Phillin’ the Bern
Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders Brings His Political Revolution to North Philly In Anticipation of the PA Primary.
In 1960, Temple University made headlines when presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy addressed a crowd gathered near Montgomery Avenue. Throughout my years at Temple, I would pass the easily overlooked stone marker that commemorates this historical event for the University. Kennedy went on to win that election and his life and legacy would forever influence American politics. The site where he spoke is currently under construction.
The PA Presidential Primary is on Tuesday, April 26 and the swirling vortex that is the 2016 Presidential Election is closing in on Philadelphia. On April 6, Temple University once again became a stopping point for a candidate who is on the rise.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders made an appearance at the Liacouras Center and addressed a crowd of 11,000 supporters. The line to get into the rally wrapped all the way around the building, leading to an overflow room filled with more than 3,000 people unable to get into the main rally and hundreds more still waiting outside.
Inside the rally, support for Sanders was fervent. Families brought in banners reading “Kids For Bernie” and others hoisted signs calling for what Sanders has dubbed a “Political Revolution” — the Senator’s call to empower populations of minorities, young people and middle class Americans to shatter voter turnout records in order to break the political machine and a corrupt campaign finance system.
Other supporters inside the rally expressed their disdain for other candidates with signs reading “Hillary Clinton Smokes Mids…” referring to lower grade marijuana. Another man held a sign reading “I’ve been an R [Republican] for 32 Years. I am voting Sanders.”
The man holding that sign was Jay Falastad, a moderate Republican who has voted for GOP candidates on consistent basis for the last 32 years, even voting for Ronald Reagan in 1984. But on the day of the rally, Falastad took an hour and twenty minute drive to Philadelphia and waited outside in line for a few more hours to support Sanders and hear him speak.
“The reason I came here is because Bernie Sanders is the only candidate, that I can tell, that truly cares about the future and the concerns of young people,” Falastad, who is in his 50s, said. “I have always been a moderate Republican, but the corporate power in the country has gotten too big and they are screwing over all the young people. That, in addition to concerns about the environment, is what made me shift in this direction. I just changed my registration yesterday so that I can vote in the primary.”
Sen. Sanders’ visit came on the heels of what some are calling a sloppy interview with The New York Daily News Editorial Board on April 1st. The full transcript is linked in the online version of this article. Another recent point of Sanders critics is that he is a one issue candidate. A Washington Post article targets his use of the term “wealth inequality” as an answer to many questions that some believe may deserve a deeper answer. According to Sanders’ website, one tenth of one percent of Americans own most of the wealth in America.
But criticism of Sanders seemed to be out of mind and drowned out by the anticipation and enthusiasm of his thousands of supporters at the Temple rally. The candidate was introduced by several people including 4th District State Senator Art Haywood.
“I heard about a man who believes in what I want for my community,” Haywood said. “In the past year, I’ve visited a number of struggling schools and they are part of the pipeline to prison.”
According to Haywood, who is African-American, his son has been stopped “numerous times” by the police while walking to and from work. The crowd reacted with resounding boos and cheered loudly as he peppered the crowd on hot button topics like raising the minimum wage to $15/hour and eliminating the influence of billionaires on elections.
As Sanders took the stage, the crowd erupted in cheers of support and deafening chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie…”
“We have what appears to be a loud, large and raucous crowd tonight,” Sanders said.“This sounds to me like the sound of a political revolution.” Sanders, perhaps feeling the criticism of him being a one issue candidate, went on the offensive.
According to Sanders, billionaires like the Koch brothers are pouring $900 million into the 2016 Presidential race to elect candidates who represent the wealthy and the powerful. The candidate, in other stump speeches, has pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision as a major factor that has lead to today’s increased influence of money in politics. The 5 to 4 vote opened the campaign spending floodgates, as the justices’ ruled that political spending is protected under the First Amendment. This allowed for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of funds on political activities, as long as those activities are independent of any party or candidate.
Sen. Sanders fired up the crowd at the rally by continuing to press his longstanding critique of the campaign financing issue.
“That is not democracy,” Sen. Sanders said. “That is oligarchy and we will not allow that to happen. Democracy is not a complicated process. It needs one person one vote, not billionaires buying elections.”
Sanders then pointed out his recent victories in state caucuses and primaries (Sanders has won 8 of the last 9 states) and moved on to calling out Republicans for enacting controversial voter registration measures that Democrats view as a means to suppress voter turnout. “If you don’t have the guts to participate in free, fair and open elections, get out of politics,” Sen. Sanders said.
Sanders responded to recent comments made by Hillary Clinton stating she did not think Sanders was “qualified” to be president. “Secretary Clinton appears to be getting a little bit nervous,” Sen. Sanders said. His tone became deliberate and aggressive.
“I don’t believe she is qualified. If she is, through her Super-Pac, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your Super-Pac. This campaign is gaining momentum because we are listening to the American people, not wealthy campaign contributors,” Sen. Sanders said.
Donald Trump was also a target, much to the delight of Sanders supporters in the crowd who all seemed to loathe the real estate tycoon turned populist politician. “The American people will not elect Donald Trump president because they understand that this country is about bringing people together,” Sen. Sanders said. “That is our strength as a people. In this arena, there are people whose families come from hundreds of countries. We are different colors we are different religions. That is our strength as a people. Coming together always trumps dividing us up.”
Other issues Sanders touched on included education and the crisis of student loan debt. The Senator has called for free public college for all Americans who perform well in school. He attests that his proposal for free college tuition would be paid for by a tax on Wall Street speculation. “Why are we being punished for getting an education?” Sen. Sanders asked the crowd. “The world has changed, people today need more education.”
