Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont addressed a near-capacity crowd in Ypsilanti today. The Washington Post estimated that more than 9,400 filled the Convocation Center at Eastern Michigan University on Monday afternoon. In contrast, when neurosurgeon and Detroit native Ben Carson spoke in the same venue during a December visit, the Eastern Echo reported the audience for his campaign appearance numbered about 200.
During an hour-long speech, Sanders expounded on the themes of his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. In addition to income inequality, which he would solve in part with a fifteen dollar minimum wage, and protection of the environment, he emphasized campaign finance reform as necessary for empowering average Americans over what he called the billionaire class.
“The issue that we’re dealing with now: whether or not we’re going to have a government which represents all of the people of our country or whether we’re going to have a government owned and controlled by wealthy contributors,” Sanders was quoted by the Detroit Free Press. “We have a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy. We have a system in which a small number of people are making huge campaign contributions.”
He continued with the theme, telling the assembled students “You are the future of the country. You’re not going to stand aside while a handful of campaign contributors determine the future.”
His advocacy of campaign finance reform even colored his response to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Sanders has said that he would appoint Justices who would vote to overturn the controversial Citizens United decision.
Sanders played to the college students in the audience by mentioning issues dear to their hearts. In addition to removing marijuana from Schedule 1 of the controlled substances list and refinancing student debt at the lowest possible interest, he highlighted his proposal for free public college tuition.
“In many respects a college degree is what a high high school degree was fifty years ago” Sanders was quoted by the Eastern Echo. “That is why I believe when we talk about public education today, it must be free tuition at public colleges and universities.”
The crowd cheered this line, much like they did many other of Sanders’ points. In addition to responding enthusiastically to the speech, the audience periodically broke into chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!”
Sanders addressed the environment at both the global and local levels. The global environmental issue involved combating climate change in the context of his audience being the future.
“The debate is over, climate change is real,” the Eastern Echo quoted Sanders. “We have a moral responsibility to leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable to our kids and our grandchildren.”
Sanders used the Flint water crisis as in example of a local environmental issue. In this, he was following the lead of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who brought up the issue in her closing statement at a Democratic debate last month.
“I obviously have read the newspapers, but I really did not know how ugly and horrible it is, what is going on in the community. It is beyond my comprehension that in the year 2016, we are poisoning children,” he was quoted by the Detroit Free Press. “But if the local government can’t protect those children, the state government can’t protect those children, then the federal government better get in there and protect those children.”
Flint will continue to be an important issue in the Democratic campaign. Sanders and Clinton will debate there on March 6, two days before the Michigan Democratic Primary.