Yesterday evening, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) came to Charlottesville, Virginia to speak about the U.S. budget. Although the venue, a local church, had seating for about a hundred in their sanctuary, over eight hundred people RSVPed yes on the Facebook event page. Given that Senator Sanders recently announced his plan to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, the idea of such a large crowd wasn’t particularly surprising. When I arrived, about forty minutes before the event began, a sizable line had already formed.
While the first hundred in line were able to sit in the sanctuary where the talk was being given, the next twenty were allowed to sit in folding chairs in the hallway just outside, and about fifty more were ushered into the basement where they could listen through a PA system. However, there were about fifty or so more people who milled about outside the church, unable to find a seat inside.
Once inside, the program began with a handful of individuals speaking about their various problems related to the need for better healthcare, unemployment concerns, or the high cost of college education. For about the next forty-five minutes, Senator Sanders delved into a variety of topics such as: big money in politics and elections, climate change, and corporatism. As he put it, “our job is to uplift the poor people of the world, not sink the working people in this country”. For each problem, he seemed to advocate the same solution, expanding government power. To aid the poor, he believes that the proper solution is to raise the minimum wage to $15/hr. To solve the influence of big money in politics, he thinks that elections ought to be publicly funded. And to expand educational opportunities, the government ought to fully fund the costs of college as is done in several European nations.
Being a self-identified socialist, none of the ideas he presented yesterday were particularly surprising. Although the event was billed as a discussion on the budget, he spent only the last several minutes of his speech explaining his worries with the Republican crafted budget. However, given the variety of topics, I wished that he would have discussed a few of the areas where he and I have some measure of agreement, such as protecting civil liberties and ending America’s role as the policeman of the world.
Nevertheless, I believe it critically important to the health of the political dialogue in our country to listen to a variety of points of view, especially to those with whom you believe you have little common ground. Therefore, I’m glad that Senator Bernie Sanders stopped in to Charlottesville yesterday; I just wish they would have selected a building at least triple the size so that no one would have had to have been turned away.