By ANGELO LYNN
BURLINGTON — “BERRR-NIE, BERRR-NIE, BERRR-NIE,” roared the enthusiastic, hometown crowd of 5,000 supporters as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., took the stage late Tuesday afternoon, May 26, at Burlington’s Waterfront Park to kick-off his presidential campaign.
In his trademark style gesturing with his thumb and forefinger pinched together and dramatically jabbing the air while making each point, Sanders lashed out in his thick Brooklyn accent against the inequities of America’s income and wealth gap; against corporate greed; against a corrupt political system in which money buys elections; against trade agreements that have cost this country millions of “decent-paying jobs”; against the stranglehold of big energy companies that are destroying the planet through global warming; against banks and financial institutions that are too big to fail; against “the insanity” of an educational system that’s too expensive for too many and burdens millions of others with mountains of debt; and against a military-industrial complex that enmeshes the nation in unwise and unnecessary wars.
If elected, Sanders pledged, the country would not be run for the benefit of the wealthiest few, but for the benefit of all.
“Let’s be clear,” said Sanders, now 73, “this campaign is not about Hillary Clinton. It is not about Jeb Bush or anyone else. This campaign is about the needs of the American people, and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs… My campaign,” he said as the crowd chimed in, “will be of the people, by the people and for the people.”
“Today, with your support and the support of millions of people throughout this country, we begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally,” he told the cheering, placard-waving crowd.
“Now is the time for millions of working families to come together, to revitalize American democracy, to end the collapse of the American middle class and to make certain that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy a quality of life that brings them health, prosperity, security and joy — and that once again makes the United States the leader in the world in the fight for economic and social justice, for environmental sanity and for a world of peace.”
Launching what he called an Agenda For America, Sanders’ most forceful message was on income and wealth disparity, calling it the “great moral issue of our time, the great economic issue of our time and … the great political issue of our time.”
“There is something profoundly wrong,” Sanders roared, “when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and when 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent… This grotesque level of inequality is immoral. It is bad economics. It is unsustainable. This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about. This has got to change and, as your president, together we will change it.”
On taxing the wealthy, Sanders was equally clear.
“This campaign is going to send a message to the billionaire class, and that is: You can’t have it all. You can’t get huge tax breaks while children in the country go hungry. You can’t continue sending our jobs to China while millions are looking for work. You can’t hide your profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, while there are massive unmet needs on every corner of this nation. Your greed has got to end. You cannot take advantage of all the benefits of America, if you refuse to accept your responsibilities.
“That is why,” Sanders continued, “we need a tax system which is fair and progressive, which makes wealthy individuals and profitable corporations begin to pay their fair share of taxes.”
Sanders also lambasted the nation’s largest financial institutions.
“If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist,” Sanders said. “We need a banking system which is part of the job-creating productive economy, not a handful of huge banks on Wall Street which engage in reckless and illegal activities.”
On the need to change the nation’s and world’s dependence on fossil fuels, Sanders was adamant.
“The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change,” he said, calling for the country to create a system that embraces energy efficiencies and renewable energy sources, including making the nation’s transportation system more energy efficient and placing a tax on carbon “to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel.”
On health care and protecting the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, he referred to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s frequent refrain that “a nation’s greatness is judged not by what it provides to the most well-off, but how it treats the people most in need. And that’s the kind of nation we must become,” said Sanders.
Vermont’s junior senator, former congressman and long-time mayor of Burlington, wrapped up his 30-minute speech by briefly telling the story of how his father moved to the United States from Poland, penniless and without much of an education, but got a job as a paint salesman as the family lived a “solidly lower-middleclass life” in a small rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn.
“As a kid I learned, in many, many ways, what lack of money means to a family. That’s a lesson I have never forgotten.”
Sanders noted he has seen the promise of America in his own life, “but for too many of our fellow Americans, the dream of progress and opportunity is being denied by the grind of an economy that funnels all the wealth to the top.”
His campaign, he said, would rebuild America into a country that “works for all of us, and not just the few on top.”
Editor’s note: For the full text and video of Sen. Sanders’ speech, click Bernie’s speech
Photos courtesy of Bernie Sanders for President, berniesanders.com