The best of Senator Bernie Sanders in Richmond

Senator Bernie Sanders (VT-I) visited Richmond Thursday night to deliver a speech that brought an audience of about 500 people to a standing ovation.

Sanders also sat down for an exclusive interview with Richmond Confidential.

Sanders’ hour-long address, delivered at a free event organized by the Richmond Progressive Alliance, touched on a wide range of issues facing the U.S., from health care to infrastructure, and on the political struggle raging here in Richmond. Sanders devoted a large portion of his speech to making a case against the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions through independent campaign committees.

He then enumerated his own progressive agenda before closing with remarks about the struggle for rights and justice, reminding the audience, “Change does not take place easily. It never does.”

Here, Richmond Confidential highlights some of the key points of Sanders’ speech.

On Chevron in Richmond:

  • “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.”
Richmond Progressive Alliance supporters held an anti-Chevron banner outside of the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. (Photo by Martin Totland)

Richmond Progressive Alliance supporters held an anti-Chevron banner outside of the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. (Photo by Martin Totland)

  • “Whether you know it or not, the eyes of the country are on you. And if Chevron can roll over you, 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.”
  • “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.”

On Citizens United:

  • “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 of all of corporate America the opportunity to spend unlimited – unlimited – sums of money in races for the White House, for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, governors, chairs – and even municipal elections like here in Richmond, even school board elections around the country.”

On the Koch brothers:

  • “They are extreme right-wing ideologues who increased their wealth by $12 billion in one year. When Obama and Romney ran for President in 2012, both of them spent a little bit more than a billion dollars on their campaign. To the Koch brothers, a billion dollars is like $20 for ordinary Americans. For them, the only question is, ‘When does too much become counterproductive?’ They have literally unlimited sums of money.”

An art piece that stood at the RPA offices during the reception for Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Photo by Martin Totland)

  • “Right now, they can spend as much as they want through independent expenditures… so that the Koch brothers could stand in front of a group like this and have their candidates and say, ‘You want to run for governor of California? I’ve got a hundred million dollar check for you. There’s your speechwriter [pointing], there’s your media consultant. You work directly for me.’ They want another hundred employees in the U.S. Senate, another 435 in the House, and a big one in the White House. That is their vision for what democracy is about.”
  • “You would think that somebody who believed in what they stood for 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! They are hiding behind their money. Shame on them.”
  • “The danger right now – I worry very much that if present trends continue, we will see this country 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.”

Audience members listen to Sen. Bernie Sanders from the second floor of the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

On the minimum wage:

  • “Everybody in this room understands that a $7.25 federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. We brought forth a bill in the Senate – it 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. We could get virtually no Republican support for that.”

On the “greatest crisis happening in America”:

  • “Since 1999, the typical middle-class family has seen its income go down by almost $5,000 after adjusting for inflation. Incredibly, that same family earned almost $500 less last year than it did 25 years ago…. 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.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin addresses the audience on Thursday prior to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ speech. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

On Ferguson:

  • “Everybody here has heard a lot about Ferguson, MO, 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.”

On the U.S. economy:

  • “Thirty years ago, the largest private sector employer in America was General Motors – strong union, decent wages, strong health care benefits, pension benefits. Today, the largest private sector employer in America is Walmart – 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 and paid real wages, to Walmart.”

On Walmart:

  • “Walmart is owned by the Walton family, the wealthiest family in America. They’re struggling with about $148 billion, trying to get by, it’s tough. Here is the outrage: Because Walmart pays wages that are so low, because Walmart does not provide decent health care to its workers, you [pointing to the audience] end up subsidizing Walmart because a significant number of their people are on food stamps, go onto federally funded housing, go 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’re tired of you.”
Mayoral candidate Tom Butt and Sen. Bernie Sanders at the RPA reception. (Photo by Martin Totland)

Mayoral candidate Tom Butt and Sen. Bernie Sanders at the RPA reception. (Photo by Martin Totland)

On wealth inequality:

  • “Today in America, the top one percent own 37 percent of the financial wealth of the country. The bottom 60 percent own all of 1.7 percent. In fact, it gets worse. The top one-tenth of one percent own over 23 percent of total wealth.”
  • “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.”

On income inequality:

  • “Since the Wall Street crash, 95 percent of all new income created in America since 2008 has gone to the top one percent. Today in America, the top 25 hedge fund managers – and no one quite knows what a hedge fund manager does – 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.”
  • “CEOs earn about 270 times what their average employee makes.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders meets with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles. (Photo by Martin Totland)

Sen. Bernie Sanders meets with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles. (Photo by Martin Totland)

On infrastructure:

  • “What we need to do is pass legislation that pushes a major federal jobs program which rebuilds our crumbling infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers say we need to put $3 trillion into rebuilding our infrastructure. Interestingly enough, $3 trillion is just about what we spent on the war in Iraq, a war we should have never gotten into in the first place.”
  • “If we all conservatively just 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.”
Audience members applaud in response to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ remarks. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

Audience members applaud in response to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ remarks. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

On education:

  • “Thirty years ago, this nation led the world in terms of the percentage of our people who graduated college. Today we are number 12. Not so many years ago – 25, 30 years ago – the University of California, one of the great university systems in the world, was tuition-free.
  • “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 can go to college regardless of his or her income.”

On childcare and child development:

  • “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 childcare workers to make sure that all kids get a good start in life.”
Audience members wait for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ appearance on Thursday night. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

Audience members wait for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ appearance on Thursday night. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

On climate change:

  • “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. We can do that. If this country had the political will to say that we’re gonna lead the world, we could do that.”

On Social Security:

  • “When we talk about what the Koch brothers want, always at the top of the list of programs that 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.”
  • “For years now, you turn on the TV and you have these guys getting up there and saying, ‘Well, we need entitlement reform.’ You know what they’re talking about? When they talk about ‘entitlement reform,’ they’re too cowardly to tell you what they’re really talking about. What they’re talking about is cuts to Social Security and in Medicare.”
  • “Here’s the big lie: ‘Well, we’ve gotta cut Social Security ’cause it’s going broke.’ So let me tell you the truth. Social Security ain’t going broke, there’s $2.5 trillion in the trust fund. Social Security can 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.”
Thad Berkley of Pleasanton, CA, applauds as Senator Bernie Sanders enters the room at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

Thad Berkley of Pleasanton, CA, applauds as Senator Bernie Sanders enters the room at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. (Photo by Bonnie Chan)

On health care:

  • “The United States of America is the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care for all people as a right of citizenship. In my view, and I believe this from the bottom of my heart, we have got to move to a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.”

On change:

  • “Change does not take place easily. Anyone who has read history understands that before real change takes place, people struggle, go to jail, die for that change. It’s very easy for us to forget 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 long-standing racism and elect an African American President,’ people would think that was crazy. And you know what happened? The American people – I’m not saying that racism is not there, it certainly is – but this country has advanced in a significant way and was able to elect a person based on his views and not the color of his skin. That is a huge step forward for this country.”
  • “On all of these issues – the civil rights struggle, the struggle for women’s rights, disability rights, gay rights – nothing happened easily. It never does.”
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to a packed house at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. (Photo by Phil James)

Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to a packed house at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. (Photo by Phil James)

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