Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) emphasized his commitment to fighting social injustice and income inequality at a speech given on Saturday to 12,000 supporters at the University of Washington.
The event came hours after a smaller speech that Sanders had planned to give was interrupted by activists affiliated with Black Lives Matter Seattle. Several protesters took the stage as Sanders began to speak. Sanders and the event organizers granted the microphone to the activists, who led an extended moment of silence in honor of the death of police shooting victim Michael Brown. Sanders did not resume his planned address.
Sanders was invited to speak at Westlake Park to mark the anniversary of Social Security and Medicare, as part of an event called “Social Security Works.” Sanders has defended Social Security as “the most successful government program in our nation’s history.” At a time when Republican candidates are threatening to cut benefits and privatize social security, Sanders stands out as a voice of reason:
“Republicans… have been discussing harmful cuts to Social Security as part of an overall scheme to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children, and working families. That is wrong, it is unconscionable, and it must not happen!”
To the Black Lives Matter activists, another anniversary needed to be mentioned: the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, which occurred one year ago today, and contributed to the impressive rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement has significantly raised awareness of issues regarding institutionalized racism and police violence.
However, many Sanders supporters have noted that the Democratic hopeful has taken a strong stance against racism and supports policies that address such problems. At the University of Washington rally, Sanders declared:
“No president will fight harder to end institutional racism and reform criminal justice system… Too many lives have been destroyed by war on drugs, by incarceration; we need to educate people. We need to put people to work.”
Sanders has been a long-time supporter of social justice, and even attended the famous March on Washington in 1963, where Dr. King delivered his celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech. As a presidential candidate, Sanders has offered a detailed plan for addressing racial justice, including measures to demilitarize our police forces and ban for-profit prisons, two issues which should be of central importance to the Black Lives Matter movement. Thus, when considering his political outlook, one recognizes Sanders to be an ally of the movement.
When one compares Sanders’ platform to those of the Republican candidates, it is clear that he is far more concerned with issues that are important to racial and economic equality. At the Republican primary debate on Thursday, the only form of “racial injustice” that the candidates seemed to notice was the “injustice” of allowing immigrants into our country.
Many believe that racial inequality is closely tied to economic and political injustice. Sanders has made issues like education, prison reform, voting rights, and income inequality central to his campaign, and thus represents a clear vision of progress towards resolving our issues with social injustice.
As noted by the activists who turned up at the Sanders rally in Washington, Black Lives Matter is one of the biggest grassroots movements in the country. Although it prevented Sanders from speaking at that event, the unexpected incident gave Sanders an opportunity to firmly restate his commitment to fighting against institutionalized racism and in support of legal and economic reforms. Hopefully, in the future, Sanders and Black Lives Matter can find their common ground.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.