Ep. 21: Best of Bernie: Winning the Class War | Green New Deal | Justice for All

Ep. 21: Best of Bernie: Winning the Class War | Green New Deal | Justice for All

From California to Florida, Bernie is crisscrossing the country, learning about the myriad problems Americans face, and laying out his vision for a better future.

On this episode, we catch up with some of his greatest hits of recent weeks, as well as hear from everyday Americans for whom climate change, affordable housing, good-paying jobs, criminal justice, and so many other issues are not "an intellectual exercise," as Bernie puts it.


Briahna Joy Gray: Hi, everyone. Briahna here. I wanted to let you know that we’re switching things up a bit with our release schedule. Instead of our traditional episode, this week, we’re releasing some of Bernie’s greatest hits from the last few weeks, which has seen Bernie introduce plan after plan of the most ambitious, progressive, and desperately needed policies in the history of presidential politics.

We’ve seen Bernie’s Green New Deal for combating the climate crisis, an existential threat to all life on this planet, but the ongoing burning of the Amazon will only exacerbate. We’ve seen Bernie’s workplace democracy plan, which would double union membership. And after 40 years of eroding conditions and rights, put the government back in the ring on behalf of workers and we’ve seen Bernie’s criminal justice plan, dubbed Justice and Safety for All, which among many other things will end cash bail, legalize marijuana, ban private for-profit prisons and make it easier to prosecute abuses by the police.

We’re also including some truly compelling stories that supporters shared at town halls and rallies. We’ll be releasing episodes like this every other week, alternating with our traditional episodes. I hope this gives you a taste of what it’s like to tag along as Bernie crisscrosses this country and continues to change the terms of the debate. And of course, be sure to tune in next week for our full episode exploring Bernie’s criminal justice plan, which like so many of the campaign’s ideas would be a game changer. 

Bernie Sanders: We have just introduced the strongest pro-union platform in the history of American politics. And the reason that we have introduced that very strong pro-union platform is that for 45 years there has been a war in this country, waged by the corporate elite against the working class of America. And the truth of the matter not talked about in Congress, not talked about in the media, is that as a result of that war against working class by the corporate elite, what we have seen is the decimation of working families all across this country while the wealthiest people and largest corporations have done phenomenally well.

Now, if there is going to be class warfare in this country, it’s time that the working class of this country won that war and not just the corporate elite. What you know and what I know is that the only way we rebuild the crumbling middle-class, the only way we provide dignity and security for tens of millions of workers is when we rebuild the trade union movement in this country.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Bernie understands that there is a direct correlation between low levels of union participation in this country and high inequality. Union members earn on average 20% more than non-union employees and that union premium is even higher for women and people of color. Unionized workers enjoy better benefits and they have more power to push back if they’re being mistreated by their employer. That’s why union membership isn’t just about economic rights. It’s a civil rights issue. 

For that reason, Bernie Sanders has introduced the Workplace Democracy Act. With this plan, we are going to double union membership. How? Well for one, he’s streamlining the process of joining a union. Under Bernie’s plan, if 50% of the workplace plus one signs a union authorization card, you get a union. It’s just a one step process. Moreover, the Workplace Democracy Act gets rid of the incentive for employers to bust up unions. A full 92% of private sector employers force workers to attend closed door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda.

80% requires supervisors to attend training sessions on attacking unions. A worker who starts to try to organize their coworkers has a one in five chance of being fired. All of this is illegal, but it happens because employers don’t want to be at a competitive disadvantage compared to others in their sector who are paying their non-unionized workers lower salaries and fewer benefits. But Bernie’s plan gets around all that by proposing a system whereby workers organize by industry or sector, not firm by firm. This way, one restaurant chain or steel company or clothing franchise won’t be competing against others. 

This is how it’s done in many European countries, where there is significantly higher union membership and yes, higher equality. 

The workplace Democracy Act means your employer will have to show just cause, like actual misconduct, to fire you. This will help protect us against discrimination due to age, race, gender, sexual orientation or physical ability. Under a Bernie Sanders presidency if your company is bought by another, the new company will have to honor the union agreement you worked hard to secure and if you’ve listened to episode 10 of Hear the Bern on which we discuss unions, you know this is a big, big deal. Huge. 

