Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks policy in Lebanon
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) drew a crowd of over 1,000 — including Upper Valley residents and Dartmouth students — at a speech on Friday at Lebanon High School. Sanders discussed income inequality, institutional racism, campaign finance reform and numerous social issues in his nearly two-hour speaking engagement.
Sanders took numerous questions from audience members. He was introduced by local speakers, including two Lebanon High School students, Dartmouth Students and Staff for Bernie co-founder Felicia Teter ’13, Upper Valley field organizer Nate Ruby and New Hampshire state representative Andy White (D-Lebanon).
“The bottom line is, our country faces very, very serious problems,” Sanders said to spectators in the overflow room before taking the main stage in gymnasium. “The good news is, they really are solvable problems if we create a government that works for working families and the middle class rather than just the billionaires that control what goes on in Washington.”
A focal point of Sanders’ speech was campaign finance reform. He promised onlookers that, as president, he would not nominate any candidate to the Supreme Court unless that candidate was committed to overturning the court’s Citizens United decision that allowed more donations from corporations to candidates and also overturned donation caps for such entities.
Sanders said that thanks to the money of corporations and the wealthy in politics, votes of individual Americans are being devalued and the United States is shying away from democracy.
“[The United States] sure does not look like democracy to me,” Sanders said. “It looks like oligarchy, and we have got to stop that.”
Sanders’ campaign refuses to accept donations from Super PACs and will generally not accept corporate donations.
The Republican party’s general reticence to accept climate change is also a product of the influence of money in politics, he said. Since major corporations and right-wing donors — such as David and Charles Koch — refuse to fund candidates who acknowledge climate change, many Republican legislators believe their political careers will collapse if they support it, he said.
“It is not utopian — it is not pie-in-the-sky — to say that large, multinational corporations should not be able to get away with stashing their money in the Cayman Islands and other tax heavens and get away in a given year with not paying a penny of federal income tax,” Sanders said.
Sanders argued for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and for increased rights for workers, including the strict enforcement of a 40-hour workweek and rights for parental leave.
“It is not a radical idea to say that if you work 40 hours a week in America, you should not be living in poverty,” Sanders said. “The minimum wage in America today is $7.25 per hour — that is a starvation wage.”
He also called for a 90-day parental leave program for all new parents.
“When I talk about family values, what I talk about is ending the national embarrassment that is the United States of America being the only industrialized country on earth that does not guarantee paid family leave,” he said.
Major Wall Street banks that were bailed out by the federal government in 2008 and 2009 should be split up to eliminate the concept of “too big to fail” from the American financial system, Sanders said.
Sanders discussed opportunities for students seeking education in America and pledged to make public colleges and universities free of charge for qualified students.
“It is beyond my comprehension how it happens that today hundreds of thousands of bright and qualified young people who desperately want a higher education are unable to go to college for one reason alone, and that is that their families lack the funds,” Sanders said.
New Hampshire has the highest rate of college-related indebtedness in the country, White said.
In her introduction to Sanders, Lauren Hadley, a senior at Lebanon High School, said that in addition to fears about being accepted to colleges, she fears that she may not be able to afford school.
“I know each and every one of you guys have a certain issue that you are passionate about, and [Sanders] has a plan for you, whether it is about retirement, health care, the economy or education, [Sanders] is there for you,” Hadley said.
Teter — the Dartmouth Students and Staff for Bernie organizer — spoke immediately before Sanders and emphasized her biracial heritage and the 39 percent graduation rate of her high school on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington.
“The success of black and brown children should not be seen as luck while the success of white children is seen as an expectation,” she said. “Bernie Sanders is the only candidate routinely calling out the institutional racism and systematic oppression routinely apparent to people of color.”
Both Teter and Sanders also talked about remedying police brutality and violence against minorities, as well as the high rate of incarceration in the United States.
“How about — as a nation — us investing in jobs and education rather than jails and incarceration,” Sanders said.
African American citizens should not need to fear police brutality for minor infractions and have their opportunities curtailed by law enforcement and lack of funds to pursue higher education, he said.
Voters who attended the event generally expressed support for Sanders’ positions, although many were not sure if they would ultimately vote for the senator.
“I agree with everything he says [but] I haven’t decided if I’ll support him,” Lindsay Dearborn, a Lebanon resident, said.
Four other voters interviewed at the event all said they would definitely support Sanders, and two New Hampshire voters Jennifer Ditan and Caleb Vick — signed up to volunteer for his campaign.
“I studied for awhile the economic policies he’s presenting now, and it’s refreshing to hear them in politics,” Vick said.
Andrew Weckstein ’18 said he was undecided about supporting Sanders, but that his candidacy could be good for the election generally.
“I think he has a lot of good ideas,” he said. “I think, if anything, he brings into the political window a lot of really important issues. I think some of what he said is not as radical as the media makes it seem.”
The New Hampshire Democratic primary — which will be held in February — is currently hotly contested between Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with an average of six national polls currently showing Sanders with a 2.4 percent lead in the state.