Earlier this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at a town hall meeting in Richmond, California, about the many problems confronting America, including big money in politics following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. After an hour-long speech, he had the crowd of around 500 on their feet giving the independent senator from Vermont a standing ovation.
America’s third largest corporation, Chevron, has pumped $3 million of electoral cash into Richmond (population 107,571), the site of a giant oil refinery owned by — you guessed it — Chevron. Their aim is to defeat the city’s progressive candidates, who have charged the company with damaging Richmond’s economy and environment.
Sanders encouraged the crowd to fight against Chevron to ensure other corporations will not “roll over every community in America.”
“You’re seeing right here, in this small city, unlimited sums of money from one of the largest corporations in America, who says, ‘How dare you ordinary people – working class people, people of color, young people – how dare you think you have the right to run your city government? Who do you think you are? We’re gonna teach you a lesson, we’re gonna tell you who owns this community, who controls this community,’ and that’s what this fight is about here in Richmond,” he said.
Sen. Sanders, a long-time advocate of America’s middle class, also detailed his own progressive agenda, touching on themes including the country’s “starvation” federal minimum wage and “crumbling” infrastructure, as well as the the Supreme Court’s “worst decision” and what he believes is the “greatest crisis happening in America.”
Sen. Sanders concluded his speech with this nugget: “Change does not take place easily. Anyone who’s read history understands that before real change takes place, people struggle. They go to jail. They die for that change.”
We’ve transcribed Sen. Sanders speech below and for more, watch the preview of his conversation with Bill this week.
Transcript of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Remarks at a Town Meeting on Oct., 16, 2014, in Richmond, California. Organized by the Richmond Progressive Alliance.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Whoa. In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of people here. Thank you all very, very much for coming out. And Gayle, thank you for that introduction. And I am here to be as supportive as I can for this ticket that’s going to bring people together, that is going to give Chevron a lesson that they have never, ever got.
So with your help on election night, you’re going to have Tom, and Gayle and Jovanka and Eduardo in office to do the right things for this community. Now, I came here tonight for a couple of reasons. First, as Gayle mentioned, I was a former mayor. I served for eight years. We have two-year terms in Burlington. And in that capacity of taking on then the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the railroad, the state, the utilities, the restaurants, the entire Chamber of Commerce, everybody else, we took them all on. And here are some of the lessons that I learned which I think you know very, very well.
Back then, there was a great deal of political alienation. I think it’s worse today. Profound anger and disgust. But this is what happened. And I’m sure that it’s happening. In this turnout tonight tells me it’s happening in Richmond. I ran for office on a plank which said, you know, I am not here to represent the big money interests. I am here to represent the middle class, and working families, and low income people in my community. And we had a plank. And we laid it out.
And the members of the city council — I had two supporters on the city council at the time, 11 against me. And at the first meeting, first meeting we had, the majority took away my one appointee. I had to serve my entire first year, the mayor in Burlington is entitled to a city attorney, treasurer, a whole bunch of appointees. They refused to allow me to have my appointees. So I had to run my first year with the group of folks who were loyal to the guy I had beaten in a very contentious election. Try that.
Do you know what happened? Because we kept faith with the people, because we did what we promised we would do, two years later we doubled voter turnout. Doubled voter turnout. And low income people, and working class people, middle class people came out in huge numbers. And in my races, I was able to beat Democrats, Republicans, Democrats and Republicans.
And at the end, they combined around one candidate. Beat him also. All right? Which always — I never forget that when you’re honest, when you’re willing to fight for working families, when you’re willing to stand up to the powers that be and you keep your word, people will stand with you. And that’s what’s going to happen here in Richmond.
The other reason that I am here is not just to applaud Gayle and all of those who have worked with Gayle for their creative solutions to serious problems. I love municipal government. I’ll tell you why. Because at the end of the day, establishing community, bringing people together, creating a sense of place where people feel good about each other, that’s the best that we can do. And that’s what you could do at the local level.
And I have been very impressed by everything that I’ve heard about what Gayle and her team has done in trying to improve life for people in Richmond. So I’m really happy to be here and be supportive of that. But the second reason I am here, and I think Jovanka made this point, is that we are facing an enormous crisis in this country.
