The minutes leading up to Bernie Sanders’ Town Hall meeting at Memminger Auditorium last Tuesday—the event that the Post and Courier referred to as a “rock-star reception”— pulsed with energy and anticipation.
Varied and vocal, the crowd of people made a visual impact; a Latino woman grasping a sign with “Que Vivia Bernie” written in bold block letters, a young man sporting “Healthcare is a human right” across his chest, and a child who could not have been older than four plastered in “Bernie” stickers.
As the minutes ticked by, the Secret Service briskly patrolled the auditorium, press crews set up equipment and the crowd from outside streamed in. More than 700 people attended the event Tuesday afternoon.
At 2:45 p.m., the audience was becoming antsy. Tunes like “Uprising,” “Ring of Fire” and “Burn, Baby, Burn” drifted through the loudspeakers to get the crowd riled up.
Sander’s arrival was signaled by the thunderous chanting of the supporters nearest the stage. When the crowd finally quieted, he leaned into the microphone and exclaimed, “It sounds like Charleston is ready for a political revolution.” He continued, “We know that this great country can be much more. We know that the history of America is the history of struggle.”
That struggle, Sanders announced, includes the historical belief that “women were second-class citizens.” He also alluded to the struggle of the LGBT community, concluding, “People have the right to love whoever they want, regardless of their gender.” As the audience voiced their support after that statement, Sanders exclaimed “Enough is enough! We need real change.”
Sanders launched into his characteristic articulation of the problems plaguing our economy. Sanders claimed that Republicans talk about welfare abuse, while the largest group of people currently on welfare are Walmart employees. He asserted that since Walmart employees are paid so little, they are forced to apply for Medicaid, food stamps and subsidized housing. Sanders announced “On behalf of the Walton family, I would like to thank you very, very much…I’ll tell you what I’d like to say to the Walton family: get off welfare and start paying your employees a living wage!”
Minimum wage has been a political football since the policy was first enacted in 1938. According to Sanders, 58 percent of national income goes to the top 1 percent of the population. With some people in South Carolina working forty hours a week at two or three jobs, he believes that the current minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, is a “starvation wage.” The presidential candidate proposes not only raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, but also allowing new mothers to receive three months paid maternity leave. “Men will stand with women in the fight for pay equity,” he declared.
Sanders then turned to the “radical idea” of investing in education and jobs, not jails. He maintained that the justice system is “corrupt, rigged and broken.” Even though Sanders recognizes that it is not “easy being a cop today,” he protests the killing of African Americans while in police custody. He also proposes to do away with mandatory minimum prison sentences. According to Sanders, drug abuse is a health issue, not a criminal issue, and should be treated as such.
Of all of Bernie Sanders’ self-proclaimed “radical ideas,” perhaps the most well-known is his proposal to end student debt. According to him, hundreds of thousands of people cannot afford to go to college, even though a college degree is a requirement for securing a good job in today’s economy. Sanders spoke of a young man in Iowa whose student debt comprises 53 percent of his total income. Audience members shouted out the figures they have to pay on their own debt; “80,000 dollars…50,000…100,000.” Sanders stated that people should not be punished for wanting to get an education. His solution? Making public colleges and universities tuition-free.
Sanders will run against Sec. Hillary Clinton in South Carolina’s Democratic Primary this Saturday, Feb. 27.