Briahna travels with Bernie to the Lone Star State, where she speaks to campaign volunteers and staffers, rally attendees, local politicians, and a certain ice cream magnate about what it’s like to support Bernie on the road. We hear excerpts from a South Carolina roundtable on poverty featuring Cornell West, Danny Glover, and Kerri Evelyn Harris. Finally, Briahna checks in with Bernie at a Texas BBQ joint.
Briahna Joy Gray: [00:00:00] So I love going on the road. I loved it when I was a reporter, and I got to say I love it still. Now I can already anticipate some campaign veterans rolling their eyes a little bit as they listen to this. Sure, everything is still novel to me, I haven’t yet been cowed by long days and strange beds and endless logistics and altogether too many carbs.
[00:00:24] So for this week’s episode, which is all about Bernie on the campaign trail, I wanted to talk to as many people as possible, starting with Jesse, a member of the advance team from Portland, who was tasked with driving members of the campaign from the Houston airport to the hotel where we spent our first night in Texas.
[00:00:43] Jesse: [00:00:43] I was in South Carolina until Saturday, flew to New Hampshire for a series of events. I drove back to Austin and flew here last night.
[00:00:44] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:00:44] Wow, and is that typical?
[00:00:44] Jesse: [00:00:44] No. It’s a little bit more hectic a pace than normal. Normal is five or six days in one place. I haven’t been home in a few weeks. I am going home tomorrow night though.
[00:01:07] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:01:07] I asked Jesse to tell me what issues drive him to do this work given how grueling the schedule can be.
[00:01:14] Jesse: [00:01:14] Healthcare.
[00:01:15] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:01:15] Yeah.
[00:01:17] Jesse: [00:01:17] It’s number one, number two, number three for me because I’m a 43-year-old who had two knee surgeries last year.
[00:01:24] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:01:24] Oh wow.
[00:01:25] Jesse: [00:01:25] I couldn’t imagine needing health insurance and not having it and genuinely ache for those who don’t. I’ve never had health insurance in my life until I was in my early twenties and just seeing people that are missing out is hard.
[00:01:43] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:01:43] That’s what makes it all worth it. The people.
[00:01:55] This is Hear the Bern, a podcast about the people, ideas, and politics that are driving the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and the movement to secure a dignified life for everyone living in this country. My name is Briahna Joy Gray, coming to you this time from the Lone Star state.
[00:02:16] If Twitter has a tendency to amplify some of humanity’s, let’s say baser instincts, traveling with Bernie has the opposite effect. Nearly everyone I speak to at his rallies seems so unified in their political priorities, so passionate and articulate about Bernie’s agenda. It almost feels unreal.
[00:02:36] Christian: [00:02:36] I come from a family that struggled throughout their lives. I know how difficult it is to have healthcare. I know my family didn’t have insurance for many years so I grew up in that environment.
[00:02:49] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:02:49] That was Christian, a neurologist who showed up in scrubs to hear Bernie speak Wednesday afternoon in Houston.
[00:02:55] Christian: [00:02:55] So when I hear the politicians talking about having an affordable healthcare for most of the people then I’m on it. I think everybody deserves to have a good insurance, and affordable insurance so that they can take care of their loved ones.
[00:03:13] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:03:13] A man named Barrett was crystal clear about his priorities.
[00:03:18] Barrett: [00:03:18] Yes.
[00:03:20] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:03:20] Nice to meet you Barrett. I’m Briahna.
[00:03:20] Barrett: [00:03:20] Nice to meet you. Actually, I follow you on Twitter.
[00:03:24] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:03:24] Oh I apologize.
[00:03:26] Barrett: [00:03:26] No you’re great. You’re great.
[00:03:28] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:03:28] Are there particular policy issues that you hope to hear him talk about today?
[00:03:31] Barrett: [00:03:31] Yup. Green New Deal, the 70% tax on billionaires, and healthcare for all basically.
[00:03:40] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:03:40] Meet Olivia and Emily, who I also ran into at the Houston rally.
[00:03:44] Olivia: [00:03:44] Bernie Sanders gives me a lot of hope for the future and as a young person who has a lot of debt from college, hearing what his policies are and what he believes in, it gives me a lot of hope that I haven’t felt in a very long time for a political candidate.
[00:03:57] Emily: [00:03:57] As a gay young person who is a person of color, I need someone who is going to represent me, someone who’s going to give me free healthcare, someone who’s going to be there for me, and with Bernie I feel that way.
