Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addressed a packed house March 4 at the Grand Valley State University Fieldhouse. He spoke of income inequality, the broken criminal justice system, campaign finance, and healthcare for all.
“What this campaign is about is something fairly radical in American politics. And that is, telling the truth,” the self-described socialist Vermont senator told a crowd erupting in cheers.
“Sometimes when we talk about the truth, and sometimes when we treat people as intelligent human beings, it means that we have to discuss issues that are not necessarily pleasant, but we have to deal with reality if we want to go forward,” Sanders said.
The 74-year-old Democratic hopeful is campaigning against unchecked money from corporate donors influencing American politics. Many Americans feel the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United has diluted their voice in the political process. Citizens United changed campaign finance rules to allow unlimited money from individuals and corporations and the creation of Super PACs
“American democracy today is under assault, in fact right now we have a corrupt campaign finance system that is undermining democracy,” Sanders said.
This is in line with Sanders campaign model of not accepting money from corporate donors or having a Super PAC. His campaign raised a staggering amount of approximately $20 million in January almost entirely from individual online donors averaging $27 per donor.
On the criminal justice system, Sanders told the crowd “every person in this room, every person in America, should be ashamed that in this country we have more people in jail than any other country on earth.”
The campaign’s main focus since the beginning is income inequality.
“Many American’s work two or three jobs, and yet all the new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. Get ready for a radical idea,” he said as the crowd erupted in anticipation. “Together we are going to create an economy that works for all Americans, not just the 1 percent.”
Sanders also supports tuition-free college like many European countries.
“Today in many respects, a college degree is the equivalent of what a high school degree was 50 years ago,” Sanders said. “What our job now is when we talk about public education, is to make sure that public colleges and universities now are tuition-free.”
Sanders believes the American healthcare system, even with Obamacare, doesn’t do American citizens justice and advocates expansion of the Medicaid system to cover all Americans.
“Despite the good things of the ACA (Affordable Care Act), 29 million people today have no health insurance,” Sanders said. “Millions of Americans and people in this room are underinsured with high deductibles and co-pays. And we pay by far… the highest prices for prescription drugs.”
Borrowing a theme from Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesday speech, Sanders tried to contrast his approach with that of his Republican opponents.
“The vast majority of the American people no matter what our race, our religion, where we come from, understand that love trumps hatred.”
Grand Rapids resident Holly Blanchard, 43, is a confirmed Sanders voter in the Michigan Primary this Tuesday. It’s her first time being involved in a political campaign.
“I believe Bernie is the right choice for America,” Blanchard said. “I want to see the standard of living raised for every American. I believe this is the right direction for the country. I want to have access to health care. I don’t feel like the (current) system is a sustainable model… Something needs to change.”
Ashton Bart, 21, of Goodrich, Michigan, was one of the young people who filled the arena at GVSU.
“I think it’s cool for him to come to the small town of Allendale,” Bart said. “I feel like he’s a candidate advocating for the people.”
Sanders has been surviving on the youth vote since Iowa, where he topped Hillary Clinton by 70 percent in the younger demographic.
Cindy Karston, of Grand Rapids, brought her granddaughter to the rally.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve attended a political rally,” Karston said. “Just the experience is a great way to introduce our granddaughter to the political process.”
“Get off your butt and go vote because I can’t,” stated their granddaughter.