Bernie Sanders rallies crowd in Cleveland

Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd at his firs campaign rally in Ohio at Cleveland State Universities Wolstein Center. Nov. 16, 2015.

Karl Schneider

Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said the United States should not prevent Syrian refugees from relocating in America during his first appearance in Cleveland Monday at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center.

Sanders’ remarks were in response to the at least 23 U.S. governors, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who have passed executive orders preventing refugees from the war-torn nation from settling in their states.

“I am disturbed by some of what I am hearing from my Republican colleagues,” Sanders said. “During these difficult times as Americans, we will not succumb to racism. We will not allow ourselves to be divided and succumb to Islamophobia, and when hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything…we will not turn our backs on the refugees.”

Sanders, the independent junior senator from Vermont, filed for the New Hampshire Democratic primary earlier this month. He has built his presidential campaign on a democratic-socialist platform, discussing income inequality, racial tensions, Wall Street and campaign finance during his hour-long speech.

Two Kent State students were among the first to arrive for Sanders’ rally at the arena. Anthony Erhardt, a sophomore paralegal studies major, and James Moore, a senior psychology major, said they waited in line for five hours to hear the senator speak. They were the second group in line at the main entrance.

“I’m hoping to hear a lot about income equality, healthcare and campaign finance reform,” said Erhardt, who was wearing a Bernie Sanders t-shirt.

Moore said he believes Sanders is “one of the only candidates who knows where we’re headed in the 21st century.”

Moore’s thoughts were echoed by Nina Turner, a former minority whip in Ohio’s senate and former senator of Ohio’s 25th district. Turner opened the rally, saying, “Senator Sanders is the public figure for our time.”

Turner recently endorsed Sanders after previously publicly supporting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“We make it known that Senator Sanders will be the next president of these United States of America,” she said. “He is a man of principle, and I applaud the senator for taking this home.”

Turner ended her introduction with a call for support.

“If all of us put a little extra in our ordinary, we can make something extraordinary,” she said before giving the stage to Sanders.

Higher education

Free college tuition has been a talking point for Sanders since he began his campaign six and a half months ago, claiming, families lack the income for their kids to go to college.

Sanders wants to institute, “a process in which every public college and university in America is tuition-free.”

He said it, “makes no sense why you pay 6, 8, 10, 12 or 14 percent interest (for college loans) when you can refinance your home for 3 or 4 percent.”

Police and the prison system

Sanders took time to talk about police militarization and the racial tensions seen across the country.

He began by saying, “most police officers are honest and hard-working and do a very good job. But when any police officer, like any other public official, breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable.”

Sanders claims that no president will work as hard as he to reform the criminal justice system and alleviate institutionalized racial tension.

“We need police departments that reflect the diversity of the community they serve,” he said.

He called for a demilitarization of police forces, likening a heavily armed police force to an invading force in our cities.

The junior senator said, “ We need to invest in drug courts and medical and mental health intervention. Substance addiction should be seen as an illness and treated as one.”

Sanders wants to end minimum sentencing and create a pathway from prison to civilized life.

“The most common sense idea is, instead of investing in jails and incarceration, maybe we should invest in jobs and education,” he said.

Income inequality

Sanders spoke to the crowd about income equality, explaining the distribution of wealth in the U.S.

“The top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent,” Sanders said. “Today in America, one family, the Walton family of Walmart, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of people. In the last two years, the 14 wealthiest people in this country have seen their wealth grow $156 billion.”

Sanders did change his wording about how the U.S. compares to other countries’ income equality at the rally. Instead of suggesting the U.S. led the world in income equality, he corrected himself saying the U.S. is among the top countries with income inequality, calling the problem grotesque.

“The truth is, wages in America are too damn low,” he said.

Sanders then called for the living wage in the U.S. be brought up to $15 an hour. 

Campaign finance

Hinging on the income disparities in the U.S., and the prevalence of corporate money in politics, Sanders stated his objections to corporate spending on the campaign trail, claiming his campaign is “a people’s campaign.”

Sanders said about 800,000 people have made individual contributions to his campaign.

Sanders has raised $41.4 million for his campaign, $30.6 million coming from small, individual contributions. His democratic challenger, Clinton, has raised $77.4 million, with $75.9 million coming from small, individual contributions.

Most of Sanders’ campaign finances have come from individuals donating $200 or less, according to the FEC.

Sanders supporters in Ohio have contributed nearly $120,000 to his campaign. In contrast, Kasich has received $2.1 million — nearly half of the total contributions in the state, according to the Federal Election Commission’s website.

Wall Street

Greed, fraud, dishonesty and arrogance are how Sanders describes the dealings on Wall Street.

“The greed and recklessness and illegal behavior in Wall Street drove this country to its worst recession,” he said.

Sanders wants to create a banking system that will offer affordable loans to small and medium-sized businesses to create a productive country.

“We do not need a banking system in which the sixth largest financial institutions in this country have 58 percent of the wealth,” he said.

Sanders’ catchphrase for big banking is, “If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big to exist.”

Women’s rights

Sanders explained the sexism entrenched in the fact that women make 77 cents on the dollar compared to the income of men, which was greeted by cheers.

Sanders said the U.S. lags behind other major countries in paid maternity leave.

“It is not a family value to tell a woman who has just given birth that she has to be separated a week or two after giving birth from her baby,” he said. “It is not a family value to tell a woman she has to go back to work in order to sustain that family.”

Sanders wrapped up his ideas on family rights by proclaiming a guarantee of three months paid leave for every family that has a child.

Sanders in Ohio

While Sanders’ numbers remain competitive in New Hampshire, the first primary state, and Iowa, the first caucus state, he remains behind in Ohio. According to a Quinnipian University poll released in October, Sanders polls at 19 percent in Ohio, trailing behind Clinton’s 40 percent.

Clinton has lost 7 percent and Sanders gained 3 percent since an earlier poll released this past August.

Presidential candidates who have won Ohio have become president 35 out of 40 times, according to a report done by Ohio Historical Election Results, and Ohio has not selected a losing candidate since 1960.

When Sanders left the stage and the crowd headed home, two men, Al Stapleton, 69, and Mike Prostiy, 76, lingered in the standing-only section. Both are collecting pensions and said they hope Sanders will stop the U.S. government from cutting their allocations.

Prostiy said some of the cuts have been up to 70 percent.

“I think he’s doing a great job,” Stapleton said. “He’s honest and straight-forward, well-spoken and has a clear message.”

Both Prostiy and Stapleton were at the rally representing the Northeast Ohio Committee to Protect Pensions. 

Karl Schneider is a copy editor for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].