After meeting with students on Oct. 21, Senator Bernie Sanders held a town meeting in the Alumni Center’s Centennial Hall.
Sanders spoke to a crowd of roughly 60 members of Keene and other surrounding communities about getting money out of politics, getting more people to vote and saving the working class from poverty.
Sanders said negative TV ads about opposing candidates and how much money a candidate has make up the majority of political advertising in the U.S.
“They are not talking about how the candidates’ stand on important issues,” Sanders said. Sanders said this type of campaigning is meant to keep the American public blind to the real issues, while also benefiting the wealthy individuals funding certain campaigns.
“The folks who fund the candidates are very, very wealthy people who have their agenda and that is the present agenda facing us in Washington D.C.,” Sanders said.
Sanders explained that because of Citizens United, wealthy individuals can essentially buy a politician by dumping millions into their campaigns. The politicians in turn pass legislation to benefit their investors, explained Sanders, rather than passing legislation to benefit the American people.
Unemployment and the economy are two of the most important issues facing our country today, according to Sanders. He told the audience that today, Americans are more productive than ever before, yet they are also working longer hours than ever before.
“Common sense might suggest that if you are producing more, you are either making more money or you are working fewer hours,” Sanders said, “That is not, needless to say, happening in America.”
According to Sanders, since 1999, a family with a median income has seen a decrease of income by $5,000 and last year that same family earned $500 less than they would have 25 years ago.
“If technology is a good thing and we’re more productive, where is that increased wealth going?” Sanders asked. He said the wealthiest families and corporations in America have never had it as good as they do right now.
“Today in America, the top one percent own thirty-seven percent of the wealth in America,” Sanders said, “Who wants to guess what the bottom sixty percent of people own? It’s 1.7 percent.”
Sanders presented many startling statistics highlighting the inequality of wealth distribution in the U.S. today, including that the Walton family owns more wealth than the lower 40 percent of Americans.
“According to a new Forbes Magazine report, the four-hundred wealthiest Americans are now worth 2.3 trillion dollars. Their combined wealth grew last year by two-hundred-seventy-billion dollars, a thirteen percent increase in wealth for the top four-hundred wealthiest people in this country,” Sanders said.
He said that one-in-four corporations pay no federal income taxes and some even receive tax rebates. This type of wealth inequality is not only an economic issue, but also a moral issue, Sanders said.
“When you have tens of millions of Americans who have no disposable income, they are not buying products or utilizing services which create jobs. There is only so much that the rich can buy,” he said. The political side of wealth inequality can be seen through the passing of Citizens United, which allows wealthy investors to give as much money to as many different political campaigns as they desire, as long they are independent expenditures, Sanders explained.
“You are moving toward a time when a handful of billionaires, led by the Koch brothers, will be able to significantly control the political life in this country,” Sanders said. Sanders strongly opposes Citizens United and is currently working with other senators to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn it.
Sanders did not just talk about the negatives in America today, he also presented some ideas to create a better future.
One way to create a mass amount of jobs is to create a federal work program, he said, and the way to do it is through investing in necessary infrastructure repairs. Sanders said the American Society of Civil Engineers reports that America has a $3 trillion infrastructure deficit. “If we invested one-trillion dollars into infrastructure improvements it would create thirteen-million decent-paying jobs in the U.S.,” he said.
Sanders also said there is a strong need for wage reform because millions of Americans are working at starvation level wages.
He said there is an effort being made in Washington to raise minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which he said isn’t necessarily as much as it needs to be, but it would be a big step forward.
“People making seven-and-a-quarter, eight-bucks, start making [$]10.10. People making ten dollars go to twelve dollars or thirteen dollars,” he said, “That would be a pay raise for over twenty-five million Americans — the people who need it the most.”
Sanders also stressed the need for trade reform in the U.S. to bring jobs back from overseas.
He said he believes reforming trade policy and placing tariffs on products being imported to the U.S. could make corporations bring back millions of jobs to America.
He also stressed that getting involved and becoming educated in politics is essential to changing our nation.
Max Stahl, the director of Political Engagement for Democracy Matters, said he got involved with the Obama campaign in 2007 and saw firsthand how powerful a grassroots movement can be. “I was on the ground early and I saw it build from nothing, so that kind of taught me the power of organizing,” Stahl said.
Linda Horan, the retired vice president and current recording secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers #2320 said political education starts on a person-to-person level and young people need to get involved. “I think it’s education one-by-one, I talk to you, you talk to somebody else,” Horan said. Horan said that even with all the current issues facing America, she believes the younger generation will step up and fix our country.
Jesse Reynolds can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org