In a speech highlighting racial, ethnic, and gender-identity groups while pledging to introduce tax plans that redistribute wealth, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told a raucous audience of 2,200 supporters at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium Friday that banks are “the most powerful, greedy group of people in the world,” and Hillary Clinton is beholden to corporate America.
North Carolina voters will choose between Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, and the former secretary of state and ex-U.S. senator from New York, during a Tuesday primary in which voters from other four states also go to the polls.
“If we can generate a very very large turnout,” Sanders said, to make a statement “that our government belongs to all of us, and not just a handful of contributors, if that happens we’re going to win here in North Carolina, and the other states as well.”
According to a Civitas Institute poll taken March 7, Sanders trails Clinton 57 percent to 28 percent among likely North Carolina voters. Clinton has 1,223 delegates to Sanders’ 574. A total of 2,383 is needed for the nomination.
Before his remarks, he also addressed hundreds of supporters were unable to get inside the auditorium.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, condemned “a corrupt campaign finance system” that he claimed distorts the one-person, one-vote principle.
“When you have one family, the Koch brothers, and a few of their billionaire friends spending some $900 million in this campaign cycle to elect candidates who represent the rich and the powerful, that is not what democracy is about. That is called oligarchy. And together we are going to end that cancer on American democracy” by overturning the Citizens United campaign financing decision, and moving towards public funding of elections.”
“We do not represent Wall Street, the drug companies, the fossil fuel companies. We don’t represent the billionaire class. We don’t want their money,” Sanders said. His campaign has 5 million individual donors making an average $27 contribution.
“Hillary Clinton made a different decision,” and has raised $25 million, including $15 million from Wall Street, and substantial amounts from pharmaceutical and fossil fuel companies, Sanders said to a chorus of boos from the crowd.
“You cannot be an agent for real change in this country when you take huge amounts of money from the most powerful special interests,” Sanders told his supporters, festooned with Bernie T-shirts, rainbow-hued hair, and Vegans for Bernie flashing signs with messages such as “Meat = Global Warming.”
Sanders said North Carolina and Vermont textile mills bore the sting of NAFTA and other free-trade agreements.
“We have lost millions of decent paying jobs in this country” as a result, and almost 60,000 factories have been shuttered since 2001, he said.
“I helped lead the effort, unfortunately unsuccessfully, against NAFTA” and all the other trade agreements, Sanders said. “Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, supported virtually all of these disastrous trade agreements.”
Sanders said he would raise the federal minimum wage from “a starvation wage” of $7.25 an hour to $15, and push back on Republicans’ plans to trim Social Security benefits. “We’re not going to cut Social Security benefits, we’re going to expand Social Security benefits.”
His largest applause line, which brought the placard-waving audience to its feet, occurred when he said, “Today’s economy requires more education [so] we must make public colleges and universities tuition-free.”
He also achieved full-throated, deafening cheers, and a shout from the audience that “Black Lives Matter,” when he said Hispanics and African-Americans are a disproportionate percentage of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in an $80 billion a year prison industry, and “we must demilitarize our police.”
He said a black baby boy stands a 1 in 4 chance of being jailed “because of a broken criminal justice system. All of us are tired of watching videos of unarmed African-American individuals being killed by policemen,” and that policemen should be punished for breaking the law.
Addiction and substance abuse must be treated as a health care issue, not a criminal one, he said.
He said he would push pay equity for women, a family medical leave act allowing up to three months paid leave, a woman’s right to control her body, and the right to marriage for gay couples.
Latinos “are tired of living in the shadows, they’re tired of being exploited,” and he would support “a path towards citizenship” for those here illegally, he said.
Noting he is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment, he said to raucous response: “The debate is over. Climate change is real. Climate change is caused by human activity. Climate change is already causing devastating problems in this country, and around the world.”
Sanders was on the committee that helped to write the Affordable Care Act, which he called “a step in the right direction.” He wants to move the country to “a Medicare-for-all health care program, he said, because “health care is a right of all people.”
Sanders said polls consistently show him beating New York businessman Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, by double digits in the General Election.
“The American people will not support a president who insults Mexicans, who insults Muslims … who insults women virtually every day, who insults African-Americans,” Sanders said.
Sanders reminded the audience that Trump was a leader of the birther movement “trying to delegitimize Barack Obama,” whose father was born in Kenya. Sanders said his father was born in Poland. “Somehow, nobody asked me for my birth certificate.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who resigned her position with the Democratic National Committee over pressure she said she received for her support of Sanders, introduced the presidential candidate.
As a military veteran who served in Iraq, Gabbard said Sanders is well-prepared to be the nation’s commander in chief.
“He will put a stop to the costly interventionist regime change” in which Clinton was involved as secretary of state, and invest that money at home, Gabbard said. Sanders “will keep America safe, and take us down a path towards peace and prosperity.”
Allen Hall of Morrisville said he was leaving the rally to vote for Sanders. As an Army veteran, he said he appreciated Gabbard’s support of Sanders at a cost to her political career.
“His message has really been the same 30, 40 years now,” and he delivers it in a straightforward, understandable way, Hall said. “He was extremely inspiring.”
Hall, who said he is “extremely liberal,” believes Sanders can deliver on his promises, despite the potential enormous costs. He said former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations, is “one of the top economists in the world,” and he concluded Sanders’ “policies are sound.”
Kaitlyne Sheehan and Lily Robbins of Durham, both students at Durham School of the Arts, will be voting in their first presidential election this year.
“The reason I’m drawn to Bernie Sanders is because he has so many ideas and ideals for our future. We need our environmental policy to change,” said Sheehan, an aspiring marine biologist. “We have some very serious issues on our hands, and nobody else is standing up to the platform” with solid solutions like Sanders.
“What it all comes down to, I believe, is love, compassion and empathy, and listening to people, and inspiring those to get out there and fight for the equality which is our right,” Robbins said. “He listens to those marginalized communities, and those who are oppressed.”
Both said they are distrustful of Clinton, and worry she might lead America into another war.