Joined by U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rousing remarks turned a standing-room-only policy forum in N. Arlington last night into a raucous political rally. As the cheering crowd rose to its feet yet again, Sanders concluded the event by intoning, “We need a political revolution in this country where millions stand together to take on the privileged class.”
He said that the need for campaign finance reform, to keep the Koch Brothers from contributing more money than either of the two political parties combined, is at the top of a list of important priorities to, as the title of the forum said, “Reclaim the American Dream.” He said that if millions of working people who vote Republican really knew what that party was doing in Washington, “working night and day for the privileged class and not their interests,” they would no longer support that party. He said he plans to go to all the conservative-majority states with that message during the course of the presidential campaign.
He said that the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has led to “the undermining of the foundation of our democracy,” and that the Koch brothers and those who gave $100 million to Jeb Bush’s campaign in the latest cycle “want to abolish Social Security, the EPA, Medicare and Medicaid,” even though polls show over 60 percent of Americans want to expand, and not cut, Social Security. The privileged class “not only wants to keep the minimum wage down, but they want to end the concept of the minimum wage, altogether.” Instead of $7.50 and hour, on the other hand, it should be $15 an hour, Sanders said. They want huge cuts in health care, and no overtime compensation.
Not only should more compensation be provided, including for overtime, but tuition to colleges and universities should be free, as was the case 50 years ago, he said. The trillion dollars of student loan debt should be refinanced at far lower interests rates. Government profiteering must end, he said, and revenue can be made up by taxing Wall Street speculators, “whose greed, recklessness and illegal behavior” brought the economy to its knees in recent years.
Real unemployment beyond the official statistics is still above 10 percent in the U.S., and for youths between the ages of 17 and 20, it is 33 percent for whites, 36 percent for Hispanics and 51 percent for African-Americans. Now, 5.5 million in the U.S. have no jobs and no school. There needs to be pay equity for women, and who need to enjoy the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Health care must be “a right,” and family maternity leave must provide 12 weeks with pay, and there must be seven paid sick days and two weeks of paid vacation for all. “These are family values,” he said.
“Wouldn’t it be great if all the poor in the world knew that we were on their side,” he said. For him, he concluded, as president there will be a litmus test for the Supreme Court related to campaign finance reform.
Also eloquent, and drawing a standing ovation of his own prior to Sanders’ remarks, Rep. Beyer, in his first term representing Arlington and Falls Church in the 8th District of Virginia, said “I agree with Bernie Sanders on many many issues,” and called for more clarity on “what it means to be a progressive today.” Claiming himself to be a child of the Enlightenment, he couched his remarks in the manner, he said, of a Hegelian dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.
His “thesis” was that “we are winning” in the long view of history, with 88 percent of Americans, for example, having health insurance today compared to none prior to World War II, and so forth. The “antithesis” is that two million Americans are in prisons, 42 percent of Americans think that evolution is not real, and there is $1 trillion in student loan debt.
The synthesis, or resolution, commands that “we are not allowed to despair,” that while no utopia is on the horizon, as Montaigne said, “The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.” He called for activists to “work, hope, love and aspire” in the fight for providing every American who wants a job to have a job, to get those convicted of non-violent crimes out of the prisons and back to their homes, and for millions of small steps to continue the progress of humanity. He singled out the words of Pope Francis to this end.