaceutical companies and also eliminate co-pays and premiums for visits to the doctor as well as medications. His plan to do this is to “fund it out of the general tax base in a progressive way. [The government] will bar any tax increase for those making under $29,000 (annually), otherwise [the citizens of America] will be paying more in taxes but far less for health care than you are right now because you aren’t paying that money to the insurance company.”
As far as women’ reproductive health care and rights, Sanders briefly touched on how he would “never ever nominate to the Supreme Court of the United States a judge who doesn’t 100% support the Roe v. Wade,” the Supreme Court decision which protects a woman’s right to an abortion.
Moving into the hot-button issue of immigration and immigration reform, Sanders again accused President Trump of being a racist, which has led to the conviction of undocumented people in the United States, and those wanting to enter at the border, particularly Latino people.
In opposition to President Trump’s current plan to forcibly remove all undocumented people from the country while putting billions of dollars into the construction of a wall stretching across the border of the United States and Mexico, Sanders has promised that “instead of demonizing undocumented people we are going to move towards a comprehensive and reformed path towards citizenship.”
Finally, Sanders took one final jab at the current president and his stance on climate change stating that “Donald Trump, in his wisdom, you know he is a self-identified genius, he has determined that climate change is a hoax,” and that he, in fact, thinks Donald Trump is a “hoax,” before he moved on to outline his plan to tackle climate change before it is too late.
Sanders plans to eliminate fossil fuels and make a move towards green, renewable energy such as solar power, and thermal and geothermal energy, creating jobs and helping the economy in the process.
Sanders concluded his speech by emphasizing how important it is that the nation bands together to solve the problems that face us, “real change,” he mused “never takes place from the top-down, real change takes place when millions of people band together.”
In the end, Sanders opened the floor to audience questions where he reiterated some of his points, such as raising the federal minimum wage, making public education free, and moving towards the legalization of marijuana, while also mentioning the importance of young people voting to change the country for the better.
Overall, Senator Sanders and the event seemed well-received, especially by the students in attendance. After the event Cole Kjersgard, an NEC freshman, reflected on how the event was “interesting” and how he did not think he would hear as many good points as he did, while John Walsh, another friend in attendance with Cole, said that he “liked his points about gay marriage.”
Generally, it seemed the students mostly appreciated how involved the Senator was throughout the event, asking the audience questions and keeping a back and forth rapport, especially during the Q and A.