Eugenia Yee '16 Contributing Writer
Thousands flocked to a rally for presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders at the Mullins Center at UMass Amherst last week.
Although Senator Sanders was not scheduled to appear until 7 p.m., enthusiastic supporters began to line up at 4:30 p.m., hours before doors opened. While there were a number of Five College students in attendance, the crowd also consisted of senior citizens, middle-aged people, and parents who brought their children – reflecting the broad support the Senator has gotten. Some in attendance had traveled across state lines from places such as New Hampshire.
Once inside the arena, the audience was treated to a performance by local band Lux DeLuxe. Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin spoke to the crowd, detailing her support for the candidate and imploring supporters to get involved in the campaign.
Sanders’s speech, which touched upon many points of his campaign, was continually greeted with enthusiastic cheering and applause from the crowd.
“Our campaign has been gaining phenomenal momentum because we are actually listening to the American people, not the one percent,” he said.
An emphasis of Sanders’s campaign and a key point in his speech was that political change comes from the grassroots, not in a top-down direction. He proudly spoke of how contributions to his campaign have been comprised of small donations – a stark contrast to that of other campaigns, such as Hillary Clinton’s.
“Secretary Clinton has chosen to go in a different direction,” he said, was met with jeers from the crowd. Sanders went on about how his campaign is not supported by any super PACs, questioning how those who took special interest money from Wall Street could remain uninfluenced by these funds.
Sanders spoke of the effects of wealth inequality on the country: how the rich own America, and the executives of Wall Street are not held accountable for their actions. He followed this by saying that he would raise the minimum wage to a “living wage” of 15 dollars per hour. While citing statistics illustrating the disparity of unemployment among white, black and Latino youth, Sanders said it is no accident that these numbers were related to the United States’s high incarceration rate, which surpasses “China or any other country on Earth.”
Sanders also criticized Republicans and their idea of family values. “When they speak of values, what they are saying is that no woman should have the right to control their own body,” he said. “What they are saying is that our gay brothers and sisters should not have the right to get married – we disagree!”
He criticized the “broken criminal justice system,” asking why a young person – especially one of color – caught in possession of drugs would have a stain on their record that would follow them when applying for jobs, but a Wall Street executive engaging in illegal activities was rewarded with a salary raise and bailed out by the federal government.
“Together, we will stop the corrupt campaign finance system,” Sanders declared, criticizing the Citizens’ United decision.
Sanders talked about how in modern America, a college degree was now the “equivalent of what a high school degree was 50 or 60 years ago.” He said that public colleges and universities should be tuition-free, and graduates should not have to be faced with “oppressive student debt.”
“When Wall Street destroyed our economy, the United States Congress voted for the taxpayers of this country to bail them out. Now, it is Wall Street’s turn,” he said, in regards to paying for college tuition. This proposal was met with wild applause from the crowd.
Sanders touched upon sustainable energy and then spoke passionately on how healthcare should be guaranteed to all as a universal right rather than its current state as “a privilege.”
“Let me tell you what no other candidate for president will tell you. And that is that the powers that be today in America: Wall Street, corporate America, corporate media, large campaign donors – no president – not Bernie Sanders or anyone else, can take them on alone. What we need now, in this moment in American history, is people to rethink what it means to think in a democratic society. Understand that every person in this room has enormous power if you are prepared to use that power. Our government belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires,” Sanders said to end the event.