U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium on Tuesday, May 24 to around 2,300 people. Sanders touched on many issues including the plight of low-income families and undocumented workers, climate change, women’s rights and the struggles faced by people of color.
Outside the venue, students and community members lined up to await the start of the event. First-year political science major and co-president of “Highlanders for Sanders,” Winston Fadeff, spoke enthusiastically about Sanders’ presence in the Inland Empire, especially for students, saying, “Bernie recognizes the importance of public education and he wants it to be free and accessible for every student throughout the United States and he understand that education is what creates change and molds people to help improve society. I think he is a necessity for students and he … wants to create progress.”
Inside the venue, the Vermont senator was introduced by several individuals including local event organizer Jasmine Hintz and actor Kendrick Sampson, who championed Sanders’ distinction of being an activist before he was a politician. Sanders was met with a roar from the crowd upon taking the stage and proceeded to thank attendees for their support. Sanders’ speech emphasized common themes in his campaign by calling out a “rigged economy,” “the billionaire class,” a “corrupt campaign finance system” and “corporate media.” Sanders’ speech then focused on addressing issues directed toward a variety of different marginalized communities.
He focused on what he called a “broken” criminal justice system and how it disproportionately affects Latino, Black and Native American communities. He explained that the U.S. locks up an estimated 2.2 million citizens, which is more than any other country in the world, stating, “We are spending 80 billion dollars a year to lock up fellow Americans.” Sanders then made a connection between high unemployment rates and high incarceration rates.
“We should be investing in our young people, in jobs and education, not in jails and incarceration,” emphasized Sanders. Later on, he articulated his desire to end the private ownership of prisons and detention centers. He also touched on police brutality, the devastating impact it has had on the African-American community, police accountability and his desire to demilitarize local police forces.
Sanders later expressed his belief that drug addiction should be treated as a mental health issue and not as a criminal issue. “We need a revolution in mental health treatment in this country,” Sanders said. He was met with much approval from the audience when expressing his dissatisfaction over laws regarding marijuana in California that lists it as a Schedule I drug with no current accepted medical use. “You can argue about the pluses and minuses of marijuana but nobody that I know should equate marijuana with heroin, which is a killer drug.” Sanders explained that he had introduced legislation in congress to remove this designation.
The crowd continued to display their support as he moved on to discuss the treatment of women in the U.S. “Women are tired of working for 79 cents on the dollar,” Sanders said. He then discussed the hardship many mothers face after having a child and then being forced to re-enter the workforce soon after. Sanders said that the U.S. should guarantee that parents have paid family and medical leave.
Shifting his message toward Latinos, Sanders shared an anecdote about a town in Florida where, within the last decade, an agricultural contractor was charged with slavery after exploiting undocumented field workers. “You have people who are underpaid and underworked … It is clear to me that we need comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship.” This statement was met with shouts of “Si se puede!” from audience members.
Sanders also voiced his concerns about climate change and criticized House Republicans for ignoring science. He encouraged the crowd to do what they can to protect the environment while relaying a lesson learned from Native Americans to whom “we owe … a debt of gratitude that we really can never repay,” saying, “As human beings, we are part of nature. We must exist with nature.” Sending a message to the fossil fuel industry, Sanders stated, “Short term profits are not more important than the future of this planet.”
Sanders was met with shouts of encouragement when discussing college students and his desire to help everyone receive a free education before stating that we all have the power to create change. “Democracy is not a spectator sport … you have the power to make a change,” Sanders said. “Real change never occurs from the top on down, it always occurs from the bottom on up.”
Sanders continued his campaign at an event in San Bernardino later that evening. He will travel across California before the primary, which will take place on Tuesday, June 7.