Sanders Hosts Town Hall On Inequality In America
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders moderated a town hall on Inequality in America Monday evening. He brought together outspoken advocates to discuss what they see as the decline of the middle class and risks of an oligarchy, and offer potential solutions.
The Vermont independent led a panel that included fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and The New School Professor of Economics and Urban Policy Darrick Hamilton.
Many of the themes are familiar refrains from Sanders’ presidential campaign including the decline of the middle class and the growth of corporate influence in politics. “There is something very wrong when young people have got to go to Germany in order to get a higher education. There’s something wrong when people have got to go across the Canadian border to get affordable prescription drugs. There’s something wrong when the in greatest nation in the history of the world, the most wealthy nation, our infrastructure is collapsing and we’ve got 40 million people living in poverty.”
Some of the most poignant conversation occurred with Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise founder Catherine Coleman Flowers, who described people living in abject poverty. “I’ve seen raw sewage underneath mobile homes. I have seen people invest in onsite septic systems that they are told by the state health department to purchase and is running back into their homes. We found evidence of tropical parasites including hookworm. That is just an atrocity and within 20 minutes of Selma there are people living in these conditions that even the U.N. Special Rapporteur said is uncommon in the first world.”
United Auto Workers Vice President Cindy Estrada told the panelists the decline of the middle class has come about because union power has eroded. “Today what’s happening in this country with the decline in unionism is that you often have workers working for these wealthy corporations working full time and then walking into a food stamp line. Workers have to have a seat at the table ‘cause if it’s left up to employers they’re always going to make a decision on their bottom line.”
Sanders brought in University of Oregon Political Scientist Gordon Lafer to discuss the rise of corporate power through the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. “The biggest lobby in the country is the Chamber of Commerce. Before Citizens United the political budget of the Chamber of Commerce was bigger than either of the national Republican or Democratic parties. Since the Supreme Court said corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on politics corporate political spending is up 600 percent. And what they’re doing with that money is not just picking who sits in office but actually writing our laws.”
Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren: “You know we need to call this out for what it is. It is corruption. Plain and simple.”
The Town Hall was live streamed from Washington on multiple digital platforms including Facebook and Twitter. According to Senator Sanders’ office it drew about 1.7 million live viewers Monday night and nearly 2.5 million views had accumulated by Tuesday morning.