Next up we hear from Julia, who told Bernie at a town hall in Vista, California, that you have to work 40 to 50 hours a week while attending school, just to make ends meet. Even then, she sometimes overdraws her account.

Julia:  Good afternoon. I am a college student, and to me a low wage means I have to work 40 plus hours, sometimes 50 in order to make ends meet and sometimes even then I can’t really afford to pay all my expenses. Medical bills, help my mom out with the living wages. We live in a two bedroom, but I mean it’s four of us and sometimes we can barely make ends meet and I have to overdraft my bank account at some points just to pay my bills on time if that is even the scenario.

Bernie Sanders:  Are you going to school now?

Julia:  Yes, I am.

Bernie Sanders:  All right. Did I hear you correctly say that you’re working 40 hours a week while you’re going to school?

Julia:  Yes.

Bernie Sanders:  Well, let me I mean. Okay. Your first name is?

Julia:  Julia.

Bernie Sanders:  Julia?

Julia:  Yes.

Bernie Sanders:  All right, Julia, stay there Julia, all right. Julia touches on an issue we don’t talk enough about. We say we want our young people like Julia to get the best education they can. I don’t know, and Julia, you’ll tell me, how do you do your studies if you’re working 40 hours a week to bring in the money that your family needs? Does it impact your ability to learn?

Julia:  Yes, it does a lot. I sleep three, two hours. Sometimes I have to drive my whole family around to their jobs and my job and school and sometimes like it’s either you sleep where you don’t sleep. It’s just one of those things that I have become accustomed to and it, it’s painful because I work hard so my siblings don’t have to put in that much work themselves, so they don’t have to suffer what I’m going through right now. 

Bernie Sanders:  Okay. Thank you so much Julia. So, everybody heard what Julia said? It’s a young woman who’s trying to do the right thing, she’s going to school and while she’s going to school, she’s working 40 hours a week. I think that in the wealthiest country on earth, when our kids go to school, they should be able to focus on their studies and not have to work 40 hours a week.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Bernie’s Green New Deal platform runs to 14,000 words or so. So, I thought I might just pop in here to explain what it would do in very broad strokes. First and crucially, Bernie’s plan takes the 2030 deadline set by the IPCC seriously. Last October, the UN Intercontinental Panel on Climate Change issued a report saying that if we are to have a shot at limiting the already sweeping effects of climate change, action on the scale and timeframe of Bernie’s plan is absolutely necessary.

Remember that whenever you hear critics argue that Bernie’s plan is too expensive, too ambitious or too unrealistic. What exactly is their alternative? A carbon tax? Sure. That might work. If it were 1990. Bernie’s plan would transform the United States’ energy grid, investing billions in transitioning to 100% sustainable energy, retrofitting old buildings, modernizing grid infrastructure, and strictly regulating greenhouse gases. The plan also calls for fully electrifying and decarbonizing our transportation sector. Transforming those two sectors, energy and transportation, would on their own reduce US emissions by 71%.

What’s more, Bernie’s plan recognizes that this crisis is global and provides $200 billion to help other countries reduce their emissions. All of this will be paid for by selling energy on the open market, taxing the new green jobs that the plan would create and reducing military expenditures on, for example, protecting oil shipping lanes. As Bernie mentioned when he introduced the plan in Paradise, California, site of the devastating 2018 Camp Fire, he does not shy away from confronting the forces that got us in this mess in the first place. 

Bernie Sanders:  This again is, is kind of radical, but I think we have got to think of these things. We are in… And I mean that. I mean that very seriously, that in this moment of global crisis, we have got to rethink the way we have looked at the world. That’s where we’re at. We are finally going to end the fossil fuel industry’s legal immunity. Now, what does that mean? What does that mean? And this is an important issue. Look, everybody makes mistakes. Everybody in this room has made a mistake. Every doctor has made a mistake. Every engineer, even politicians occasionally make mistakes. But what we have got to look at, if somebody produces a product and it turns out to be a harmful product. And they say, Oh my God, we didn’t know that. That is one thing and that happens all the time.

