Presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, returned to the campaign trail in Michigan on Saturday, pitching himself as an alternative to President Donald Trump in 2020. Sanders spoke to more than a thousand people at a rally at Macomb Community College in Warren, criticizing the Trump administration while calling for universal healthcare and economic policy to confront stagnating wages and declining mobility.
His campaign stop in Michigan was part of a tour of Midwestern states that voted for Trump in 2016, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Sanders said he intended to build on his victory in Michigan’s Democratic primary in 2016, when he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the surprise of pollsters and pundits.
“Those ideas that we talked about four years ago that seemed so radical at that time, well, today virtually all of those ideas are supported by a majority of the American people, and they are the ideas that Democratic candidates from school board to president are now supporting,” Sanders said. “You should be enormously proud that we have come a long way in transforming American politics over the last four years.”
Sanders also highlighted the problem of “downward mobility” in standards of living for younger generations, saying getting an education at public colleges and universities should be free.
“Today, we say to our young people that we want you to have the best education possible, that the world has changed in 50 years, that if you want to make it in the middle class, many of you need a higher education and many of you are going to need the technical training that is necessary for the building trades,” Sander said. “People should not be punished for the crime of trying to get a decent education. If we can create a tax system that allows Amazon and other major corporations to pay zero in federal income taxes, we can create a tax system which will cover substantial reductions in student debt.”
Craig Regester, University of Michigan Residential College adjunct lecturer and associate director of Semester in Detroit, was the first speaker. Regester noted his membership in the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, a union of non-tenure track faculty at the University, and said other members of the organization are also present in support of Sanders.
Sanders has garnered support for his pro-union voting record, with his own staff forming the first ever presidential campaign union. Regester said this, and his opposition to the “top 1 percent,” another one of Sanders’s main platform points, make him the best choice for president.
“We have to fight like hell over these next 18 months,” Regester said. “No billionaire will ever be able to beat us again.”
Regester said after 54 percent of Macomb county voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, there are many questions from people in the area about the party and its values. He said the party needs to return to supporting the working class to win.
Abdul El-Sayed, a University alum and former gubernatorial candidate, took the stage as the final speaker to mass applause. El-Sayed said no matter who he was talking to while touring the state during his campaign, people were asking the same questions about the state.
He talked about what it means to be a perfect union, and said this would include people standing up for climate action, fair wages and gender equality. El-Sayed said this election is about building a “more perfect” America for future generations and no one understands the people like Sanders.
“We are here today because we are united by a man,” El-Sayed said. “That man has been saying the same thing since as long as we can remember. He’s been talking about why it is that we have to stand up against the corporations and we’ve got to stand for Medicare for all. He’s been talking about the imminent threat of climate change, he’s been talking about the fact that we’ve got to stand up to the corporate kleptocracy.”
Sanders spent the first half of the rally criticizing the Trump administration, calling the president a “pathological liar” and saying many people — regardless of political affiliation — feel embarrassed to have him in office. Sanders specifically condemned Trump’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his work to repeal it, calling it an attack on working families and women.
LSA sophomore Kate Nachazel, the vice president of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, declined to comment on Sanders’s criticism of Trump, but noted the stark difference between the economic policies proposed by the two.
“The core economic platform of Bernie Sanders is virtually antithetical to the economic platform of President Trump,” Nechazal said. “However, the focus on working class citizens may be a crossover. I think that if people voted for President Trump in 2016 because of his economic policies, they will most likely not vote for Bernie Sanders in 2020.”
Nechazal said Michigan will play an important role in upcoming presidential election.
“As seen in the 2016 election, Michigan was a swing state with close margins,” Nechazal said. “However, we just elected a Democratic governor. Therefore, I think we are going to see that Michigan will receive a lot of attention from both sides in 2020.”
Presidential hopefuls Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, also visited the state in March. Gillibrand taped a town hall with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes in Auburn Hills and made an appearance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a rally in Clawson. O’Rourke also made two campaign stops in metro Detroit the same day in Ferndale and Center Line.
LSA sophomore Camille Mancuso, communications chair of the University’s chapter of the College Democrats, said the attention from presidential candidates was evidence that Michigan would be a key state during campaign season.
“Senator Sanders’s, as well as other primary candidates’ decisions to come and campaign in Michigan, proves that this state will be crucial to victory in 2020,” Mancuso said. “We look forward to hosting events with all of the primary candidates, and hope the student body educates themselves and votes for whichever candidate best reflects their values.”
At multiple points during his speech, Sanders discussed the theme of justice. Part of achieving justice, he said, means dismantling institutional racism, facing climate changing, increasing the minimum wage, making voting accessible, mitigating unequal wealth distribution and overturning Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.
Oakland University student Rachel Basela said she attended the event because she was inspired by his 2016 campaign and rhetoric.
“Bernie cares about people more than other politicians do,” Basela said. “He has one of those spirits that a politician needs to have to lead a nation. Not something that is based on bigotry to racism or oppression, about inclusiveness and helping people.”
Sanders said in 2016 his campaign platform was considered radical, but has become the norm for Democrats since. Now, he said his and attendees’ job is to finish what they have started.
“We got a lot of work in front of us,” Sanders said. “We are not just taking on Trump and the Republicans, we’re taking on parts of the Democratic establishment, we’re taking on corporate America, we’re taking on Wall Street, we’re taking on the drug companies, we’re taking on the insurance companies — we’re taking ‘em all on.”