By a five to four vote, the Supreme Court made what I think will go down in history as one of the worst decisions ever made by a Supreme Court in American history. And the result of that decision was to give the Koch brothers, Chevron and the billionaire class and all of corporate America the opportunity to spend unlimited, unlimited sums of money in races for the White House, for the US Senate, the US House, governors’ chairs and even municipal elections like here in Richmond, even school board elections around the country. Apparently for these guys, owning and controlling our economy is not enough. They now want to own and control the government.
And we are not going to allow them to do that. Not in Richmond, not anywhere. Now, when you talk about money in politics, the difficulty is trying to explain to ordinary people how much money these guys have. Because it’s really unimaginable. You know, most people think about $100, $1,000, $10,000. Just give you one example. The Koch brothers are the second wealthiest family in America. They are worth something like $85 billion. In one year alone, in the last year, their wealth increased by $12 billion. Now, they are extreme right wing ideologues who increased their wealth in one year by 12 billion. When Obama and Romney ran for president in 2012, both of them spent a little bit more than a billion dollars on their campaign. For the Koch brothers, a billion dollars is like $20 for ordinary Americans. In one year, $12 billion increase in wealth. $85 billion. They could spend $5 billion. It would have no impact on — essential impact — on what they’re worth. So for them, the only question, and it’s hard for people to understand this. The only question is: When does too much become counterproductive?
It is not a question of, how much? It’s just, when too much? Because they have literally unlimited sums of money. Now, let me tell you what else these guys want to do. Citizens United was, as I think we all understand, a horrendous decision. That’s not enough for them. And you all have got to understand them.
Back in 1980, and I want to get this in a little bit, David Koch, one of the brothers, ran for vice president of the United States on the Libertarian Party. And he helped fund that effort. And they had a party platform that he helped to write. And one of the important provisions in that platform which is now coming into effect unless we stop them is to say, and I quote, this is from his 1980 campaign. “We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.” That position is now the position of the leadership of the National Republican Party.
What does that mean in English? Right now, they can spend as much as they want through independent expenditures. Those ads you see on television. Tell somebody to do this, and all that stuff, that’s an independent expenditure. They have to go to a super PAC to fund, ‘Vote yes. Vote for this person or that person.’ This is where they want to go. This is where the Republican Party today wants to go. They want the day when all campaign finance law is repealed so that the Koch brothers could stand in front of a group like this — well, not quite like this. But have their candidates and say, “You want to run for governor of California? I’ve got a $100 million check for you. There’s your speech writer. There’s your media consultant. You work directly for me.”
So they want another 100 employees in the US Senate, another 435 in the House, and a big one in the White House. That is their vision of what democracy is about. And on the other side of the equation, they have another vision. Most of us learn that what democracy is about is one person, one vote. And in Vermont, we have what we call town meetings in March. And people come out. Whole town comes out. People argue about the road budget, and the school budget, and this, that and the other thing. Everybody has one vote.
What they are now trying to do, the Republican governors and legislatures around this country because they are cowards and they cannot defend their political point of view, is suppress the vote. You would think that somebody who believed in what they stood for — and I’m going to tell you in a moment exactly what they stand for. You would believe that they would have the guts to go out and try to convince people. “This is what I believe. This is what my opponent believes. Vote for me.” That’s called democracy. But they’re cowards. And they hide behind their money. And what they are trying to do right now in many, many states is make it difficult for seniors, for low income people, for people of color, for young people to participate in the political process. They are cowards. Shame on them.
Now, before I get into the thrust of my remarks, I want to do something that is done too rarely and the corporate media does not cover. We can all be appalled that billionaires are spending huge sums of money. I think that’s on the surface detrimental to democracy and not what this country is supposed to be about. But it is important to understand why is the Koch family spending — we don’t know exactly because a lot of this money is undisclosed — but we’re guessing $300, $400, $500 million on this election alone. What do they stand for? What do they want? I’m going to tell you what they want.
I told you a moment ago that David Koch ran for vice president in 1980. I am going to read some, just some of his platform. And you will be stunned by what I read. But to the very best of my knowledge, while this platform was written 34 years ago, their views have not changed. And they got think tanks all over this country. You name the issue. Tom was talking about veterans’ issues. They got a Koch brothers veterans organization. You talk about health care. They got a health care organization. They got a tax organization. They got an education organization. They are on television every night.
