Bernie Sanders returns to Philly, on Clinton's behalf
On Saturday, October 8, Senator Bernie Sanders, who narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton, came to the University of the Arts to speak on her behalf. The auditorium was packed with his former supporters—mostly students, but also a surprising number of older voters—and the crowd was loud and reactive.
Sanders’ appearance came at an interesting moment. The previous day, the Washington Post published a 2005 video of Donald Trump bragging about the impunity he enjoys as a “star” when he wants to kiss married women, or “grab them by the pussy.” That same day, Wikileaks also leaked excerpts of paid speeches given by Hillary Clinton to Wall Street firms. During the primary, Sanders had demanded that Clinton release this information, to no avail.
Sanders’ negative reaction to Trump’s statements was easy to predict. However, the Clinton speeches hewed closely to the critiques Sanders had offered of her during the primary. Her respectful tone may have been more of a feature of her diplomatic style than a sign of true friendship with the banks; however, by affirming Wall Street’s role in campaign finance and agreeing that industry insiders can be the most effective industry regulators, she directly contradicted two of Sanders’ most important convictions.
"If you are a working person in Pennsylvania making 10, 12 dollars an hour, ask your candidate Mr. Trump why he does not have the guts, as a billionaire, to support legislation to make sure that every American worker earns enough money not to live in poverty," Sanders said.
In his speech on Saturday, Sanders chose not to address the recent leak. He maintained a skeptical tone when speaking of Clinton, even emphasizing her high unfavorability ratings, but focused on the compromises he’d been able to make with her campaign since conceding the nomination. Among these was the promise to introduce a constitutional amendment which would overturn Citizens United, which would be an important step toward campaign finance reform.
Predictably, the bulk of Sanders’ speech was focused on the economy, which is his primary lens for analyzing social and political issues. He gave credit for recent gains to the Obama administration, but accused the American people of amnesia with regard to the economic crisis of 2008.
“We need millions of people to stand up and tell the one percent and the billionaire class that they cannot get it all,” he said. “What does it mean to tell some of Trump’s supporters who are working hard for lower wages that he is not their candidate? If you are a working person in Pennsylvania making 10, 12 dollars an hour, ask your candidate Mr. Trump why he does not have the guts, as a billionaire, to support legislation to make sure that every American worker earns enough money not to live in poverty.”
Sanders supports a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour, while Clinton wants to raise the federal minimum to $12 and support the Fight for Fifteen campaign in specific cities.
It wasn’t till near the end of his speech that Sanders moved from economic issues towards racial discrimination and xenophobia, which have been among the most loaded topics of this election cycle. He voiced support for new police training which would discourage the use of lethal force, though without directly addressed it as a Black or Brown issue. He also said that legislators needed to be “aggressive” about the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
“I’ve talked to many many young Latino boys and girls who told me, and sometimes there were tears in their eyes, that they were worried that they were gonna go home from school one day and find that their mom and dad were deported,” said Sanders. “We need real, comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. That’s what Hillary Clinton believes, and that’s what I believe.”
Though among Sanders’ former supporters, it will always be possible to find those determined not to vote for either establishment party candidate, the crowd was moved to cheers at many points when he spoke in favor of Clinton’s policies. He also frequently name-dropped Katie McGinty, who is running for U.S. Senate and who spoke out against incumbent Pat Toomey’s involvement with a bank known for its predatory lending practices.
Pennsylvania’s importance as a battleground state in national elections means that Philly locals will have many chances for facetime with both regional and national political figures in the coming weeks. And the deadline for voter registration is tomorrow—you can check if you're eligible and if so, sign up on IWillVote.com.