[00:04:08] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:04:08] So a lot of people might say, well Bernie’s a white man and if I want someone to represent my interest as a woman of color or a gay woman, maybe I should pick a candidate who’s gay or a woman of color. Why do you feel like Bernie is the one for you?
[00:04:20] Emily: [00:04:20] I know. I didn’t expect that I would really be into, like oh it’s an old white man. I think it’s like when it comes to understanding different cultures, or different religions, or different sexual orientations, when you have that understanding that you want to move for someone else besides for your own needs or own gains, it makes it special, I think. So, I think that’s why I connect to him.
[00:04:43] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:04:43] I also spoke to a sergeant who attended the rally in uniform.
[00:04:47] Speaker: [00:04:47] I served in Iraq from the end of 2003 to the beginning of 2005, I was on a 15-month deployment. I was in Balad, Iraq aka Camp Anaconda so basically, I was there for a year and then when we got back in 2005 and I ended up getting out in 2009. So …
[00:05:06] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:05:06] So why Bernie?
[00:05:08] Speaker: [00:05:08] Well because he’s not corrupt, he’s not paid for by the banks, he speaks to issues that speak to me, Medicare for all, wants to cut defense spending since we spend more than the next 10 countries combined. We need to rebuild the infrastructure. Every time I hit a pothole, I just lose my mind. I mean, fix public education, fix the $15 an hour minimum wage. I mean just go on and on. Legalization of marijuana. I mean, what else?
[00:05:34] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:05:34] What was striking to me was that despite the diversity of these perspectives, the message was incredibly unified. Not everyone was on message of course.
[00:05:44] Can you tell me what your t-shirt says.
[00:05:48] Speaker: [00:05:48] Well it says, Bernie *bleep* Sanders 2020, but I got it as a gift for my boss because she’s a Trump supporter and she’s also an alcoholic so …
[00:05:59] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:05:59] And the shirt looks like Pabst Blue Ribbon for you who can’t see.
[00:06:03] Speaker: [00:06:03] Yeah, that’s why I got it.
[00:06:05] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:06:05] You are by far the best adorned that I’ve seen so far. Props, love it. Love all of it. It’s nice to meet you.
[00:06:11] Speaker: [00:06:11] Thank you.
[00:06:11] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:06:11] And then, there was Brendan.
[00:06:13] How old are you Brendan?
[00:06:14] Brendan: [00:06:14] I’m 11.
[00:06:16] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:06:16] 11 and already at a Bernie Sanders rally. Why are you here today?
[00:06:21] Brendan: [00:06:21] Because my mom brought me.
[00:06:23] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:06:23] Brendan might not be feeling the Bern yet, but his mother Mary certainly knew why she was there.
[00:06:28] Mary: [00:06:28] Well, so I’m about Medicare for all. My oldest is autism spectrum and I know the struggles he’s going to have. I work with disabled adults and I just imagine a future for him and he needs to have care, so that’s why we’re here.
[00:06:46] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:06:46] I confess I first started talking to a very cool looking young woman named Sierra for superficial reasons. She had great Bernie swag, blue hair, and matching lipstick. But the superficial turned substantive pretty quickly.
[00:07:01] May I ask your name?
[00:07:02] Sierra: [00:07:02] Sierra.
[00:07:03] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:07:03] Sierra. It’s nice to meet you. Now I’ve come over to you because you’ve got some fantastic pins on. Can you describe this one for me?
[00:07:10] Sierra: [00:07:10] This one? It’s just cute. It reminds me of Sesame Street with gray hair.
[00:07:15] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:07:15] So for those who can’t see it, can you tell them what it looks like? What’s on it.
[00:07:18] Sierra: [00:07:18] It’s Bernie from Sesame Street, but with gray hair.
[00:07:23] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:07:23] A Muppet version of Bernie with Bernie on a Sesame Street sign on it. I love it. She’s also got one that says Bernie with peace and love on it. And she’s got beautiful blue and purple hair and beautiful blue lipstick and you look really great. And so, I want to ask you, why Bernie?
[00:07:36] Sierra: [00:07:36] Bernie’s cool. I’ve signed some of his petitions in the past and he really does stand for some good causes. I’m not very political, but I was like okay I know that he really does give a damn. He really does care.
[00:07:51] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:07:51] It’s confusing to some people that you see a very obviously cool, young woman saying Bernie is cool. What is it about this man, who in some ways seems like the antithetical to coolness that makes you want to say that?
[00:08:03] Sierra: [00:08:03] He’s bold. The bold is beautiful. If you can speak up for somebody else who maybe can’t, then that makes you an awesome person. So, I’m all for it.
