At a place famous for its raucous crowds, Bernie Sanders brought the house down with a fiery speech Tuesday night at Penn State University.
Penn State’s main campus seemed the perfect setting for Sanders, hoping to capitalize on recent momentum by visiting the largest university in the state. Sanders is looking for a Michigan-esque upset in the Keystone State and will need the full support of young voters to pull it off.
After hours of a well-curated playlist to pump up the crowd – which featured “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young, “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps, “We Take Care of Our Own” by Bruce Springsteen, “Uprising” by Muse, “Revolution” by Flogging Molly and “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, among others – Sanders took to the podium on the university’s volleyball court to kick off the rally, which even had a Jerry Garcia look-alike.
“It looks like Penn State is ready for a political revolution,” Sanders began, having raced to the university after a campaign stop in Erie earlier on Tuesday.
The Vermont Senator came out swinging against his challenger for the nomination, “secretly” telling the 6,655-strong crowd “Secretary Clinton is getting a little bit nervous.”
“This is the campaign that has the energy, that has the enthusiasm, and that in November will create the kind of voter turnout that will not only allow us to retain the White House, but will regain the U.S. Senate, will do better in the House,” Sanders said.
Heading into the speech, Sanders had won 7 of the last 8 contests, and he was hoping to put even more pressure on the Democratic frontrunner by winning her adopted home-state (and the state where he was born.)
“You know what, we’re going to do a lot better than people thought we would,” Sanders said with several hours left to vote in the NY primary. Once the dust had settled, Clinton took New York by 15 points.
Sanders had no trouble tailoring his speech to reach a much younger audience. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any tailoring at all.
At times, Sanders stuck to his tried-and-true campaign lines, hitting Clinton on her $200K+ Wall Street speaking fees and “releasing” all of the transcripts for the speeches he has(n’t) given to the financial industry.
“If you’re going to get paid $225,000 for a speech, must be a pretty good speech,” Sanders said. “Must be an earth-shattering speech. Must be a speech that sheds brand new light on the global crises that we face. Must be a speech written in Shakespearean prose.”
Sanders said he didn’t need $200,000 or even $2, but he did want to speak to Wall Street.
“It is important for somebody to tell Wall Street that their greed, their recklessness and their illegal behavior seriously hurt the lives of millions of our fellow Americans,” Sanders said, emphasizing that many have yet to recover from the Great Recession.
Sanders said his campaign is about telling the truth, challenging the status quo and taking back the country from the millionaires and billionaires who have rigged the economy.
Using the richest family in the country as an example, the Waltons, Sanders laid into the “grotesque levels of income inequality” that have characterized the last decade.
The wages that the Waltons pay their Wal-Mart employees are so low that many of them require food stamps and Medicaid, Sanders said.
“Who pays for those food stamps and Medicaid for Wal-Mart employees? You do,” Sanders said. “That’s what a rigged economy is about. You are subsidizing the wealthiest family in America. That is absurd. So I say to the Walton family: Get off of welfare. Start paying your employees a living wage.”
Sanders also spoke about the country’s “broken” criminal justice system, which currently holds 2.2 million people behind bars and spends $80 billion locking them up.
Local police departments must reflect the communities they serve, and need to be demilitarized to stop looking like occupying armies, Sanders said, while calling for an end to corporate prisons and detention centers.
“Our job is to make certain that for our young people we’re going to invest in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration,” Sanders roared.
Sanders told the crowd that police officers must understand lethal force is the last option and urged a rethink on the War on Drugs. Sanders said he would take marijuana off the Federal Controlled Substance list, as it has left millions of Americans, disproportionately African-Americans, with a permanent criminal record.
Marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 controlled substance, alongside heroin and opiates which have had a devastating impact on PA and states across the country in the last few years.
“If we’re going to be successful in addressing this issue we need to understand that substance abuse and addiction is a health issue not a criminal issue,” Sanders said.
Surprisingly, Sanders’ calls for a tuition-free public education to include colleges and universities didn’t get the largest roar of the night, though the college crowd was definitely feeling the Bern.
“Why are we punishing millions of young people for doing exactly what we asked them to do?” Sanders asked. “We should be rewarding people for getting an education, not punishing them.”
Sanders called education “inherent in who we are as human beings” and pushed people to pursue an education until the day they die.
“It is literally insane to be punishing millions of people, saying to them ‘you’re going to be paying off your student debt for decades because you got an education.’”
Sanders urged Pennsylvanians to get out and vote on Tuesday in an “enormously important” Democratic primary, telling the crowd he has learned that he wins when voter turnout is high and loses when it is low.
“The only way we go forward and rebuild America and create the economy that works for all of us, the environment that work for all of us, is when millions of people stand up and say loudly and clearly: Enough. Is. Enough.” Sanders said. “Next Tuesday, let us have the highest voter turnout in Pennsylvania history, and let Pennsylvania go forward and tell the world you are going to lead this country into a political revolution.”