This is what the Koch brothers’ platform was in 1980, a platform which has not changed. “We favor —” this is a quote. Exact quotes. “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.” You all are aware that the Republican House of Representatives last year voted to end Medicare as we know it, to transform it into a voucher system. Which means that if you are old and sick, you’re 75, you come down with cancer, their vision for your health care is a check for $8,000 to go to any private insurance company you want. You are 75, you got cancer, and you got a check for $8,000. Tell me how many days that’s going to keep you in the hospital.
That’s right. Maybe hours. Not days. That’s their vision. Medicaid. Huge cuts in Medicaid for low-income people. But that is not enough. The vision of the Koch brothers is to end Medicare and Medicaid and other public health programs entirely. Next point.
And I quote: “We favor — this is a quote. “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt and increasingly oppressive Social Security system.” Now, many of us — and I know people in this room work with me, work with your senator Barbara Boxer, and others to say, “We are not going to cut Social Security.” There was a proposal called the so-called chained CPI which would have cut cost of living increases. And we put together senior groups, and veterans groups, and women’s groups, and the trade union movement, people with disabilities. We brought everybody together, formed a caucus in the Congress, and we beat them back. But Koch brothers are now talking about cutting Social Security. They want to eliminate Social Security.
“We support repeal of all law which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.” Do you know what that means? Right now — and I think Gayle was talking about this a moment ago — everybody in this room understands that a seven and a quarter federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. And we got to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. There is — we brought forth a bill in the Senate. Didn’t go as far as I would like it to go. It was for $10.10 an hour, which would have lifted over 25 million Americans, given them a pay raise. People who needed it the most. The moms trying to get by on $9 an hour, $9.50 an hour. It would have been good help. We could get virtually no Republican support for that.
The Koch brothers’ view is, of course you don’t want to raise the minimum wage. You want to eliminate the concept of the minimum wage. So that in high unemployment areas if you have workers fighting for a few jobs, ‘They’re going to say, I’ve got a job. It pays four bucks an hour. You don’t want it? I got 10 other people who want it.’ They want to eliminate all federal health and safety laws to protect workers on the job. That’s their vision for America.
Quote — listen to this. “We support the complete separation of education and state. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals.” Do you know what that means in English? The end of public education. So if you are a wealthy person, no problem. You’re going to send your kids to a good private school. But if you are a working class person, you’re a low income person, what are your kids going to have? Nothing. They want to end all federal aid for higher education. Pell grants. They want to end the ability of states to run state colleges and state universities.
“We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.” In other words, their idea of freedom is that a corporation, maybe an Exxon, can dump its crap into the air, get kids sick, pollute our water, pollute our land. And that’s called freedom. And you don’t want to interfere with the freedom of those corporations to destroy our air, land and water, do you? You don’t want to have legislation to protect the health of our kids. That’s their view.
Quote — and there are many, many others equally shocking. Here’s one that really gives you the totality of where they are coming from. “We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.” Now, you know what that means? That means unemployment compensation gone, Head Start gone, food stamps gone. You name the federal program. Meals on Wheels gone. And their vision is that you will have a few rich people. And if you’re really nice to them, they may throw you — are you hungry? Well, they may throw you some crumbs or maybe not. But they will control what goes on.
And you’re seeing that — you’re seeing a little of that right here in this small city. Unlimited sums of money from one of the largest corporations in America who says, how dare you ordinary people, working class people, people of color, young people — how dare you think you have a right to run your city governm—t? Who do you think you are? We’re going to teach you a lesson. We’re going to tell you who owns this community, who controls this community.
And that’s what this fight is about here in Richmond. And you damn well better win that fight. Because whether you know it or not — whether you know it or not, I think Gayle said it, the eyes of the country are on you. And if Chevron can roll over you, they’ll roll over — they and their buddies will roll over every community in America. If you can stand up and beat them with all of their money, you’re going to give hope to people all over America that we can control our destinies.
Now, what I want to do for a moment is deal with a subject that is terribly important that we don’t talk about enough. If you would ask me what the great crisis facing America is, the answer is that we don’t discuss the great crises facing America. That’s the great crisis. So what I want to do for a moment — what I want to do for a moment — is do what you don’t see on TV. Just not on TV. You don’t see it in the papers very often. That is I want to tell you in my view fact by fact what in fact is going on in the United States of America. And then I want to tell you what I believe we have to do to turn this country around.