The candidate also spoke on women’s equality. “There is no economic reason for women to be underpaid, it is just old fashioned sexism,” Sen. Sanders said.
Sanders harped on raising the minimum wage to $15/hr. He also explained how his position on making college available to all Americans will curtail the rising numbers of people being incarcerated. According to Sanders, minority youth are more likely to graduate high school without employment. “It seems to me to make a lot more sense to invest in our young people in jobs and education and not in jails and incarceration,” Sanders said. He then compared the United States rate of incarceration to that of China. “Shamefully, in our country we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth. China, a communist authoritarian country — they don’t tolerate dissent very much — is four times our size and we have more people in jail than China.”
Sanders also called on drug companies to stop charging outrageous amounts of money to sick Americans. “There are senior citizens all over America cutting their pills in half because they can’t afford the medicine they need. Meanwhile, the three top drug companies made $45 billion in profits last year,” Sen. Sanders Said.
Sanders platform has lifted the hopes of supporters across the country, collesing a renewed progressive coalition of voters.
“It’s the people of America who don’t have voices, whose voices are suppressed, that are standing together. We are standing up for the things we believe in and the things that need to happen,” Diana Martin, a Sanders supporter waiting in line for a few hours, said. “I think that Bernie’s campaign has sparked some people’s thoughts and so many people’s opinions on things. Now people are mad and they are ready to make the change.”
Despite the excitement, Sanders campaign and his “Political Revolution” still face a severely uphill battle in the months to come. The Senator’s chances to win the Democratic nomination are slim as it stands. Even with the string of primary victories he’s put together in recent weeks, the delegate math is not in Sanders favor. After the caucus in Wyoming this past Saturday, Clinton leads 1,286 delegates to Sanders’ 1,043. This math does not account for Clinton’s large lead of 469 to 31 among already pledged superdelegates — party leadership members that are not elected by primary voters, but who are given a voice in the nomination process due to their position in the Democratic party.
The concept of having super delegates partly deciding on a nominee for the party has come under harsh criticism from Sanders supporters and investigative media outlets. Both, to some extent, see the influence of super delegates as one that limits the voice of voters, while at times possibly allowing for conflicts of interest to arise.
A report last week in The Intercept stated that “several superdelegates are former politicians and party insiders who now work as lobbyists for banks, oil companies, foreign governments, and payday lenders, among other special interests.”
A Washington Post article on Sanders slightly plausible path to the nomination stated that,
“Sanders has to win the four remaining delegate-rich primaries — New York, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey — with roughly 60 percent of the vote. To put that in perspective: Sanders has thus far won only two primaries with that margin: Vermont and New Hampshire.”
The Post piece concludes that, “Needless to say, the size and demographic makeups of New York, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey are decidedly different than Vermont and New Hampshire.”
Sanders and his supporters are trying to flip Clinton’s already pledged super delegates in an attempt to win the nomination outright.
But time and states are quickly passing by as eyes turn toward the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia. This year’s DNC could hold special significance for our city and the country as it could once again serve as a flashpoint for the party — potentially providing a chance to reshape its make up and the movements associated with it.
Sanders support from moderate Republicans, the youth, and others groups has lead to a partly mobilized populist movement of people focused on issues some supporters believe transcend the senator’s campaign.
“It’s not necessarily Bernie that we all want, but it’s the changes he is going to make and how those will help and impact everyone,” Martin, a young college student, said. “Even if someone else gets elected, we will still move forward. Look at all these people, we are not going to be satisfied with where things are. The problems are not going to go away unless we do something.”
The DNC could serve as pivotal moment for Sanders, his supporters, and the Democratic party for two reasons: First, it remains to be seen if Sanders supports would eventually support Clinton in a general election, if she does in fact obtain the nomination of the party. Second, the start of another test will begin at the convention if Clinton, does in fact become the nominee — one that will decide if Sanders “Political Revolution” continues to rally millions of progressives around the country or dies on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center, just as the 76ers have all season long.
Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a world renowned political dissident, and close follower of American politics. He makes no secret of the fact that he supports Sanders’ ideas, while attesting that he would support Hillary in the general election against Republicans. The professor also paints a bleak picture for the movement currently attached to the U.S. Senator’s presidential bid.
“That campaign ought to be directed to sustaining a popular movement which will use the election as an incentive,” Chomsky said. “And unfortunately, it’s not. When the election’s over, the movements will die. The only thing that’ll ever bring about meaningful change is ongoing, dedicated popular movements which don’t pay attention to the election cycle. It’s an extravaganza every four years, but then we go on.”
We asked Sanders supporters at the Temple rally to respond to Chomsky’s dim forecast and sharp critique of the “Political Revolution.” Some shared concerns, but most offered a more optimistic outlook to that of the MIT professor.
“It has to be sustained, because if not it’s all for nothing. If we keep the momentum going beyond Bernie Sanders there may be other candidates like him at some point,” Nick DiDonato, a Sanders supporter in his mid 20s, said. “For example John Fetterman is running in PA, so we have to keep the fight alive we can’t just give up.”
Other, older advocates of Sanders pointed to his youth supporters as the determining factor in whether the movement continues past the presidential race, in the event of a Clinton nomination.
“It’s all up to the young people that are here,” Jay Falastad, the moderate Republican who now supports Sanders, said. “He is advocating for young people so the burden is going to be on them to keep this movement going.”