[00:08:13] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:08:13] Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
[00:08:16] Sierra: [00:08:16] Yes ma’am. Thank you.
[00:08:17] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:08:17] Bernie was in Houston to attend the She the People conference, which focuses on issues specific to women of color. The rally followed immediately after and boy oh boy, it was a barn burner.
[00:08:30] Crowd: [00:08:30] Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.
[00:08:33] Stephen Scapelliti: [00:08:33] This is probably the most powerful I’ve seen him and I’ve seen him quite a few times, both in person and on a video so this was great.
[00:08:46] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:08:46] That was Stephen Scapelliti, the policy and campaign advisor for Sema Hernandez, who is running for Texas Republican John Cornyn’s Senate seat. I was able to talk to both Sema and Stephen about their impressions of the rally.
[00:08:58] Stephen Scapelliti: [00:08:58] He sounded like he realized the stakes are very high here. They just suffered through the ITC fire, Deer Park fires.
[00:09:05] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:09:05] Oh okay.
[00:09:06] Stephen Scapelliti: [00:09:06] Petrochemical fires that ended up creating a real benzene problem for the communities. He’s focusing more today on the fossil fuel industry than I’ve heard him talk about in the past.
[00:09:18] Sema Hernandez: [00:09:18] The fact that he came here to Houston where it’s the petrochemical headquarters of the entire country is extremely important, specifically for me, who I’m constantly rallying against the damn machine, the oil machine and the military industrial complex. It’s something that I needed him to say, I needed the youth to hear, I needed the activists that we’ve been working with to listen and hear and get behind Bernie 110% to support him and I would love him to talk more about the petrochemical industry, the dangers, how we’re being impacted, how there is no regulation in the state of Texas, how these companies are self-regulating. And there is no oversight, there is no protection for us.
[00:09:57] So living less than six miles, we were exposed to benzene. Our kids were exposed to Benzene. There is no protocol. There is no safety net or emergency plan for something like this in the port of Houston, the biggest, largest port import and export of oil. And it’s a dangerous area that needs to be addressed on a federal level because the city can’t do anything about it, the county can’t do anything about it, the state won’t do anything about it. We need the federal government to have oversight and push legislation so we hold them accountable and every time an incident happens, their taxes are raised to remediate the area and to cover the cost, that way it’s no longer being put on the backs of the taxpayers that live there.
[00:10:37] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:10:37] But it wasn’t all politics, all the time. Half the fun, at least for someone without logistical responsibilities like myself is the going to and from events. Why? Well it’s really amazing to see how passersby react to Senator Sanders, how they echo the same refrain of the folks who attend the rallies. Everyone, it seems, understands that Bernie is fighting for the people.
[00:11:01] So when did you get hip to Bernie?
[00:11:06] Alex Smith: [00:11:06] When he gave his filibuster speech against making the Bush era tax cuts permanent.
[00:11:12] Bernie Sanders: [00:11:12] I am here today to take a strong stand against this bill and it seems to me to be unconscionable, unconscionable for my conservative friends and for everybody else in this country to be driving up this already too high national debt by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need it.
[00:11:40] Alex Smith: [00:11:40] Actually I was at work. I was sitting at my desk and I watched a few hours of his speech. I had never heard a politician give a damn about anybody before and I think that was 2010 when he gave that speech and so from then on, he was the only politician that I would talk to people about and believed in and stuff.
[00:12:04] And so when he announced in 2015 that he was running, for me, it was obvious. Bernie’s going to be the one.
[00:12:12] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:12:12] That was Alex Smith, an adjunct professor of linguistics at the University of North Texas. He canceled classes on Thursday so that he could do a 12-hour shift as a volunteer driver in Fort Worth.
[00:12:24] Traveling around the country provides an opportunity to poll test people from outside your bubble. Sure, Alex, a Sanders volunteer, isn’t exactly the political other. But he’s also a professor and was able to tell me about what his students cared the most about.
[00:12:41] Alex Smith: [00:12:41] I think climate change is number one, healthcare is number two.
[00:12:44] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:12:44] Yeah.
[00:12:44] Alex Smith: [00:12:44] Yeah. People who are 10 years younger than me see pretty clearly, I mean not to use hyperbole, but the end of the world. They can sort of see it. It’s right over the horizon.
[00:12:58] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:12:58] I don’t think that you could be hyperbolic about climate change.
[00:12:58] Alex Smith: [00:12:58] Yeah and they have a very well-developed sense of dark humor.