But when somebody produces a product which they knowingly understand to be harmful, that is a different situation. Today, just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in the last three decades. 100 companies. They have been permitted to walk away from their toxic spills, their abandoned wells and other environmental disasters. Documents have emerged, as many of you know, in court cases that show that the top fossil fuel executives have known for decades that their products were destroying the planet, and they buried those documents in order to continue making as much money as possible.

So, there is a difference between ignorance, just not knowing, and suppressing the truth. Make no mistake about it. What the executives of Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel executives are doing is exactly what the tobacco industry did when it lied about the health risks associated with smoking. Conduct that led to federal racketeering convictions. When I am president, I will appoint an attorney general who will finally hold the executives at the fossil fuel industry accountable for their criminal behavior. 

Further, we will eliminate all of the fossil fuel industry’s tax breaks, of which there are many. Last year, if you can believe it, as a result of Trump’s tax giveaway to the rich, not only did 24 fossil fuel companies throughout the country paying nothing in federal income taxes, they actually received a $2 billion tax refund from the IRS after making 38 billion in profits. So, take a step back, take a step back and think about it. Here you have an industry which every day is helping to destroy our planet. You got many of them not only paying nothing in federal income tax, they have received a $2 billion tax refund from the IRS. 

So, we say to the fossil fuel industry, we will end those tax giveaways and substantially raise taxes on the companies that are creating the climate crisis. And furthermore, we will use that revenue to make massive investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable energy. And by the way, when we do that, we are not just going to meet the recommendation of climate scientists by moving to 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030 and decarbonizing our economy by 2050. We are also going to create some 20 million new good paying jobs.

Chris Hayes:  One part of the plan that I find fascinating, uh, which, which is about how power is generated and distributed. Um, you talk about there’s public, there’s some federal public administration of power in this country based on the Tennessee Valley Authority and others. And basically, you propose essentially a federal takeover of the whole thing that is essentially a Tennessee Valley Authority extension for the whole country. Right. Am I understanding that correctly?

Bernie Sanders:  Yeah. You’re in the ballpark. That’s right. Look, the TVA has done a lot of good work. Uh, it produces electricity from hydropower, uh, and other sources. What we need to do is have an aggressive federal government saying that we are going to produce a massive amount of electricity from solar and from wind and from other sustainable energies. And we will sell it out. And by the way, we’re going to make money doing that, but you can’t nibble around the edges anymore. We need to transform our energy system. That needs a massive increase in sustainable energy.

Briahna Joy Gray:  I want to interrupt Chris’s interview with Bernie to explain what the Tennessee Valley Authority is. The TVA was created in 1933 as part of FDRs New Deal to provide both power and poverty reduction to the Tennessee Valley, one of the regions, worst hit by the Great Depression. The TVA remains a federally owned corporation that provides power to some 10 million people across seven states, a mix of nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydro, wind and solar. The cool thing about the TVA is that it’s completely self-funding and continues to invest heavily in the Tennessee Valley region. So, when Chris draws that comparison, yeah, it’s like that, and it’s awesome. 

Chris Hayes:  So, I think people that watch your program know that I am not exactly deficit hawk. I’m not, I’m not. I, you know, I think America’s a very wealthy country. It can afford a lot of, of, of big investments. But this is really large. I mean, the amount of money we’re talking about, I mean you’re talking about in the plan a replacing every old diesel school bus, which is a really good idea from a climate perspective, replacing old mobile homes in the country, right? It’s big and comprehensive. When people say to you, how do you pay for it? Is this a thing that America can afford? You say what? 

Bernie Sanders:  Well, the first thing is we cannot not afford it. I mean, we all are playing for the future of the planet, so we have got to do it. And second of all, we pay for this in a number of ways and one of the ways we pay for it is as you have just described, a massive federal project that produces sustainable energy is going to make money as well. Furthermore, we do away with the tax breaks and the subsidies that the fossil fuel industry now receives, which in fact is massive. Thirdly, we create 20 million new jobs as we transform our energy system and improve our infrastructure and those are going to be good paying union jobs, and those folks are going to be paying taxes. Fourthly, for a variety of reasons, we’ve got to cut military spending. Fifthly we do away with Trump’s huge tax breaks for the rich.