Now, we all know that there are a lot of angry people out there. Some of them are slightly misguided and work within the tea party. And they are very angry, but unfortunately they are angry at the wrong people for the wrong reasons. And we’ve got to help them get their thinking together. And there are other people in the Occupy movement who are angry at the right people for the right reasons. But there are a lot of people who are angry. And you know what? The American people should be angry. And I’m going to tell you why they should be angry. And some of them understand it intellectually, but everybody understands it emotionally.
I want you to think about what’s gone on in this country for the last 30, 40 years. And what’s gone on is we have seen an explosion of technology. These little things, space age technology, robotics. You know, unbelievable technology. And what’s the result of technology? What technology does is make every worker far more productive than he or she used to be. So if I give you a tool and you are producing 30 percent more than somebody did 10 years ago, what you might logically think is you’re going to be making 30 percent more money or maybe, maybe you’ll be working 30 percent fewer hours.
And on that — so let me tell you a funny story on that one, all right? Settle in. This may go on for a while here. When I was a young man in college, this is true. For the young people, you think I’m not telling you the truth, but this is true. They taught courses about what Americans should do with all of the leisure time that they would have as a result of exploding technology. And you’re laughing. In fact, now the courses they teach is how you can survive in a stressed out family when mom and dad are working three jobs. And that is of course the reality of America today.
So people are asking themselves. They’re saying, with all of this new technology, with all of this new productivity, with all of this great global economy, and all these trade agreements, how come I am working longer hours for lower wages? How come when I am 55 years of age, I am suddenly getting laid off because I was making too much money and am replaced by a 20-year-old young person? How is that happening?
So listen up. And these are the facts that are impacting the reality of the middle class today. Since 1999, the typical — that middle-class family, right in the middle of the economy, half the people above, half the people below — that family has seen its income go down by almost $5,000 after adjusting for inflation. Incredibly, that same family right in the middle of the economy earned almost $500 less last year than it did 25 years ago. So people are saying, what’s going on? I’m working hard. My wife is working hard. We’re working longer hours. And we are worse off as a family than we were 25 years ago.
Typical that — again, that median worker right in the middle. That male worker made $780 less last year than he did 41 years ago adjusted for inflation. That typical woman worker earned $1,300 less last year than she did in 2007. In other words, the working class of this country is on the move. The problem is we’re moving in the wrong direction. We’re moving down rather than up.
Now, the president gets on the TV and he makes an important point. And it’s a point not to be dismissed. The Republicans dismiss it. And he says correctly, think about where we were six years ago. You think we’re not creating enough jobs today? That’s true. No debate. Six years ago, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month. Six years ago, the financial system of this country and the world was on the verge of collapse. Put your credit card into an ATM, no money might come out. Talk about deficits? We ran up a $1.4 trillion deficit under Bush’s last year. So have we made progress? Yes. Have we made anywhere near the kind of progress we need to address the economic problems facing working people? Absolutely not.
Now, when you talk to people — and every poll, no matter what the poll is, who does it, the result is always the same. They say to people, okay, what is the most important issue on your mind? And what people say is: jobs and the economy. Now, you may have read in the paper that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment — official unemployment is 5.9 percent. If you include those people who have given up looking for work and those people who are working part time where they want to work full time, do you know what real unemployment in America is? It’s close to 12 percent. Do you know — do you know what youth unemployment is today? It is 20 percent.
Do you know — everybody here has heard a lot about Ferguson, Missouri. And we heard about the tragedy of an unarmed black man shot to death. That is a tragedy. But what they forgot to tell you is that African-American youth unemployment in this country is over 30 percent in this country today. And you want to know why people are anxious, why they are upset, why they are stressed out?
Half of the families in this country have less than $10,000 in the bank. So you’re getting old. You’re thinking about retirement. How the hell do you retire with less than $10,000 in the bank? You are in a divorce, you are in an automobile injury, you’re a job loss away from financial disaster.
When we talk about what’s happening in the middle class today, it’s important to understand — and again, young people may think I’m not telling the truth. But to the young people, I would say “There was once a time in America where you could walk into a department store and you could actually buy products made in the United States of America, not China.” And by and large, those jobs paid good wages.
