Bernie Sanders holds town hall for college students at George Mason University

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a town hall meeting with college students at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (AP)

A national college student town hall was hosted by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at George Mason University Wednesday night.

The event featured thousands of excited college students gathered together to hear Bernie Sanders speak. 

Ja’Lisha Urquhart, a George Mason student, opened the night and introduced Sanders with a moving speech about society’s expectations of her as a black woman, and how someone like Sanders is “her inspiration” because “he believes black lives truly do matter.”

After Urquhart’s primer, Sanders took the stage for over an hour and a half. He gave the floor to three students from Georgetown University, George Washington University and the University of Maryland to discuss issues of importance before launching into the meat of his speech. 

After he ran through his beliefs, he accepted questions from students in the building that night, as well as questions from students of “300 colleges from every state in the union,” who tuned into the livestream, according to Sanders himself. 

The first topic of interest in Sander’s speech was mass incarceration. 

“I will not be the president of a country that has more people in jail than any other country,” Sanders said. “I will be the president of the country that has the best educated population on Earth.”

The next area of focus is where Sanders has based his campaign: income inequality. 

“I will be the president of an economy that works for all of us, not just the billionaires,” Sanders said. “I will not be the president of a country that moves toward oligarchy, I want a vibrant democracy.” 

Part of this, for Sanders, is raising the minimum wage, which hovers around nine dollars an hour, to $15 an hour. 

Sanders pointed out that “in the last 30 years there’s been a massive redistribution of wealth in this country, the problem is that redistribution went in the wrong direction.” 

Speaking on redistribution of wealth is a popular move for Sanders, albeit dangerous in its terminology, especially when his detractors say the U.S. cannot elect a socialist. 

“It is not acceptable to me that the top 1/10th of the one percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent,” Sanders said. 

This town hall meeting was a political move by Sanders to tap into a growing voting base within his campaign: students. Many of the issues Sanders discussed elicited great cheers from the crowd. 

Sanders went on to challenge the men in the crowd to stand up for female pay equity. 

“Alright guys, are you in this fight with women?” Sanders asked, to which a strong male response was heard. 

Sanders did a fair amount of criticizing Republicans, pointedly mentioning their employment of the rhetoric of family values. When Republicans bring up family values, they mean “not a single woman in America should have the right to control her own body,” according to Sanders. When Republicans talk about family values, they mean homosexual people should not be allowed to get married, according to Sanders.

“I disagree with Republican family values,” Sanders said. 

Sanders continued with a denunciation of the Citizens United decision, just before name checking the Koch brothers. 

“They [the Koch brothers] are going to spend some 900 million dollars in this campaign to try to elect candidates who will cut social security,” Sanders said. “When you have one family…spending more money than either the Democratic or Republican parties, that is not democracy, that is oligarchy, and we have got to change that.” 

Sanders’ solution? To move towards public funding of elections. 

Further subjects Sanders touched upon included “Republican voter suppression,” in which he lambasted the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act.

“In my view, everybody in this country who is 18 years or older is registered to vote, end of discussion,” Sanders said. 

In terms of foreign policy, Sanders was vocal about his opposition to the Iraq War, and his pride in that decision. Sanders argued that war should be a “last resort” when dealing in international relations.

Sanders also said that healthcare should be a human right, not a privilege, that there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, that he would attempt to end institutional racism, starting with the criminal justice system and that Republicans are woefully incorrect when they don’t believe in or address the issue of climate change.

Sanders listed names of black people who have died at the hands of the police, including Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. 

It was apparent that Sanders was using the college town hall as an opportunity to speak on his plan for education. 

“If our economy today and in the future is going to be successful…we need to have the best educated workforce in the world,” Sanders said. “It is beyond my comprehension why today in America, hundreds of thousands of bright, young people are unable to college for one reason...their families lack the money. That is wrong, and we are going to change that.” 

The Vermont Senator then went into how college has changed into a near-necessity to gain entrance into the workforce, whereas 50 or 60 years ago a high school diploma would be sufficient. 

The town hall was an accurate reflection of Sanders run for president – idealistic and issue-driven. 


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email atsten.spinella@uconn.edu.