And sixth, we have a progressive tax system which demands large corporations and the rich start paying their fair share of taxes.

Chris Hayes:  So on the, on the job creation front, that 20 million, the 20 million job number jumped out at me and at first I thought, well this is implausible just even within the plan, but the plan when you’re talking about like replacing every diesel school bus in America, which is what the plan calls for, that’s, that’s a lot of jobs. What is your, to me there’s a, there’s a mismatch between the promises and the reality that that makes these things hard. Right? There are coal workers right now out of work in Wyoming. There are coal workers who are stationed, I think in Harlan County, Kentucky, not getting their pensions, not letting those, that coal move because they’ve been screwed time and time again. What do you say to them when they say, why should I believe that the promise you’re making can be a reality? 

Bernie Sanders:  Well, one of the things that we do when we put many, many tens of billions of dollars into a just transition program, which says to those coal miners and the men and women that work on the oil rigs, you are not our enemy. You’re working to feed your family. I am perhaps the strongest pro union, pro worker member of the Congress. Those people are not my enemy. What is my enemy is climate change, and we have a very, very strong approach to make sure that those workers get trained for new jobs. They get the healthcare that they need, they get the educational opportunities that they need.

But the bottom line of all of this, Chris, is either we believe in what the scientists are telling us all we do not. And if we believe what they are telling us, is that we’ve got fewer than 12 years in order to transform our energy system or else there will be irreparable damage done to our country and the planet. Well, if that is the reality, I happen to believe the scientists that we have to act comprehensively. Last point that I want to make on this, Chris, this is not just an American issue and what is so very dangerous about Trump is that we need a president who is leading the world. That’s hard. That is really hard.

If you think when I’m talking about for our country is difficult, try getting Russia and China or India, all these other countries involved, and what I have been saying, and I know that this is not going to happen tomorrow, but maybe just maybe in the midst of this crisis, maybe the countries of the world wake up and understand that instead of spending a trillion and a half dollars every year on weapons of destruction designed to kill each other, maybe we pool our resources together and we combat our common enemy, which is climate change.

Nina Turner:  They want an America as good as its promise. And not only are you fighting for an America as good as its promise, you are fighting for a world that is as good as its promise. Because climate chaos does not only affect us here in the United States of America. It affects our brothers and sisters all over the world. So, this movement and young folks and seasoned folks, I want you to know that your mission is so high you can’t get over it. And your mission is so low you can’t get under it. And your mission is so wide you can get around it. We continue to stand boldly and push until climate justice is won. Thank you so much.

Briahna Joy Gray:  That was Nina Turner in San Francisco last week, where climate activists from the Sunrise Movement lobbied the DNC to host a climate themed debate. Senator Turner stood with protesters in solidarity, rallying them as few else on earth can. Unfortunately, they were unable to convince the DNC which voted down the climate debate 17 to eight. But undoubtedly, they were heard, and that matters. 

At an affordable housing town hall in Northridge, California, one woman made her voice heard when she told Bernie her story of being foreclosed upon after missing just one payment on a second mortgage.

Speaker:  My husband worked for a defense contractor, IT for almost 20 years, a month shy of 20 years. A management person lost 300 million. They proceeded to lay off 3000 workers, mostly older workers. My husband lost his job. Then he became disabled. We have been in the disability process for two years. We are a week away from losing our home. Um to auction. I’m sorry. I have an MA. I’m working on my PhD. I just got a minimum wage job at Ralph’s, thank the gods, to at least make a little money. I can’t get a job because of my age. I’m 59. We need to address that. Also, I don’t know how many of you people know this cause most of you are renters. 

We were in rent control for 18 years until we saved up to buy a home. A second mortgage can get foreclosed on in the state of California. You can miss one payment of a $900 second mortgage and have your house sold out from underneath you. This is criminal. It should not be allowed. The social security disability system you spend 40 years paying into it, you shouldn’t have to be begging to get help from it. The imbecile who is sitting in the POTUS seat right now wants to cut benefits for SNAP. 

