The Vermont Senator discussed the treatment of veterans and the true cost of war in addition to issues of incarceration, climate change, and voting during a Town Hall Meeting at Gettysburg College on Friday, April 22. Sanders acknowledged questions from audience members in what the College was calling a “forum for respectful discussion,” not a rally.
Sanders speaks at the Town Hall meeting. The College specified that the event was not a rally. Photo courtesy of the author.
The presidential hopeful was preceded by Tyson Manker, a former Marine who advocated for veteran support of Sanders, who, Manker specified, is the only current candidate actively fighting for the rights of servicemen and women. Manker, who was engaged in Iraq, specified Sanders’ judgment, foresight, and safety as the tools that would allow the United States to destroy ISIS while engaging the Middle East in effective and respectful international discussion and stated that hundreds of veterans like himself support Bernie Sanders for president. The former Marine recognized the other men and women in uniform, who were given priority seating in the audience, a remark that caused the gym to erupted into applause and chants of “USA, USA!”
Congresswoman and Iraq War veteran Tulsi Gabbard introduced the Senator after reading the beginning lines of The Gettysburg Address.
Sanders’ remarks were roughly centered around his location; like Gabbard, he cited Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on multiple occasions, particularly the lines, “Of the people, by the people, for the people,” so as to bring democracy into the forefront of his message and focus on the treatment of soldiers and veterans. The Senator said of the Address, “The ending strikes me as something that is unbelievably relevant to our world today.”
Senator Sanders answered questions from the audience and engaged in discussion with Congresswoman Gabbard. Photo courtesy of the author.
On the topic of democracy, Sanders said that the American people must demand a government that represents every individual, not just the one percent, and that the system of corrupt campaign finance must be stopped in order to revitalize American democracy. He said to the audience, “You are enormously powerful people if you choose to use that power.”
Sanders laid out a number of truths that all Americans must have the courage to accept in order to move forward as a nation because, he mentioned, he is not a radical candidate, he is simply telling the truth. These included the fact that the economy is rigged, and is neither sustainable nor moral; that the United States is in an unpleasant place, as we have more people incarcerated than any other country, and many of those people are AAfrican-American Latino/a, and Native American; that climate change is real, is caused by human activity, and is our greatest peril; and that we are involved in a highly competitive global economy that needs an educated American workforce which cannot be achieved with the amount of student debt crippling the country’s potential workers.
Veterans’ issues were a major talking point for Senator Sanders. He referenced the need to find common ground with Republicans to pass legislation that would improve the lives of servicewomen and men as well as the need to rally the American people. He condemned the lack of discussion about PTSD and veteran suicide, a problem that, he stated, remains in the shadows despite being one of the most illustrative examples of the true cost of war. When referencing other politicians who claim to be in support of veterans, Sanders stated, “It is not going to be his kids who are going off to that war.” He emphasized that the United States should not send women and men to war if it cannot afford to take care of them.
Sanders was backed by Manker, who spoke again to reiterate and personalize the importance of veterans’ issues, describing to the audience how he was not granted an honorable discharge because of his PTSD and considered taking his own life. He specified that one in ten veterans are kicked out of the services without benefits, a figure that Sanders described as unacceptable; he promised to make the improving the lives of servicewomen and men his top priority if elected.
Tyson Manker articulates his support for Senator Sanders, citing his personal experience as a veteran. Photo courtesy of the author.
The Senator moved on to the topic of foreign policy and the possibility of peace, a topic he believes is underrepresented because of our overwhelming focus on the ugliness of dictators. While he acknowledged the tyranny of figures such as Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad, Sanders pointed out that it is necessary to think through the process of rapid regime change, as we must consider the consequences of what occurs beyond political replacement.
“There are times when you have to respond militarily,” Sanders remarked, “But it should be the last response, not the first.” On the subject of the military, he expressed his frustrations at President Barack Obama’s being called “weak,” as it requires intelligence and strength to avoid war.
The Gettysburg College student body as well as spectators from out of town proved an immense and respectful crowd despite coming from different ends of the political spectrum. Josh Greenberg, a Gettysburg College senior, attended the rally to show support for democracy and lend his support to the Sanders Campaign, commenting on the resilience of Sanders’ family, which came to the United States with nothing after being torn apart by the Holocaust.
Ember Parker ‘17 also came to the Town Hall to support Senator Sanders, and Albert Kuhel ‘18 attended to get an idea of opposing political views. Kesley Meisch ‘17 said, “I do not know enough about his policies, so I want to learn more; I think this is important so I can vote appropriately.” Amanda Pollock ‘18 stated, “I am here to see what Bernie has to say. I am not entirely sure if I agree with him or not, but I am curious to see.” Kaiden Krueger ‘16 expressed support for the Sanders Campaign, saying, “I love him; he is a great guy, and he has my vote for the primary.”
Spencer E. King, class of 2019, said that Sanders’ presence will help create a more open campus community following issues of racism, discrimination, and free speech that have affected Gettysburg College this semester. King is an independent but hopes that the Town Hall will resonate with the student body.
Jared McCully, a Gettysburg College first-year, brought a different perspective. Decked out in red, white, and blue and sporting a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag as a cape, McCully sought to raise awareness for Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, who is running for president under the Libertarian ticket and is using the slogan “Feel the Johnson.” McCully’s goal was to add a “voice of pluralism” to the Town Hall event. He noted, “I hope [this event] enhances the campus climate surrounding free speech. What you have to say, whether it be intelligent or whether it be stupid, should be allowed to be spoken here at Gettysburg College. Hopefully we will start having more candidates here on campus from both sides of the aisle. Gettysburg College is such a melting pot of intellectual diversity, and it needs to continue to be that way.”
Jared McCully ‘19 shows off a phenomenal pair of pants. Photo courtesy of the author.
Aisha Mershani, an adjunct assistant professor at Gettysburg College, held a sign that read, “Free Palestine,” though the Senator, who supports a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel, was not able to address the issue. “At the Brooklyn debate Sanders said that Palestinians deserve respect, which is a very radical thing for a politician to do,” Mershani commented. “I am an American Jew, and I think there is a large Jewish population that is for Palestinian rights and freedom, but I think that voice is being silenced. The Palestinian voice is being silenced…why are we debating if they are or are not [human]? Why are we not doing more to support a non-violent global campaign?
Aisha Mershani holds up a sign saying “Free Palestine” in purple lettering. Photo courtesy of the author.
The Town Hall was not limited to students, however. Adam Richter from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, attended to “see the next man to become the President of the United States and make our country free.” Richter is supportive of Sanders’ healthcare platform as well as the Senator’s honesty, saying, “We need to have honesty in this government.” Additionally, Richter composed a poem about Bernie Sanders, one stanza of which reads, “We need a strong defense and domestic policy, too, / and Bernie is the leader, and that is really true.”
The event had to be livestreamed to other rooms on campus, as Bream Gym quickly reached max capacity.
Gettysburg College specified that it has extended invitations to all presidential candidates.