Since 2001 in this country, we have lost 60,000 factories. Sixty thousand factories and millions of decent-paying jobs largely because of a disastrous set of trade policies that said to corporate America, ‘Go to China, go to Mexico, go to Vietnam, and you can bring your products back into this country tariff free.’ And I believe — and having voted against all of those trade agreements, I believe — I believe that if corporate America wants us to buy their products, they damn well should make those products right here in America.
Now, in one sentence, a long sentence, but in one sentence, we can see the transformation of the American economy. Thirty years ago, the largest private sector employer in America was General Motors. Strong union, the UAW. Decent wages. Strong health care benefits. Pension benefits. Today, the largest private sector employer in America is?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Exactly. Low wages. Virtually no benefits. Vehemently anti-union. That in one metaphor is the transformation of the American economy. From a company that made real products, paid real wages, to Walmart.
And by the way, when we talk about Walmart, you should all know, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to know this, that Walmart is owned by the Walton family, which is the wealthiest family in America. They are struggling with about $148 billion, okay? Trying to get by. It’s tough. Tough. But here is the outrage. The outrage is that because Walmart pays wages which are so low, because Walmart does not provide decent health care to its workers, you end up subsidizing Walmart because a significant number of their people go on food stamps, go onto federally funded housing, going onto Medicaid.
So all of us are saying to the Walton family, “You’re the richest family in America. How about paying your workers a living wage? We are tired of your —” now, what’s happening in the country, and this is also just a strange moment. You know, if a tornado goes through a town, you know, and the tornado levels everybody, there’s a certain sense of this is a tragedy. Or a whole town has been hit by a flood, a tsunami, whatever it may be.
But as all of you know, there is something else going on in the economy today. The middle class is disappearing. We have more people living in poverty today than almost any time in American history. But there’s another reality. And the other reality is that the wealthiest people and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well. So it’s not like everybody is in the same boat. People on top are doing phenomenally well at exactly the same time as we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. The rich are doing extraordinarily well at the same time as we have seniors struggling whether or not to pay for their prescription drugs or to pay for their food.
In America today, we have more income and wealth inequality than at any time since 1929. And by the way, you all know what happened in 1929. And that’s not an accident. Not an accident. But we have more wealth and income inequality in this country since 1929 and more inequality than any other major country on earth.
You know, we all think about our friends over in the United Kingdom. And they got queens, and dukes, and lords, and whatever the hell they got. No one can figure out. But they got all of these guys. And we say, that’s a really class-oriented country. We have more inequality in terms of wealth and income than they have.
Today in America, the top one percent own 37 percent of the financial wealth of the country. That’s bad. This is worse. The bottom 60 percent own all of 1.7 percent. You all follow that? Okay. In fact, it gets worse. The top one tenth of one percent own over 23 percent of total wealth. Got that? One tenth of one percent own over 23 percent of the wealth in America. The Walton family, our good friends at Walmart, those generous benefactors, they alone own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people. One family.
Woman in audience: That’s obscene.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: It is obscene. It is exactly what it is. Now, that’s wealth. Wealth is what you accumulate in your entire life. In terms of income, which is what we made in the last year, since the Wall Street crash which was caused, as I hope everybody here knows, by the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street. Since that time, listen to this. Ninety-five percent of all new income created in America since 2008 has gone to the top 1 percent. So what that means is that, you know, economists look at growth in the economy. Did the GDP grow by 2 percent, four percent? Was it really good and 6 percent? And that’s important. But in a certain sense, it doesn’t make any difference to the average person if all of the new income associated with that growth goes to the top 1 percent.
So the reality is where we are today — and again, this is an issue that we just don’t talk about — television doesn’t talk about it. Just go out. Each family thinks they are the only family struggling. They are not. That is the vast majority of the American people. So where we are today? People on top doing phenomenally well, everybody else hurting.
In my city, in my state of Vermont yesterday, I believe, two days ago, in one of our larger towns, teachers went out on strike because the school district wanted to cut their health benefits, something that’s happening all over America. Today in America, the top 25 hedge fund managers, and no one quite knows what a hedge fund manager does. But we do know that these 25 guys, and I suspect they are all guys, made more than $24 billion. That is enough to pay the full salaries for 425,000 public school teachers. What about that for national priorities?
Today, corporate profits are at an all-time high, and CEOs earn about 270 times what their employees make, their average employee. Now, many sitting in Washington are going to hear, corporate America. Every — oh God, they are just taxed to the death. They just, it’s unbelievable.