[00:13:05] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:13:05] How so?
[00:13:07]Alex Smith: [00:13:07] I mean they have to live with this knowledge that if we don’t do something soon, there’s really no going back and they have to find some way to make it through the mundane aspects of everyday life with this sort of knowledge in the back of their head that there might not even be a future for them so they try to deal with it the best way that they can. They try to laugh about it and joke about it and lighten it up a little bit.
[00:13:37] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:13:37] Can you think of examples?
[00:13:40] Alex Smith: [00:13:40] I mean the constantly jokingly wishing for death.
[00:13:53] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:13:53] Oh I see. I was like oh, maybe they joke about being professional stilt walkers so they can wade through the rising tides.
[00:13:58] Alex Smith: [00:13:58] Oh no, it’s dark.
[00:14:00] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:14:00] Okay.
[00:14:01] Alex Smith: [00:14:01] It’s 100% dark.
[00:14:04] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:14:04] Travel time also provided opportunities to get to see a different side of the senator, one where he splits a brisket sandwich as an appetizer in the Houston airport with none other than fellow Vermonter and ice cream king Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s.
[00:14:20] Well, Bernie really doesn’t like talking about stuff like this. And I understand why. In a world where so little bandwidth is dedicated to the issues that matter, yeah, it’s kind of a waste of time to talk about things like his dietary preferences. But also, what kind of reporter would I be if I didn’t try to relay some of the humanizing details that I so enjoyed?
[00:14:47] Like that Bernie isn’t a huge fan of turmeric, at least as an additive to a pressed carrot juice drink. Or how tickled he was when Ben jokes that Ben’s ice cream and the weight gain it can provoke paved the way to Medicare for all.
[00:15:04] I was able to follow up with Ben about more substantive matters though. After he introduced Bernie at the Fort Worth rally on Thursday.
[00:15:11] How does it feel to be up there and how does it feel to be advocating for these kind of policies personally?
[00:15:17] Ben Cohen: [00:15:17] The amazing thing about being at a rally for Bernie is that people come to the rally because they love Bernie and they’re just primed to cheer and applaud when you talk.
[00:15:35] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:15:35] Give yourself some credit, maybe you just-
[00:15:37] Ben Cohen: [00:15:37] I get up there, you say a couple sentences and everybody’s cheering and applauding. It’s a really good feeling. I mean, I know it’s all for Bernie, which is totally fine with me. How does it feel? I’ve been thinking about this. How does it feel, because it’s kind of a yank. You know to get on the plane at six in the morning, have the plane canceled, come out here, you do your events. It’s over at 9:30, you get to your next gig at 11:00 at night. You go to sleep, you wake up. You do the next event.
[00:16:12] I mean there’s nice things about it, but it takes a lot out of your life and this is what I want to do with my life. I think the best thing I can do to work for social, economic, and racial justice, which is what motivates me, what’s in my heart, is to get Bernie elected. So, I want to do anything I can.
[00:16:37] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:16:37] Ben was great, and because I’m always looking out for you guys, I did ask him the one question I think the masses are clamoring to know.
[00:16:46] Bernie is not a huge fan of these kind of frivolous things, but I got to do this for the listeners. I got to ask you, favorite flavor.
[00:16:56] Ben Cohen: [00:16:56] You want the short answer or the long answer?
[00:16:58] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:16:58] The long answer was a little too long for this podcast, so maybe we’ll release the full interview as bonus content. The short answer, Chubby Hubby.
[00:17:14] But honestly, ice cream origin stories, big crowds, and soaring speeches aside, one of the highlights of Bernie’s past few weeks was a poverty round table hosted by Sanders in Greenville, South Carolina and attended by Cornell West, actor and activist Danny Glover, Kerri Evelyn Harris, a progressive who ran for Senate in Delaware last fall, and several other compelling local leaders.
[00:17:38] The event wasn’t just special because of the amazing panel assembled, but because, as Sanders noted, it was an opportunity to discuss issues that far too often go ignored.
[00:17:50] Bernie Sanders: [00:17:50] So what we do not talk about in Congress and what the media doesn’t talk about terribly much is there are a whole lot of people in this country who are living paycheck to paycheck, scared to death that if their car breaks down or their kid gets sick, their whole life is in turmoil. Well the time is long overdue when in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we started talking about that issue.
[00:18:21] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:18:21] Cornell West, one of America’s foremost public intellectuals, opens by echoing a theme often articulated by supporters of Senator Sanders. One familiar to those of you who heard last week’s podcast. It’s that beyond articulating support for the issues, politicians seeking elected office should demonstrate commitment to those issues. In short, a candidate’s history matters.
