Bernie Sanders Visits Madison During Midwest Swing

Bernie Sanders holds a rally in James Madison Park (Will Kenneally/WSUM)

Author: Martin Rakacolli

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders came to Madison on Friday to host a rally. According to Sanders campaign representatives, about 2,400 people were in attendance to watch Sanders give a speech outlining his beliefs and positions.

The event began at 5:00 p.m. with the singing of the national anthem. Sanders was preceded by James Alexander and Sara Trongone, two union activists from Milwaukee and Madison respectively, who echoed Sanders’ talking points about the need for guaranteed health care and the suffering of working-class citizens. After wrapping up her part, Trongone introduced Sanders to the crowd. He took to the stage as a chilly wind blew in over Lake Mendota.

“Thank you for coming out on this warm, sunny, beautiful afternoon,” Sanders said, drawing laughs from people in the crowd who put on coats to deal with the weather.

Sanders began by outlining his political plans, saying that after his stop in Madison he would be attending rallies in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He noted that these were all states President Donald Trump won in 2016 and states which, Sanders said, he would win back.

“I can understand why people voted for Trump based on what he said,” Sanders said.

He noted that, during the campaign, Trump promised to stand up to special interests and insisted that he would provide health care for everyone. Sanders accused Trump of catering to the richest people in America, calling him a “pathological liar” and saying he lied “thousands of times” since Trump announced his candidacy in 2015.

After taking jabs at the president, Sanders talked about the need to address inequality in America. He drew cheers from the crowd when he said: “We will no longer tolerate a country that has more wealth and income inequality than any other major country.” Sanders also touched on racial inequality, saying that America is a deeply unequal nation and “the situation is clearly worse for black families.”

Sanders joked about how radical he was perceived to be. “Want to hear a really radical idea?” he asked the crowd, “I believe in one person, one vote.” Sanders promised to “end a political system” that “allows billionaires to buy elections.”

He also talked about how his ideas on infrastructure spending, health care, minimum wage, and criminal justice, once thought “too radical” for the mainstream, were becoming more common. Sanders advocated for the legalization of marijuana–first legalized in Colorado and Washington in 2012–which received majority support in Wisconsin in the latest Marquette Law School Poll. “We have made real progress in transforming the political debate in America,” Sanders concluded.

“Whether you like it or not, we are going to end the international embarrassment that is the United States being the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee health care as a right,” Sanders said on healthcare, before promising to pass Medicare for all. He outlined the changes he would like to make: Lower drug prescription prices by 15%, $15 minimum wage, universal affordable pre-K, and free public colleges. He also promised to “substantially lower student debt,” saying that if Wall Street executives could be given a bailout, then student debt ought to be forgiven.

Sanders touched on other ideas in the remainder of his speech, including gun control, criminal justice reform, abortion rights, a federal jobs guarantee, and immigration reform. He asserted that the United States needed defense but thought that we spent too much money on wars. He said that some of the money currently being poured into the military could be better used elsewhere. This was the only time during the rally that Sanders discussed funding for his ideas.

During the last stretch of his speech, Sanders discussed the importance of the election and the establishment forces he believed were allied against him. These forces, according to Sanders, include the political establishment, the wealthy, and the “corporate media.” He said this is why a massive grassroots movement is necessary.

The one percent, said Sanders, may have “unlimited money” and “enormous power,” but they are still just “one percent.”

He cast the upcoming election in similar terms, saying it is about “whether we strengthen democracy or move toward oligarchy.”

“Now is the time to win this election,” said Sanders.