Bernie Sanders speaks to 9,000 about taking on American political establishment at Mullins Center

By Stuart Foster

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders encouraged his supporters to ­­take on the political and economic establishment at a rally held in Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts on Monday.

Sanders, speaking in front of roughly 9,000 people, told those in attendance that his campaign is “actually listening to the American people, not the one percent.”

“We do not represent the interests of the billionaire class,” Sanders said. “We don’t want their money.”

Thousands of spectators lined up outside Mullins Center hours in advance of Sanders’ event, which began at 7 p.m. Sanders took to the stage approximately 20 minutes later.

Sanders, currently a senator representing the state of Vermont, said his campaign had received four million individual contributions over the past nine months, with the average contribution being just $27. Sanders said that, in comparison, other candidates running for president are having their campaigns financed by a handful of people.

Sanders contrasted his campaign fundraising system to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s, which he said had raised $25 million, including $15 million from Wall Street.

Sanders noted that, while long considered the underdog in the Democratic race to Clinton, his campaign has caught up to hers.

“At this point, to everyone’s surprise, after three state elections we are tied with Secretary Clinton in delegates gained, 51 to 51,” said Sanders.

Sanders spoke of the need for free public higher education in the United States, saying that the value of a college degree is as important today as a high school degree was decades ago.

Sanders said students should be allowed to refinance loan agreements at the lowest rate possible and that millions of Americans are suffocating under the debt they have from attending college.

“This is pretty crazy stuff,” Sanders said. “People should not be punished for getting an education.”

Sanders referred to a recent visit he made to the city of Flint, Michigan, where he said the elevated amount of lead, which is toxic, in the city’s water supply was beyond his comprehension.

He described the visit  as an example of the need for the U.S. to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure through repairing structures such as water systems, airports and the rail system.

“When we do that we can create millions of well-paying jobs,” said Sanders, who would pay for the cost of repairing infrastructure by closing offshore tax loopholes in tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

The senator also criticized the rate of Americans currently incarcerated, saying that the 2.2 million citizens currently imprisoned is higher than any other country.

Sanders said the U.S. should invest more money into its educational system, which he said was being ignored in favor of the prison system.

“Together we are going to invest in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration,” he said.

Sanders also questioned the Republican candidates who say they support family values but also oppose gay marriage, abortion and federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Sanders added it was hypocritical for candidates to claim to support family values and oppose guaranteed paid leave for new parents at the federal level, promising three months of paid and guaranteed leave for new parents if he is elected president.

He also criticized a $5 billion settlement deal between the federal government and international banking firm Goldman Sachs, which he said did not hold the corporation accountable for tanking the American economy by selling subprime mortgage packages before 2007.

Sanders criticized racial disparities in the U.S., saying that blacks are four times as likely to be arrested as whites for the same crimes, and that the rate of real unemployment for 17 to 24-year-old blacks is 51 percent when compared to 33 percent among whites.

Sanders closed his speech by touching on campaign finance reform and Citizens United. Sanders promised to overturn Citizens United, a Supreme Court case which prevented the federal government from restricting the political spending of corporations. Sanders said that overturning the case was necessary in reigning in corporate control over American democracy.

“We need to stand together and say loudly and clearly, ‘Enough is enough,’” Sanders said. “Our government belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.”

Before the event, thousands of supporters lined up outside Mullins Center in order to secure a seat.

“I really like Bernie’s policies and the opportunity to be in the same space as him was too great,” said Athenia Kennedy, a freshman studying physics, who said she skipped class to wait in line for the rally.

Kennedy said she agreed with Sanders’ support for free college tuition, calling college education “a luxury, but also a necessity.”

Cameron Messier, who traveled from Rhode Island to see the rally, said he was impressed by the enthusiasm of the crowd, who would break into applause after most of Sanders’ points.

“There were some key points where you could tell everyone was screaming,” Messier said.

The Democratic primary will be contested between Sanders and Clinton on Mar. 1, referred to as “Super Tuesday” for the multiple primaries that occur across the nation. Polling done by Emerson College has the candidates projected with the same amount of percentage points each.

Fitzgerald Pucci can be reached at [email protected] Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.