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Watch Bernie Sanders’ Full Speech in Philadelphia: The Future of American Democracy is at Risk

Web ExclusiveNovember 30, 2016
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Prior to his interview with Amy Goodman on Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) gave a speech at the Free Library of Philadelphia talking about the election of Donald Trump, the Democratic Party, his new book “Our Revolution” and more.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Thank you, Philadelphia! Sheldon, thanks very much for that introduction, and as I think Sheldon mentioned to you, I’m going to chat for three or four hours. Not really. And then Amy Goodman is going to come up, and we’ll chat for a bit, as well.

I want to talk about the book, but I also have the feeling there are one or two other things on your minds beside the book. So let me just go over these one or two other things.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2 million votes, which is no small number. Second of all—and that tells us that Mr. Trump has got to understand that he has no mandate. He lost by 2 million votes. And we may want to talk about a little bit later about the Electoral College and how it is that you win by 2 million votes and don’t get inaugurated as president, but that’s another issue.

But second of all, on every major issue—and this is important to understand, for progressives to understand—on virtually every major issue facing this country, whether it’s raising the minimum wage, whether it is pay equity for women, whether it’s rebuilding our infrastructure, whether it is making public colleges and universities tuition-free, whether it is criminal justice reform, immigration reform, etc., etc., whether it’s dealing with income and wealth inequality, demanding the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes—on all of those issues and more, the strong majority of the American people agree with us. You can go out, and you can do a poll today, go out on the street and ask people whether they think it’s a great idea to give tax breaks to billionaires, as Mr. Trump and his friends will try to do, and cut Social Security, I would say 90 percent of the American people do not think that that makes any sense at all. So, point here is that on every major issue, virtually every major issue, especially the economic ones, the American people are on our side.

Third point, in Trump’s campaign, he said a whole lot of things. The ugliest things that he said, the most disturbing things that he said, were based on bigotry. And in my view, there can be a lot of discussion about a lot of issues, but there cannot be a compromise on bigotry. I don’t have to—I don’t have to tell anybody here, who has any familiarity with American history, starting from way back when the first settlers came to this country, and they lied to and cheated Native Americans, and they abrogated the treaties that they had signed, to the horrors of slavery, to the fact that a hundred years ago today women did not have the right to vote, could not get the education they wanted, to the prejudice shown against Italians, Irish, Jews, many nationalities, to the homophobia that has existed in this country—and the good news, in a sense, is that we have come a long, long way. We take it for granted now, but if we were here 20 years ago, 25 years ago, and somebody said, “Well, I think in 2008 the United States will elect an African American as president,” most people would not have believed that. If I would have told you five years ago that gay marriage would be legal in every state in this country, coming from a conservative Supreme Court, you really would not have probably believed that, as well. So we have made important gains. Still, obviously, a lot, lot more has to be done. But the message to Mr. Trump, very loudly and clearly, is we are not going back. We will not accept a president who tries to divide us up by race, by gender, by sexual orientation, by nationality. We are not going back. We have struggled too far for too many years. Too many people have died, gone to jail. And we’re not going to retreat back into bigotry in this country.

And there is another area, several other areas, where I think there is no compromise. During the course of his campaign, Mr. Trump told the American people that he believed that climate change is a hoax—never get this one—emanating from China. You would have thought it would be emanating from Mexico or some Muslim country, but from China. And what we have got to make clear to Mr. Trump, by the millions, by the tens of millions, because we are fighting for the future of this planet, is climate change is not a hoax, is in fact the great threat or one of the great environmental threats facing this planet. And the scientists are virtually united in telling us that the debate is over, that climate change is real, caused by human activity, already creating enormous problems in this country and around the world. And what they tell us, if we do not get our act together—and that means transforming our energy system yesterday, taking on the fossil fuel industry, telling them that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of this planet—if we do not get our act together, the planet that we’re going to be leaving to our kids and our grandchildren will not be a healthy planet, and that is something we cannot allow to happen. We are playing for the future of this planet. And Mr. Trump is dead wrong, and he has got to start talking to the scientific community, not the fossil fuel industry.

