To some, a small public university in danger of closing on the South Side of Chicago may seem like a strange choice of venue for a presidential campaign rally. However, for Bernie Sanders, a candidate who is proud of having no super PACs, whose average donation to his campaign is $27 and who is adamantly against income inequality, it was a natural fit.
Sanders packed an auditorium on Thursday when he spoke at Chicago State University on a variety of topics including campaign finances, income inequality and higher education.
He began his speech saying that it had been a hard day for him, since earlier he had visited Flint, Michigan.
He said that it was hard for him “to believe that what is going on in Flint, Michigan is going on in the United States of America in the year 2016.”
Later, he spoke about campaign finance.
“Our campaign has been doing something really radical. You know what it is? We’re telling the American people the truth,” he said. “Here’s the truth: You’re living today under a corrupt, campaign finance system which has undermined the democracy. You’re living under a political system where Wall Street and billionaires are spending huge sums of money to buy elections.”
Upon turning the speech to income inequality, Sanders said that we are living in a “rigged economy,” adding that people work “longer hours for lower wages” and “almost all new wealth goes to the top 1 percent.”
He also said 47 million people are living in poverty, and the top one-tenth of the already top one percent own as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.
He cited the example of the Walton family of Walmart.
“They own, as one family, more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people,” Sanders said.
He contrasted this family with their Walmart employees.
“Walmart pays wages that are so low that many of the workers there go on Medicaid, food stamps and subsidized housing. Who do you think pays for those food stamps, subsidized housing and Medicaid? You do. So here is a rigged economy. The middle class and working families pay higher taxes in order to subsidize the wealthiest family in America.”
He then urged the Walton family to “get off welfare” and pay their workers a living wage.
He also said that he wants to expand social security.
Sanders also hopes to make all public universities tuition free, citing high student loan debt, and the crowd emphatically agreed.
He said he would pay for all of these things by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation.
“Wall Street, after destroying the economy, went begging to the Congress ‘bail us out, bail us out.’ Well, now it is Wall Street’s turn to help the middle class,” he said.
Sanders also discussed that his campaign would help women and African-American and Latino communities through pay equity, criminal justice and immigration reform. He stressed, however, that no president can make this change alone.
“[Real change] has always taken place from the bottom on up, not from the top on down,” he said.
He then used history to discuss how change can be made, referencing his own arrest while protesting civil rights, the actions of the people of Birmingham during the civil rights movement and the suffragettes fighting to get votes for women and the fight for marriage equality.
“Ten years ago [if] somebody here stood up and said, 'You know, I think in the year 2015, gay marriage will be legal in 50 states in this country,'” Sanders said, “the person next to him would’ve said, 'What are you smoking?'”
He also spoke about some of the reasons why he differs from Hillary Clinton. He said that he does not have a super PAC, he did not support the war in Iraq, he did not support the Defense of Marriage Act and he did not support the Welfare Reform Act that increased the work requirements for welfare.
He also discussed issues of climate change and health care.
Sanders, as well as the student who introduced him, also spoke on the Illinois budget crisis. This crisis is threatening the existence of Chicago State University due to a failure of the state government to pass a higher education budget and leaving some public universities without funding. Before the rally, several students were outside protesting this issue.
Chicago State University is on the South Side of Chicago and is more than 80 percent African-American.
Sanders ended his speech with a call to vote.
“This campaign is about a political revolution. You can help make that revolution on March 15.”