Last Wednesday night, The New York Times (NYT), hosted a conversational event at the University of Maryland with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and NYT Political Correspondent Alexander Burns, as a part of their “Get With the Times” video series. Sanders answered questions from the NYT and students from colleges across the U.S. who submitted video entries. This event touched on a vast number of topics, focusing mainly on the midterms and issues involving college students.
Sanders first addressed Amazon’s recent raise in wages for their workers to $15 per hour. As a strong advocate for the $15 per hour minimum wage in the U.S., Sanders gives “Bezos credit for doing the right thing” and hopes this progress by Amazon sends the message to other large companies that they will also have to pay their workers a living wage. His next step is to put pressure on corporations like Walmart, which is run by the wealthiest family in the world, and airlines. Sanders emphasized that federal legislation is the easiest way to get companies to do the right thing, but we need to put pressure on them on every level to make it happen.
Perhaps the biggest, central idea that he presented is that “we have got to revitalize American democracy.” He made a great analogy between politics and sports to highlight the fact that politics is not a spectator sport. Citizens cannot sit on the sidelines and expect their views to be represented in government. With this in mind, he wants a move towards public funding of elections so that anyone will feel comfortable running for office even if they don’t have money. He is tired of “the billionaires” being able to buy the candidates they want in office.
On the extremely topical issue of Kavanaugh’s confirmation (which was still pending at the time), Sanders was “disgusted beyond words” that the president mocked Dr. Ford who was brave enough to come forward. It was encouraging and inspiring to have Sanders stand with women by criticizing the president’s response. He feels that the president should be telling women to come forward and that they will be supported.
Another way Sanders wants to revitalize American democracy is to exponentially increase voter turnout. He wants the registration process for voting to be easier by making same day voting available in more states. Sanders hopes that the Democrats gain control of the House and the Senate during the midterms to end the one party rule currently in office.
One student asked what Sanders would want to tell people who believe their vote doesn’t matter. Sanders responded with a powerful personal anecdote about his first election in which he became the mayor of Burlington, VT by ten votes. The fact that this story came from his own experience as a politician really gave merit to the power of voting. When people think about voting, they often only think about presidential elections, in which the electoral college casts the ultimate vote. However, there are so many different elections in which the process is more direct and constituents should not feel discouraged to make their voices heard.
Sanders also puts responsibility for media literacy in our own hands. He suggests that we need to be proactive in developing what we think are reliable sources, and checking out multiple sources to gain our news. He feels that “your job is to try to learn the truth as best as you can.” Many people have criticized the media for its technological revolution, which has resulted in the greater ability of citizens to publish news and subsequently, the increase in fake news. It’s refreshing to see the accountability that he places on the people, including young people, to make sure that they have been accurately informed.
I loved that this event was made accessible to college students, especially through the NYT’s partnership with Her Campus. College students are at the beginning of their involvement in the political process, yet a lot of times, it is difficult to find platforms that are easy to understand and I appreciate the effort from every party responsible for the event. He broke issues down for us, explained why it was important for us to get involved and empowered us to stay informed.
That being said, marketing the event as inclusive to all college students of all political beliefs may have been an exaggeration. Although Bernie is an independent, many of the policies he discussed are definitely very left-winged and could easily be ill received by Republican students.
Regardless, his words of encouragement for all college students in navigating their political duties made an impact on viewers everywhere to vote in this vital upcoming election.
To see the full “Get With The Times” Bernie Sanders edition, click here.