For people like us who are struggling, who worked hard all our lives, and there is no American dream. There is only an American dream for the oligarchy, for the wealthy and the people who have established this income inequality. How many yachts do you need? How many homes do you need? It needs to trickle down.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Did you know that in 2015, Donald Trump very nearly played the president in a third Sharknado movie? True story. He dropped out to run for real life president, and we all know how that went. Now, this broke into the news again lately when it was reported that Trump had raised the idea of nuking hurricanes to prevent them from hitting the US. An idea that bore an eerie resemblance to the plot of Sharknado one. Somehow, and I don’t know how this is possible, it feels like Trump is ramping up his, well, Trumpiness to whole new levels.

Last week he called himself the chosen one and quoted someone describing him as King of Israel. He also suggested that American Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal” to Israel. Bernie unsurprisingly had some words for that.

Donald Trump:  I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty. 

Bernie Sanders:  That if you are Jewish, I gather to be a loyal American you’ve got to vote for Donald Trump and Republicans. Well, let me say this to the president. I am a proud Jewish person, and I have no concerns about voting Democratic. And in fact, I intend to vote for a Jewish man to become the next president of the United States.

Briahna Joy Gray:  Earlier this month, Bernie sat down with Phillip Agnew, co-founder of the Dream Defenders along with a group of young people in Miami for an in-depth conversation about student debt, healthcare and criminal justice reform. Be sure to check out the video we made of the discussion on YouTube. Just search for “Bernie listens.” For this episode, though, we wanted to include a longer portion of the conversation about criminal justice, which as you’ll hear intimately affected the lives of everyone present. It’s meetings like this one that informed Bernie’s Justice and Safety for All plan, which would do things like legalize marijuana, halve the prison population, end the federal death penalty and make it easier to prosecute police misconduct.

Phillip Agnew:  We live in Florida 100% of our juvenile facilities are private. Right. Um, one of the largest prison corporations in the world, Geo Group, is headquartered here in South Florida, just a few miles away. Criminal justice is something in Florida that we, we face every single day. So, what are your thoughts?

Speaker:  Miami has one of the biggest jail systems in the country. I have four cousins that I grew up with incarcerated, one for 20 years, one for three years, one for seven years. One got sentenced three weeks ago for eight years after already doing nine years in prison. So, this affects my life every day. 

Speaker:  Me and all of my friends, it’s probably out of 10 of us, only two have never received an arrest or any charge. 

Bernie Sanders:  Eight have been to jail?

Speaker:  Yes. Misdemeanors. Me included. A misdemeanor weed charge on spring break. That cost, that misdemeanor charge cost me $3,750 just to become a teacher. I had to pay the Florida department of education a fee every month for drug testing. Had to pay a fee for substance abuse counseling-

Phillip Agnew:  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker:  For a misdemeanor of marijuana. 

Phillip Agnew:  Yeah.

Speaker: So, um, I was on that probation for two years to get my full teaching certificate in the state of Florida for a misdemeanor weed charge in college. 

Speaker:  I was a high school teacher in inner city Detroit, and from my classroom to juvenile delinquent facilities or juvenile detention facilities, it was a revolving door. I had a student that walked into my class February, mind you, the school year starts in August, and he said he’d just gotten out of prison. He was in jail because he held up a convenience store because he was so hungry. He had siblings at home, and they didn’t have food, and all he wanted was a bag of chips. And he got sent to, he got sent to prison for that.

Speaker:  All these stories just go to show that our justice system is broken, and it is against black and brown folks. And personally, I’ve had misdemeanors with marijuana, and I’ve had friends that have had all these kinds of misdemeanors, and that doesn’t just affect your life, but it affects, you trying to get an education, you trying to get a job. For me personally, it was affecting my scholarship. I had to go to my counselors and speak to people at FSU and basically explain to them the situation, explain to them what happened. And it was mostly cops at in Tallahassee targeting a certain group or a certain area that they would think that there is going to be more a certain demographic that they could basically take them to jail or write up or give those tickets to. And it stays on your, on your record permanently.