And among—and among many other areas that concern me about Mr. Trump’s stances really was highlighted literally yesterday, when he sent out a tweet saying that millions of people who voted voted illegally, that he would have won the popular vote. This is delusional, which is frightening unto itself that you have a president-elect who is delusional. But what you should understand is that what that statement is doing is sending a signal. It’s sending a signal to many Republicans, who have already gotten that message, and that is that voter suppression is their goal, that they got to intensify what is going on right now.

Now, I don’t want to get you too nervous, but I am deeply concerned about the future of American democracy. And I’m concerned about it from two major areas. Number one, what Trump talked about yesterday, when he says there are, quote-unquote, “millions” of people illegally voting, what he is saying is that we are going to engage in a very significant way in voter suppression. We’re going to make it much more difficult for people of color, for older people, for young people, for poor people, for immigrants to participate in the political process. All of you remember that it was until the 1960s in this country we had a poll tax. And in some states, people had to vote—had to pay in order to vote.

Now, you combine that reality of voter suppression efforts with the Republican leadership desire to go beyond Citizens United. Now, all of you know that Citizens United will go down in history as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions that the Supreme Court has ever made. And yet Republicans think that it did not go far enough. What Citizens United today allows is for the Koch brothers and other billionaires to spend as much money as they want, to the tune of hundreds of millions, indefinitely, as much as they want, as independent expenditures. So, a lot of the ads you’ll see on TV—and I know in Pennsylvania you saw one or two of them—they come from groups not associated with the candidate, independent. What the Republican leadership wants to do, and they’ve been public about this, is end all forms of campaign regulation, which means they want the day to come where the Koch brothers don’t have to do independent expenditures, they can give money directly to a candidate. So, in Pennsylvania, for example, they can say, “OK, we’re going to run you for the U.S. Senate. Here is a check for $100 million. Here is your campaign manager. Here is your media person. Here is your speechwriter. In essence, you work for me.” Direct control over the candidate. So, add those two things together—and the Republicans are moving in those directions—we should be very nervous about the future of American democracy.

And again, what we have got to do is to fight back, state after state after state, to give no ground on voter suppression. Once again, you all remember that when this country was first formed, in a city around here somewhere, it was only wealthy white guys who could vote. And the struggle of American democracy over 200-plus years was to expand that, was to create a Voting Rights Act so that African Americans could vote, was to have a constitutional amendment so that women could vote, to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 so young men who were going off to Vietnam could have a vote about whether or not they were going to get killed or not, and on and on. The whole progress of American democracy, the thrust of American democracy, was to expand democracy. And what we’re seeing right now in states all over the country—California, Vermont and other states—is in fact doing just that, pushing forward with same-day registration, allowing people to register online, creating a situation where if you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, you are automatically registered to vote, making it easier for people to vote by mail. All of these are positive steps to involve people in the political process.

The Republicans are going to push back hard on all of those areas. Their goal is to limit the number of people who can vote. And this is really, really ugly. I mean, this goes beyond the disagreement over education or healthcare. One would have hoped that by the year 2016, after all of the struggles that we have seen in this country, that at least we could agree that democracy is one person, one vote, not billionaires buying elections, and that our goal is to involve more people in the political process, not fewer people. So that’s the struggle that we have to wage in that regard.

Now, people are, you know, interested in knowing, well, how did Trump win? How did he win the Electoral College? And I think one of the things that he did was tap into an anxiety and a level of pain that we don’t often see on CBS or NBC. And what he said, preposterously, I might add, is that he, of all people, was going to take on the establishment. He was going to take on the economic establishment. He was going to take on the political establishment. He was going to take on the media establishment. And people in a lot of desperation, people who are hurting, responded to that.