Man in audience: Poor babies.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Right, poor babies. Well, you should know, as I’m sure you do, that one out of four corporations pays nothing in federal income tax. And the wealthy and large corporations avoid paying about 100 billion every single year. You know why? Because — that’s right. Chevron, too. Because they stash their money in tax havens like the Cayman Islands or Bermuda.
Man in audience: Eliminate tax perks!
Sen. Bernie Sanders: All right, so that’s where we are today. Now, what I want to talk about for a moment, and I want to make this as strongly as I can. All of these things that are happening were created by human activities, were created by bad public policy. That’s why we are where we are. Not an accident. This was people — big money interests pushed this agenda.
Let me give you a progressive agenda. And I know Gayle and others are fighting for a progressive local agenda. Let me give you an agenda for Washington. First of all, as I mentioned, real unemployment is 12 percent. Youth unemployment 20 percent. What we need to do is pass legislation that pushes a major federal jobs program which rebuilds our crumbling infrastructure. That is roads, and bridges, and rail systems, and water systems and waste-water pipes. When I was mayor of Burlington, we had to work with the state. And the feds helped to come up with $50 million back in the 1980s for a waste-water plant. Very, very expensive. Gayle, would a little federal money help rebuilding your infrastructure here? All right.
And when we do that let me give you an example. The American Society of Civil Engineers — it’s a very sexy title. But these guys analyze the state of our infrastructure. And they say we need to put $3 trillion into rebuilding our infrastructure. Now, interestingly enough, $3 trillion is just about what we spent on the war in Iraq, a war we should never have gotten into in the first place. If we are conservative and just take — and I would go further than this. But you take $1 trillion. You can have a profound impact in improving the infrastructure of America. And you can put 13 million Americans back to work at decent wages, which is exactly what we have to do.
And not only do we talk about the economy and jobs. Not only, of course, do we have to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We have to make sure in this country that equal work gets equal pay, that women do not get paid 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.
And very significantly, again, it’s an issue that is not discussed. Really, you can — raise your hands if anybody here has seen a television program dealing with our trade policy and the impact. Have anyone ever see a program? Now, it is — as I mentioned a moment ago, we’ve lost 60,000 factories in the last 14, 15 years. You think maybe we should be talking about it. But what we have got to do is end these disastrous trade policies.
Corporate America has got to invest back in this country. But obviously a progressive agenda has got to go further than that. We are living in a highly competitive global economy. And if this country is to succeed economically, we have got to have the best educated workforce in the world. And here is a depressing fact. This is a depressing fact. Thirty years ago, this nation led the world in terms of the percentage of our people who graduated college. We were number one. Today, we are number twelve.
Before I came in here, I was talking to a couple of women who I think are here. And one was teaching at a local college. And we were talking about the fact that not so many years ago, I don’t know, 25, 30 years ago, the University of California, one of the great university systems in the world, was tuition free. Some of you may have read that one of the states in Germany became the last state to abolish tuition in Germany. We had the ambassador from Denmark visiting us in Vermont not this summer but the summer before talking about how kids in Denmark go to college, graduate school and medical school. You know how much it costs them?
Woman in audience: Nothing.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: That’s right. Zero. So maybe, just maybe if we want to have the kind of economy we need, decent jobs, decent wages, maybe we should learn something from Germany and Denmark and make sure that every young person in this country could go to college regardless of his or her income.
Couple of months ago in Vermont, we had a meeting on student indebtedness. And I talked to a young woman whose crime was that she went to medical school and is now doing an excellent job practicing primary health care in a community health center. She came out of medical school $300,000 in debt.
All right. Right now, we have young people paying 5, 6, 8 percent on their interest rates. We have parents paying even more, again, for the crime of wanting to see their kids get a decent education. During the Wall Street bailout period, I managed to get an amendment passed in the Dodd-Frank financial bill. And the amendment for the first time allowed for an audit of the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis.
And you know what we learned? This is what we learned. During that crisis period through a revolving loan fund, the Fed lent out $16 trillion to virtually every financial institution in America, central banks all over the world, large corporations at interest rates of zero or one-half of 1 percent.
Now, if you could bail out Wall Street and give them Fed money at one-half of 1 percent, maybe we could do the same for the young people going to college. And while we’re at it, when we talk about young people and when we understand that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. Almost 1 out of 5 of our kids lives in poverty.