Speaker:  I have a lot of brothers and sisters. I have about 10, and from my dad and then half-brother and my mom mother’s side and he’s the only one that hasn’t been in prison. All of my brothers, including my father had been in jail or prison throughout my life. This past year, I think it was really the first time that I started to think about like who my dad could be if he never been through the system and the things that he could do. Like he’s such a smart man and driven and dedicated, but he cannot participate in our democracy because he can’t vote. Um, he’s not able to get a job and it’s just so sad because I know I cannot, I can’t even fathom the things that he’d been through by being through the system and how much it has put him down and broken him.

It’s so scary because now every time folks share their stories, and I hear this, I think about my nephew who is in middle school in Pompano Beach right now, and he’s not the best behaved. He’s very hyper, very active. He was very sweet and so loving. And I know that this world was not built to have patience for him or to care enough for him to not be a part of the school to prison pipeline. And he’s the reason why I do this work because it’s just so, I’m just so scared honestly about him going through that system and what it’s going to do to him.

Bernie Sanders:  You know, it is just amazing. We got seven people here and uh, every one of you has been personally, your family, impacted by this big time, and your families have been devastated by this criminal justice system. Let me ask you just a dumb and simple question. What do we do? I mean, what is, if you’re president of the United States, what do you do to prevent so many people, often black men, from spending much of their lives behind bars. What would you guys do?

Speaker:  Start building alternatives. So we have less police on the street, meaning funding actual education in these schools with  black and brown students, giving programs that are like art, music, sports and political education so that they could one day build the road to leading, closing down prison doors and making sure police aren’t on the street. The first time I was arrested, I was 11 and then I was arrested seven times more, and I’m 23. Having police not be able to do that. First time I seen someone on the news get shot was down the street from my house. I saw that on the news, and the day that the officers shot the man in north Miami, when he was laid down on the back, I seen all those police officers and I was like, Oh, they shot somebody. 

I know 3000% that they shot somebody because they would not have all those police officers there if anybody was shot. So, get these police officers out of our neighborhoods to not do those things to us. 

Speaker:  You shouldn’t be in jail for any marijuana offense, especially if you can sell it freely from Florida to California almost.

Speaker:  Start with, I think increasing minimum wage so that families can actually afford to survive. I read somewhere that if minimum wage had increased with the cost of living, it’d be $22 an hour.

Bernie Sanders:  I talk about these issues every day, but I don’t talk about them in anywhere near as powerfully as you guys do, because in many ways you’re living these issues. This is not an intellectual exercise, is it. It’s not an abstract idea. You’re seeing this stuff every single day. We change the country when people begin talking about the reality of their lives and not being ashamed to do it. A lot of people don’t want to talk about this, all right? But, well, you have to understand for every person here, there are millions out there who are experiencing exactly the same things that you guys have talked about. And they have to know that they’re not alone, that they’re not the only person who has brothers and sisters who are in jail. Not the only person who can’t afford health care. Not the only person in student debt. Not the only person who may be sleeping out on the streets.

And when people begin to talk about it, then they ask the question, why? Anybody here think it makes sense to give tax breaks to billionaires and cut funding for education or after school programs? Nobody in America does. Very few people in America do. So, the more we talk about it, then we find out that most people actually are in agreement, they want a good educational system. They want healthcare, they want to breathe clean air. But the people who have the power, you know, whether it’s Wall Street or the insurance companies, or the fossil fuel industry, they have a different agenda. And they don’t stay up nights worrying about anybody here. They just worry about what their bottom line is, how much they’re going to make in profit next year.

The only way we take them on is when millions of people stand up, fight back. That’s the history of change in America. So, you guys are part of that. You really are, each and every one of you are part of that effort to educate and organize people and make the change that this country desperately needs. So, I thank you all. Phil, thank you very much for helping to organize this event. Let’s go forward together.

Briahna Joy Gray: That’s it for this week. 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 review or like us on Apple podcasts, SoundCloud, or wherever you’re listening. Transcripts will be up soon. Until next time.