Now, one of the problems I think we have as a nation, I think media—and, by the way, at the back of the book, one of the important chapters—if you get tired, skip to the back. If you don’t like taxation or immigration reform, go to the back, last chapter, which deals with—it’s entitled “Corporate Media, a Threat to Democracy.” And it talks about the role of corporate media in our society and in politics, in particular. But what is going on in this country is that we live in a pretty siloized nation. That’s a kind of a inside-the-Beltway term; I don’t know if it’s expanded to Pennsylvania. But what it means is we all live in our own worlds, basically. We associate with people who think the same as we do. I guess there was somebody who said, “How could Trump have won? Nobody I knew voted for Trump!” Well, you don’t know people in different walks of life than your own. And one of the things that a lot of middle-class people, upper-middle-class people don’t know is that, yes, we are better off economically today than we were eight years ago, when Bush left office—there’s no debate on that—but for 40 years in this country, under Democratic and Republican administrations, we have seen a shrinking of the American middle class, we have seen more and more income and wealth inequality, so that today the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and today we have 43 million people living in poverty, some in really dire straits.

Now, one of the things that I did in the campaign—what I wanted to do, and I did—was to go into parts of the country where media very rarely goes, and I wanted to be talking to people, and I wanted to see if we can get some national exposure. And in a sense, I failed. We had media following me all over the place, what they call embedded media, from all the networks and major newspapers, but basically they did not write about what we were seeing in various parts of the country.

And let me just talk a little bit about that. We talked—and again, these are facts; some of you know it, some of you don’t. But I want you to understand the pain and the hurt that millions of people are experiencing. You’re a single mom in Philadelphia. You’re making $30,000, $40,000 a year. You have a baby. You need childcare in order to get to work. You know how much childcare costs? You tell me. What does childcare cost in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia? $15,000 a year? More? Anyone know? Fifteen? All right. What do you do if you’re making $30,000, $40,000 a year, and you’re paying $15,000 for childcare? And that’s—I can tell you, in Washington, D.C., I had a young woman working for me. She had—she was paying $32,000 a year for childcare in D.C., where it’s more expensive there than the rest of the country.

Healthcare, right? We talk about the gains of the Affordable Care Act. And that’s true, it did make some progress. Today, 28 million people still have no health insurance, and many, many others have high deductibles and high copayments. They cannot afford to go to the doctor when they get sick. You know that? We lose thousands of people every single year. And I talk to doctors all over the country. People walk into their office profoundly sick, and the doctor said, “Why didn’t you come in here a year ago, when you first developed your symptom?” And they say, “Well, I didn’t have any insurance,” or, “I had a high deductible, and I couldn’t afford it.” Some of those people do not make it, or they end up in the hospital at great expense and great suffering. One out of five Americans today who go to the doctor and get a prescription cannot afford to fill that prescription. One out of five. You’ve got elderly people in Vermont and, I’m sure, in Pennsylvania who are cutting their prescription drug pills in half, because they cannot afford to pay for the medicine that they need. What do you think you’re feeling when you go to the doctor because you’re sick, and you walk into the drug store, and the medicine is so expensive, you cannot afford to fill it?

You got in Pennsylvania and in Vermont and all over this country, added together, millions of seniors, disabled veterans, people with disabilities. They are trying to get by on $10,000, $11,000, $12,000 a year Social Security. You can do the arithmetic as well as I can. You’re 80 years of age. You are sick. Social Security is your sole source of income, as it is for many people. Try to get by on $12,000 a year.

You are an older worker—and I think Trump really capitalized on this one. You are an older worker, 55 or 60 years of age. Half of the older workers in America, do you know how much money they have in the bank as they await retirement? Anyone want to guess? Zero! Try to think of yourself at 60 years of age. You’re going to retire in five years. Everything being equal, you’re probably making less in real inflation-accounted-for dollars than you did 20 or 30 years ago. You’re going to retire in five years. You’ve got nothing in the bank. How are you feeling about the establishment and what the Democratic Party has done for you or the Republican Party has done for you? You are scared to death.

And maybe, in fact, you’re one of the many millions of workers who actually once had a factory job with a union behind you, and you were making good middle-class wages, you had good benefits, you had a pension. But one day your employer told you that they’re shutting down that plant, because they can hire people in China for a dollar or $2 an hour, and now you’re making 50, 60 percent of what you made when you had that manufacturing job.