[00:18:47] Cornell West: [00:18:47] Oh yes. It’s a wonderful thing to have a politician in high places who’s still on fire for justice. Who still has a fundamental commitment to poor and working people not because it’s fashionable and faddish, but because that’s the kind of human being he chooses to be. To be committed to integrity, honesty, decency, and generosity.
[00:19:13] So when we talk about poverty, when we talk about wealth, we have to first acknowledge the centrality of the moral and the spiritual. And what I mean by that is we have to fundamentally believe that poor brothers and sisters of all colors, genders, regional identities, sexual orientations, religion, have exactly the same value as the well to do. That’s the fundamental moral commitment and the only way you can account for the level of poverty, one out of two black and brown children under six years old living in poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world, the only way you can account for that is a callousness and indifference, not just in high places, but even lukewarmness among the middle classes who are so preoccupied with their individual situation, they’ve lost sight of brothers and sisters who are in hoods and barrios and, white brothers sisters, red brothers sisters on reservations, and then the decrepit school system. And then the indecent housing. And then unemployment. And then mass incarceration. And then the various attacks. And then the spiritual warfare.
[00:20:26] The spiritual warfare which is to convince them that lo and behold, they give up or sell out rather than straighten their backs up and fight for justice. That’s what this campaign is about in general. I know we’re not here to talk primarily about the campaign because I want to salute the working hero action. And they going to interview all the different presidential candidates. That’s fine. But the litmus test is going to be how committed are they in execution, not just pretty words, not just discerning they deepest conviction about what the latest polls say. But I’m talking about who are they really? And who has been consistent. That’s this issue of poverty and wealth as it relates to this election and of course, that’s one of the reasons why I’m with my dear brother Bernie Sanders.
[00:21:17] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:21:17] Having established the stakes at hand and the litmus test for commitment, the panel moved on to drill down on the needs of impoverished communities. This is Traci Fant, a founder of the Kay Young People’s Pantry, which provides clothes, toiletries, home décor, bedding, and other necessities free of charge to those in need.
[00:21:37] Traci Fant: [00:21:37] Being from a place of poverty myself, growing up in Detroit, Michigan, and seeing poverty firsthand, moving to Greenville, South Carolina, and even being in a position now where I can help people understand that poverty is systematic and that we must all work together, now sitting in a room full of people who were involved in a movement from the sixties until now, who understand that the system has not changed so the mindset of the other people must change. Nor that we must as a people be determined enough to take a stand and not look down on those who we view as smaller, or who are lesser than.
[00:22:15] Speaker: [00:22:15] That’s right. That’s right.
[00:22:16] Traci Fant: [00:22:16] But view them as individuals, view them as our fellow man and reach out to them and consistently help them regardless. Being from a place of poverty where I was a mother working minimum wage, raising four small children, knowing that at any moment my power could be disconnected, at any moment we could have no water, at any moment an eviction notice could be put on my door.
[00:22:40] Like I said, I speak from a place of knowledge because I’ve been there before. And I know that now we’re in a generation, we’re in a time where we need people, we need leaders who will stand up for us, for the many who are suffering, and now that I am in a position to be a leader, to be a freedom fighter in this community …
[00:22:59] Speaker: [00:22:59] Yes. Yes.
[00:22:59] Traci Fant: [00:22:59] I stand with Bernie Sanders and the people here on this stage and I say that we must continue to fight. And I appreciate this opportunity.
[00:23:07] Speaker: [00:23:07] Yes. Yes.
[00:23:14] Bernie Sanders: [00:23:14] Before I introduce Jerry Blassingame, I just want to say to Traci, we need millions of people like Traci all over this country, black and white, and Latino, who today are experiencing the poverty and the stress that Traci talked about and to get those people to understand there are reasons for that suffering and that if we can organize together, we can develop policy which alleviates those issues and create a very different kind of country.
[00:23:50] So Traci, thank you for your courage.
[00:23:52] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:23:52] Jerry Blassingame, senior pastor at Soteria Christian Fellowship in Greenville, spoke passionately and from personal experience about the need for criminal justice reform.
[00:24:03] Jerry Blassingame: [00:24:03] So I’m here representing the over 70 million Americans who’ve been impacted by the mass incarceration system, criminal justice system. There are 2.3 million people right now, there are 2.3 million people right now in our jails and prisons.