I want you to think for a moment. You’re a mom, maybe a single mom, and you’re going to work. You’re trying your hardest to bring up your kid well. What happens to the kid when you’re at work? Can you find good quality, affordable childcare? And the answer in Vermont and the answer in California is you can’t.
So we have got to create an understanding that the most important years of a human being’s life are zero to three. That’s what all the studies tell us. And we need hundreds of thousands of well-educated, well-trained, well-paid child care workers to make sure that our kids get off with a good start in life.
Let me say about a word that is dear to my heart because I’ve worked very, very hard on this. When we talk about what the Koch brothers want, what their vision of America is about, what it is about is a world in which we have repealed virtually every piece of legislation passed since the 1930s, where a handful of billionaire families control the economy and they will dole it out to people as they choose. And always at the top of the list of programs they want to eliminate is Social Security. And you know why they want to eliminate Social Security? Because Social Security is the most successful federal program in the modern history of America. That’s why they want to eliminate it. So for years now, you turn on the TV, and they have these guys getting up there and saying, well, we need entitlement reform. Have you ever heard that phrase?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Do you know what they are talking about? When they talk about entitlement reform, they are too cowardly to tell you what they really are talking about. What they are talking about is cuts in Social Security and in Medicare.
And here is the big lie: “Well, we’ve got to cut Social Security because it’s going broke.” So let me tell you the truth. Social Security isn’t going broke. There’s $2.5 trillion in the trust fund. Not going broke. Social Security could pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 19 years.
And if you want to extend Social Security for decades more, you know what you do? You lift the cap. So that somebody who’s making a million or five million does not continue paying the same into the fund as somebody making 117. Now, some nice things on this issue have been happening. What is happening now is more and more people are saying, not only are we not going to cut Social Security. We’re going to expand Social Security benefits. And that’s the right answer.
This morning in San Francisco, I had the opportunity of meeting with and marching with the United Nurses of America. And what they understand as well as an increasing number of doctors, mostly primary care physicians, is they as nurses, as doctors, cannot do their job under the current dysfunctional health care system.
The Affordable Care Act has done some good things. We got about 10 million more people who have insurance. That’s good. We’ve done away with pre-existing conditions, et cetera. Some good things. But what we have got to recognize and I hope all of you know that today the United States of America is the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right of citizenship.
And I remind you, and I believe this from the bottom of my heart. We have got to move toward a Medicare-for-all single-payer system. All of you should know that a health care system designed to maximize profits for the drug companies and the insurance companies is a system which distorts medical and health care needs in this country. We should be spending more on disease prevention. We should make prescription drugs affordable for all of our people. We should greatly expand the number of primary care doctors and nurses that we have so that if anybody gets ill, they walk into a doctor and they get what they need to get better.
Just want to — and you’ve been very patient — I just want to make a few other remarks. I’m on — in addition to being chairman of the veterans committee and as — Tom indicated, we work very, very hard. Did something very unusual in Washington these days. We actually passed legislation. Among other things, we got $5 billion in aid to bring in doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.
But I also sit on both the energy committee and the environmental committee, which is chaired, by the way, by Barbara Boxer, who does a very, very good job. Barbara and I have worked together on many, many issues. And one of the issues we understand because we see the scientists coming before us. We see the best scientists not only in America but all over the world. And what they tell us is climate change is real, climate change is caused significantly by human activity and emission of carbon, climate change in California, Vermont, all over this world is already causing devastating problems, and if we do not get our act together, those problems will only become worse in terms of drought, which you are experiencing, flooding, rising sea levels, extreme weather disturbances, which hit my state a few years ago.
So if we have any concern for our kids and our grandchildren, we have the moral responsibility to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, transform our energy system and move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. We can do that. We can do that. If this country had the political will to say that we’re going to lead the world, we could do that. And that’s what we got to do.
Now, let me conclude by telling you what my wife tells me. My wife says, “You know, Bernie, whenever you speak, people get totally depressed. I’m going to hand out tranquilizers for suicide prevention efforts.” And she made me end this speech in a different way. And this is what she said. And she’s absolutely right. “You know, change does not take place easily. Anyone who’s read history understands that before real change takes place, people struggle. They go to jail. They die for that change. It doesn’t happen easily.”