You can be a college graduate, somebody who saved and scrimped and went to college, left school $50,000, $60,000 in debt, and now you’re making $14 an hour. Again, do the arithmetic. You’re stuck with that debt, year after year after year. You’ve got a debt, but you don’t have the income to pay it off. I remember distinctly talking to a guy in Nevada who said that he took out his student loan 25 years ago. He is more in debt today than he was when he took it out, and he’s scared to death, literally, that they’re going to garnish some of his Social Security in order to pay that student debt.

I was in McDowell County in West Virginia, not a widely known area. It’s the southern part of West Virginia. But what makes McDowell County unique, what makes parts of Kentucky and that region unique, is they are part of a situation today where millions—this is quite unbelievable, but this is the despair that Trump spoke to—millions of white working-class people are dying today at ages younger than their parents. What modern history has been about, not only in our country, but all over the world, is that my generation lives longer than my parents’, my parents’ generation lived longer than their parents’. That’s been the trend, because of improvements in public health, improvements in medicine—cancer and so forth. We’re making some progress. And yet, unbelievably—and this is really unbelievable—millions of people today are living in such despair, for whatever reasons—and maybe Amy and I will discuss this—is that they are turning to opiates and heroin. They are turning to alcohol and getting all kinds of diseases associated with alcoholism. And they are turning to suicide—women and men. These are people who, if they’re lucky enough to have a job, it’s 10 bucks an hour, 11 bucks an hour. They’re not going anywhere. Their kids are not going anywhere. That is the kind of pain that somebody like a Trump spoke to.

I was in Pine Ridge in South Dakota, which is a Native American reservation. The life expectancy in Pine Ridge is equivalent to Guatemala, a poor Third World country. Unemployment is rampant. Poverty is rampant. You have—suicide is rampant in Pine Ridge.

I was in Baltimore, Maryland. And I don’t know how different it is here in Philadelphia. But in Baltimore, you have tens and tens of thousands of people addicted to heroin, astronomical numbers. People debate exactly what the number is. And there is no treatment available to them. We took a walk one night, which got the Secret Service a little bit nervous, because we were walking in an area that was incredibly desolate, only boarded-up buildings. And in nighttime—we were in late afternoon. In the nighttime, it becomes a drug bazaar. Everybody knows it. That’s where people are selling and buying drugs. Tens of thousands of people in Baltimore—and not uniquely Baltimore—dealing with heroin, dealing with opiates, and no treatment available to them.

City after city—and I suspect Philadelphia is not an exception—in minority areas, African-American areas, Latino areas, youth unemployment, 20, 30, 40 percent. I was in New York City, took a walk with some people on the City Council there. They need $17 billion to rehabilitate public housing in New York City alone. So you’ve got people in public housing living in rat-infested, mold-infested housing in New York.

What’s the point? The point is there are a lot of people hurting in this country. And their pain doesn’t get on CBS or NBC. And some of them, mistakenly, thought that Trump was talking to them. He talked a whole lot of stuff. We will see what, in fact, he delivers. But the main point is, please do not forget that, as we speak today, there are a whole lot of people in this country who are hurting.

Now, what the book does is divide—it’s divided in two parts. The first part, if you’re interested in politics—and I guess most of you are, or you wouldn’t be here tonight—kind of talks about the campaign. And we started the campaign with, you know, a handful of people, no money, no political organization. We were taking on the entire, entire Democratic establishment. When we began—and it didn’t change much throughout—we had no United States senators supporting us, no members of Congress, no mayors, no governors at all—taking on the whole Democratic establishment. We ended, over the course of the campaign, winning some support, from one senator, six members of Congress, no mayors—big city, anyhow—etc. All right? That’s what we were taking on. And on top of that, of course, we were taking on the Clinton organization, which was the most powerful political organization in the country, well groomed. Bill Clinton won two presidential elections. Hillary Clinton did well in 2008. And there we were, taking them on. We started off with a media who thought that we were a fringe candidacy not to be taken seriously. And the coverage, which the book talks about—the kind of coverage we got, say, compared to Trump was rather remarkable.