[00:24:22] Poverty is the root cause of mass incarceration. I was raised in poverty. I was a victim of crime. My mother was murdered when I was five years old. I didn’t even get an opportunity, was growing up with no parents, and so I’m here to help change the system.
[00:24:39] When I was released from prison in 1999 from a 20-year prison sentence, God put something on my heart to start an organization to help those who’ve been impacted by the criminal justice system. Right now, we’ve impacted over 5,000 men and women over the last 20 years who have a criminal background. men and women can come through our program, learn job training skills, financial literacy skills, and we also have a micro enterprise where we tear down old houses and teach guys how to build furniture so that they’re learning a skill.
[00:25:09] And when they leave our program, they’re able to be a productive citizen. Some of them are leaving with college degrees. Some of them are leaving with home ownership. That’s what it’s about. We don’t have to stay in poverty, but it is systemic and we have to change it. And I thank God for this stage and for you. We’re here to change. We’re not going to just talk about it. We’re going to be about it.
[00:25:30] Speaker: [00:25:30] That’s right.
[00:25:30] Jerry Blassingame: [00:25:30] I’m not going to stop until every person with a criminal background gets an opportunity to have a job or an education or a home and every child in America who has a parent incarcerated has a level playing field because I’m tired of seeing the school to prison pipeline. I’m tired of seeing that.
[00:25:51] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:25:51] And Kerri Evelyn Harris compellingly put into words how the minimum wage translates into a poverty wage, explaining exactly how much labor is required to buy simple goods like diapers or the ingredients for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
[00:26:07] Kerri Evelyn Harris: [00:26:07] We are here today because no family should worry about tomorrow. When you are talking about minimum wage, here in this state it’s $7.25. $7.25 to buy an off-brand box of diapers for a child. I know. I have a two-year-old. It will cost you three hours of pay here in this state.
[00:26:27] If you want to simply feed your child a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, to buy the peanut butter, the jelly, and the bread, it’s going to cost you two hours of work. That’s destitute.
[00:26:38] But you have to remember, just recently I was talking to a gentleman, maybe six months ago, who lived in a really affluent neighborhood. And he told me in confidence and said, Kerri, my car was repossessed. See in low income communities, people talk about it because everybody knows we’re going through it. But he lied. He lied to his friends and neighbors and said, oh I sent it to my daughter who’s in college.
[00:27:01] But when four out of five Americans are suffering and living paycheck to paycheck, I guarantee you he’s not the only one in the neighborhood that is feeling that way. And until we are open and honest about our experiences, the power structure that is holding us back will continue to remain in power and have us pointing fingers at each other and as a result, we will never rise out of what is the new poverty level.
[00:27:22] And that is why we’re having this forum. That is why we’re inviting candidates and we are telling you, like Dr. West down there said, we urge you to look with a fine-tooth comb at every candidate’s past. Are they just jumping on the bandwagon because it’s the new thing that polls well or have they continuously fought on the right side of justice every time? Even when it wasn’t the thing to do.
[00:27:50] The only way we rise out of poverty and move from just surviving to thriving is by realizing we are brothers and sisters in this fight, and realizing that even when there is, you happen to be in that one in five who is making it, if you’re in this room, you’re our ally. Let’s voice it. Let’s people know they’re not alone and let’s do this together.
[00:28:11] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:28:11] Powerfully, this panel conveyed the extent to which poverty, criminal justice issues, housing issues, the fight for 15, all of these things are inextricably linked. As Danny Glover explained, this is what intersectionality looks like.
[00:28:27] Danny Glover: [00:28:27] The issues affect us here that affect you right here and us in a nation of the same issues and the intersectionality between those issues is important to understand here. Whether it’s racism, whether it’s poverty, whether it is mass incarceration, all of those are central issues that we have to attack together.
[00:28:49] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:28:49] But as is often the case with these types of events, things really took off at the urging of questions from the crowd. Like this one from a local reverend who knows firsthand how much incredible work the community in Greenville is doing to address poverty, but who also understands how those efforts must be accompanied by larger scale structural changes.
[00:29:10] Speaker: [00:29:10] Here we do a soup kitchen. Here we do affordable housing. Here we incubate businesses. Those are the things that we do to try and impact poverty, along with the things that the people that the panel does to impact poverty, and at the end of the day, we stand here and it’s not enough. It is not enough.
[00:29:36] In Greenville, you have to make $60,000 in order to live within the city of Greenville and live in a house that’s affordable. So, my question is this Senator. What is your strategy, and you’ve heard this question before, what is your strategy to redistribute the wealth to where it impacts at a significant level to change the lives of the people that I come in contact with every single Saturday and every single day in the ministry that we do here at ATC?