And I want to remind everybody because it’s very easy for us to forget. Very easy. As human beings, I guess we just forget very easily about how change comes about. If we were sitting in this room 30 years ago and somebody said, “You know, I think that in 2008, America will overcome its racism, its longstanding racism, and elect an African-American president, and re-elect him four years ago,” people would say, “You’re crazy. That can’t happen.” And you know what happened? The American people over — I’m not saying racism doesn’t — is not there. It certainly is. But this country has advanced in a significant way. It was able to elect a person based on his views and not the color of his skin. That is a huge step forward. And we should be very proud of that.
I’ll give you another example. Again, we take these things for granted. Thirty years ago, we’re sitting in this room. You look at the United States Senate. If my memory is correct, there were two members of the United States Senate who were women. Two. Today, the number is 20. And in 15, 20 years, half or more of the Senate will be women.
And what we’re seeing in Richmond — here is the important point. Back in the ’80s when I was mayor of Burlington, I did something extremely radical. We appointed the first woman to the Burlington Police Department. Oh, how radical can you be? And you are laughing. Because now, you know, in Washington with the capital police, I don’t know, 30, 40 percent of the women — of the police are women. We have women generals in the military, and so forth, and so on.
And here is the very good part. Gayle is your mayor today. And what people talk about is what she is doing. It is not a big deal that she’s a woman. And that is where we want to be. We want to vote for people based on their abilities and not on their gender. New Hampshire is across the Connecticut River from me. They have two — their governor is a woman. Their two House members are women. Two senators are women. And you know what’s interesting about it? It’s not a big deal. People argue about how good or bad they are doing. And that’s where we want to be as a country.
I’ll give you another example. When I was growing up, if a kid with disabilities was born, Down syndrome or whatever, it was often the embarrassment and shame in that family. Children with disabilities at a very young age were institutionalized. Kids were hidden. And think how far we have come to embrace people with disabilities. They are part of our community. We love them. We respect them. They are mainstream in our schools. We have come a huge way in embracing people with disabilities, a very significant change.
And last but certainly not least, if we were sitting here not 30 years ago but 10 years ago and somebody here were to say, you know, I think in 10 years, you’re going to have conservative states voting or allowing gay marriage, you would have thought that person was really crazy.
And I will tell you from a personal experience. Vermont was the first state in the country to pass civil unions. Not gay marriage. Civil unions, okay? And I remember that during that period, a lot of hostility and bitterness. No ifs and buts about it. A bunch of years later, Vermont became the first state in the country without a court order to pass gay marriage. Nobody noticed. Not a big deal. And when I talk to young people in my state, I go to a lot of the high schools in my state. I go to some of the conservative areas of the state. And I say to kids, well, I want you to raise your hand if you think that you support gay marriage. And the kids kind of look at you like, duh. Now, their grandparents look at it differently. But, you know, that’s why the Republicans have given up and backed off their homophobia. Because it’s a losing issue.
But again, on all of these issues — the civil rights struggle, how many people died? How many people went to jail? The struggle for women’s rights, women died, went to jail. Male allies stood with them. Disability rights. Gay rights. Nothing happened easily. It never does. And where we are right now is at a unique moment. We should be proud. Sometimes we don’t slap ourselves on the back enough. We should be proud of the very profound changes we have made to make this society a less discriminatory society. Real change. And many of you over your lifetimes were engaged in those struggles in one way or another. But today — that’s right. Give yourself a hand because you did it.
But today, we are engaged in another struggle in an area where we have not made progress and in fact where we have lost ground. And that is the economic struggle. We have lost ground. And the danger right now — and I use these words advisedly. Sometimes people think I’ve overly dramatic, but I am not. I worry very much that if present trends continue, we will see this become an oligarchic form of society and not a democratic form of society.
The Chevrons of the world, the Koch brothers, and the others, they are very religious people. Their religion is greed. And they are prepared to step on anybody and everybody who gets in their way. So my message to all of you is that in this profoundly important moment in America history where the billionaire class wants it all, that for the sake not only of us but more importantly for our kids and our grandchildren — I have seven beautiful grandchildren.
For them, and all of your kids, and your grandchildren, we have got to fight back tooth and nail. We cannot allow them to take over Richmond. We cannot allow them to take over America. And if we do our job, and if we knock on doors, and talk to our neighbors, we are going to beat them. And that’s what we’ve got to do. Thank you all very, very much.