But at the end of the day, we won 22 states. We won about 46 percent of the popular vote, of the pledged delegates, very few—what do you call them? Special—the superdelegates, right. I blocked that term out. Didn’t come across my desk very much. Yeah, we won about 5 percent of them, but 46 percent of the popular vote. But what was—and we raised a unbelievable amount of money from small donors. We had just millions of people, many of them low-income, working-class people, making contributions averaging $27 apiece. And maybe the most gratifying aspect of the campaign is that in state after state after state we ended up winning, often by large margins, the votes of younger people. And by that, I mean not just 20 years of age, but 40 years of age or younger. And that was the white youth, black youth, Latino youth, Asian-American youth, Native American youth. The future of America basically ended up coming down on our side. So, that’s the first half of the book.

And the second half of the book does something that I think, as a nation, we have absolutely got to do. And that is to just plunge into the real issues facing the American people. What media does and what media loves is conflict and political gossip and polls and fundraising and all that stuff. What media loves is to focus on the candidates. What the American people, I believe, want is for us to focus on them, not the candidates, not anymore. And what this book does is just do that. It deals with what I think—and some of you will agree, some of you may not agree—with what I think are the major issues facing our country: the decline and disappearance of the American middle class, poverty, income and wealth inequality. But it doesn’t only lay out the problems; it provides very specific solutions.

Question: Why are we the only major country on Earth not to guarantee healthcare to all people? Why are we the only major country not to have paid family and medical leave? Why do we have a higher rate of childhood poverty than almost any major country on Earth? Why are we not dealing more aggressively with climate change? Why do we have more people in jail, disproportionately African-American, Latino, Native American, than any other country on Earth? China, four times our size, we have far more people in jail than China does. We spend $80 billion a year locking people up. Does that make sense? Is there a way out of that? What do we do when we have 11 million people who are undocumented? What does it mean to move toward comprehensive immigration reform and a path toward citizenship? In a highly competitive global economy, we once used to have the best-educated workforce in the world, 30 years or so. Our people, in this country, graduated and went to college in a higher percentage than any other country on Earth. You know what? That’s not the case anymore. And the gap between those countries who are graduating more people from college than we are is getting wider and wider and wider. What does this portend in terms of the future of our country?

So, we lay the issues out on the table, discuss the problems and also provide some real concrete solutions. And that’s what I think we have to do as a nation. And in terms of media, there’s a chapter that says that maybe it’s time for media to start focusing on the real issues facing our country. It was embarrassing. I read this as I wrote the book. Turns out that if you looked at, I think it was, the Sunday morning shows, Bernie Sanders alone—and I say this not to boast, but to tell you how pathetic the situation is—two-thirds of the discussion or the mention of poverty took place when I was on those shows. So what does that say about a country when there’s almost no discussion of poverty, no discussion—almost no discussion of climate change, very little discussion of income and wealth inequality, no discussion of the role of the corporate media? And I’m glad that Amy is going to be up here in a minute, because what she has done is shown that it is possible, although very difficult, to go outside of the corporate media and develop your own network. But what does corporate media talk about, what do they not talk about, where do we go forward in media is a very, very important issue. So, bottom line is, I hope very much that you enjoy the book. I’ve just reread it. I think it’s a good book, a lot of information.

And now it is my—my joy and my privilege to introduce and bring up here Amy Goodman. And I want to say a word about Amy. What Amy has done, through an enormous amount of hard work, is not just be a good journalist—and she is that—but, more importantly, almost single-handedly, with a few colleagues, she has helped build a network. In other words, no big radio station, corporate media station, came to her, as they do to Rush Limbaugh, and they say, “Here, Rush, we got, you know, 18 million radio stations you’re on.” She had to work for every single one of the stations she got on. So, please welcome Amy Goodman.

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