[00:30:23] Bernie Sanders: [00:30:23] Well you know Reverend, when you ask a question which includes the phrase redistribute the wealth, I think many of my political friends will get very nervous. Not me. And I’ll tell you why. For the last forty years in this country as you well know, there has been a massive redistribution of wealth in the United States. Problem is it’s gone in the wrong direction. It’s gone from working families to the top 1%.
[00:31:02] Roughly speaking, if we had the same distribution of wealth in America today as we had 40 years ago, the average family would have something like $10,000 more a year in income. But what’s happened is the very, very rich have gotten phenomenally richer, middle class has shrunk, and you got 40 million people living in poverty. That’s where we are. So, what do we do?
[00:31:28] Number one, you ready for a very radical proposal?
[00:31:33] Crowd: [00:31:33] Yeah.
[00:31:33] Bernie Sanders: [00:31:33] Actually, not so radical, but how about if in America you work 40 hours a week, you don’t live in poverty?
[00:31:47] Four years ago when I talked about raising the minimum wage to a living wage, 15 bucks an hour, it was considered to be a radical idea, not anymore. Six states have already passed that legislation.
[00:32:05] Want to deal with distribution of wealth and decency for working people? How about the United States joining every other major country on Earth and guaranteeing healthcare to all people as a right through a Medicare for all single payer program?
[00:32:23] Want to talk about poverty and opportunity? How about doing what many other countries around the rest of the world do? And that is making public colleges and universities tuition free?
[00:32:42] How about substantially lowering student debt for working families? How about creating up to 15 million jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure? And by the way, when I talk about infrastructure, we’re talking about building affordable housing. And how about doing something that the president of the United States exists. And that is to understand that climate change is caused by human activity, it is a threat to our country and the entire planet, and that we can create millions of jobs by transforming our energy system.
[00:33:30] And last, but not least. In order to pay for some of these programs, how about instead of giving tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations, demanding that the very wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes?
[00:33:47] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:33:47] Dr. West really brought this point home in his closing remarks.
[00:33:50] Cornell West: [00:33:50] I would say to my brothers and sisters of all colors here in this magnificent state of South Carolina, I challenge you. Can you meet the standards of the great ones who have already come out of this state? Do you really know who Robert Smalls was? The creator of the first public school system in the whole nation.
[00:34:18] Speaker: [00:34:18] Right here.
[00:34:19] Cornell West: [00:34:19] Because he had an understanding of greatness. Somewhere he read he or she is greatest among you will be your servant, but focus on the least of these, but focus on those catching hell.
[00:34:31] Do you really know who Marian Wright Edelman is, South Carolina? The great, prophetic voice building on the legacy of Fanny Lou Hamer and Ella Baker and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, still strong at 79 years old in a city that used to be chocolate called Washington, D.C.
[00:34:57] Do you really know who Jesse Jackson is?
[00:35:01] Crowd: [00:35:01] Yes.
[00:35:01] Cornell West: [00:35:01] From this town. That this magnificent vanilla brother named Bernie Sanders stood with a chocolate brother named Jesse Jackson in 1988 and said, we need to talk about poverty, we need to talk about wealth, we need to bring all of us together no matter what color because we have a commitment to integrity and principle and we’re concerned about the least of these, but you have to have courage.
[00:35:32] We’ve been living in an age for 40 years with too many folks are still scared and intimidated, walking around laughing when it ain’t funny and smiling … You’ve got to straighten your backs up. You’ve got to call in to question some of your milquetoast centrist leadership who’s not telling the truth and say we have voices too. We’re concerned about something too and if you really have that kind of care, you really have that kind of concern, then you have courage, then you have a moral consistency, what I love about this brother is not that he’s a god, not that he’s a deity, he’s a human being trying to be morally consistent and bear witness in such a way that he can bring us together and change this nation. That’s what we’re talking about.
[00:36:25] That’s brother Bernie Sanders we’re talking about. That’s brother Bernie Sanders we’re talking about.
[00:36:40] Speaker: [00:36:40] So Senator Sanders, you are our last guest.
[00:36:48] Bernie Sanders: [00:36:48] So, you’re asking me to follow that? Thank you very much.
[00:36:55] Speaker: [00:36:55] That’s the company you keep, sir.
[00:37:00] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:37:00] I empathize with Bernie, having to find something to say after brother West brought the house down like that. But I think we should end this podcast with some words from the Senator himself. At the end of the Texas trip, I had a chance to ask Senator Sanders how he’s feeling about the campaign trail. Texas was just the latest stop in a very busy few weeks.
[00:37:21] In early April, Bernie visited the Midwest, where he spoke to labor groups, agricultural groups, and residents from cities suffering from industrial decline, some of whom we featured on the last episode of Hear the Bern.
[00:37:33] Mid-month, Bernie was in South Carolina, where he not only participated in the poverty round table, he picked up endorsements from seven black local lawmakers, including Krystle Simmons, who we interviewed on last week’s episode.
[00:37:47] It would be natural for the road life to be getting to him, but like me, it seems that Senator Sanders is feeding off the energy. I was finally able to get him on tape at a BBQ restaurant called Riscky’s, just a few hours before I headed back to D.C.
[00:38:03] Bernie Sanders: [00:38:03] Well I’m feeling stuffed right now because we just ate a whole lot of spare ribs at this really nice place in Fort Worth, but mostly it is fun, it’s exhilarating because you meet a lot of great people and I think that is the best part of it. You find that there are a whole lot of wonderful, decent human beings in every state in the country.
[00:38:24] We’re sitting in a restaurant; we had a bunch of young kids come up who are participating in a statewide scientific contest and we chatted for a while. Bottom line is, you learn a lot about America and what you learn is mostly good.
[00:38:36] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:38:36] Some people I spoke to after the rally yesterday said that you seem particularly impassioned in that one person said that they’ve seen you speak many, many times at rallies and this was the best he’d ever seen you. Did you feel that yesterday? Was there anything in particular animating that?
[00:38:50] Bernie Sanders: [00:38:50] Obviously, I and every other human being in the world feels differently on any given day. But sometimes you get energy from the crowd that’s in front of you. And it’s a really interesting physiological thing. I think it really is physiological, is that you get inspired by people in front of you and there’s a symbiotic relationship between a speaker and the audience and we had some great people out yesterday.
[00:39:16] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:39:16] Since we’ve been in Texas, the news came out that you’re now leading the polls, this is such a different position than you’ve been in in the past, how does it make you feel?
[00:39:27] Bernie Sanders: [00:39:27] Nervous. Look, polls are going to go up and down and nobody should be cocky because we’re in the lead today. Tomorrow we’ll be in fifth place and so forth. And the point is this is going to be a long campaign to win the democratic primary. It’s going to be a long campaign to defeat Trump.
[00:39:49] We have to be focused on building an unprecedented grass roots movement. We have to be introducing ideas that excite working families all over this country, bring our people together. There’s an incredible amount of work to be done and what I’m most excited about is that at this point we have well over a million volunteers.
[00:40:08] On Saturday, we’re going to be doing I guess over five thousand house parties all over the country in every congressional district, which I think has never happened before and that’s kind of what I’m focusing on.
[00:40:20] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:40:20] I want to know if there’s anything that you want out of this podcast. Or any advice that you have for me in terms of what kind of content and messaging that you want out of this effort.
[00:40:30] Bernie Sanders: [00:40:30] I think the message that has to go out to people is that we have to rethink our role in democracy. And I make this point often, and every Sunday, you’ve got millions of people watching football, Saturday night they’re watching basketball. That’s part of America’s culture and that’s fine. I like football and basketball as well.
[00:40:50] But I think we have to spend more time thinking about politics, thinking about how we engage our coworkers, our family, our friends in the political process. We have one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country on Earth. A lot of young people don’t even register to vote, let alone vote. Many of them don’t understand the relevance of politics in a democratic society. So, we’ve got an enormous amount of work in front of us. And I would hope people, that in this very strange moment in American history with Trump as president, that people rethink their role in democracy and do things that are a little bit uncomfortable.
[00:41:25] Yeah, talk to somebody you don’t usually talk to. Be polite, but talk to them about politics, about the major issues facing this country. If we can get people thinking about the issues, standing up about the issues and fighting back, and win it overwhelmingly. You know what Republican politics is about is about trying to suppress the vote, now being billionaires by elections. And our politics is exactly the opposite. It is bringing more people into the political process and having a political system based on one person, one vote.
[00:41:59] So let’s get to work and let’s do it.
[00:42:01] Briahna Joy Gray: [00:42:01] Well, you heard the man. Let’s do this.
[00:42:11] As always, let us know what you think at [email protected] Or send us a tweet with the hashtag #HearTheBern. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or wherever you’re listening. Transcripts will be up soon.
[00:42:30] Until next week.
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