PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday September 28th, 2015, 4:20pm

Bernie Sanders Hits Chicago, Energizes Young Supporters At U Of C Event

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was in Chicago Monday to speak at an event hosted by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the U.S. senator's speech.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke before an energized crowd of mostly college students at an at-capacity University of Chicago event on Monday, where he discussed a range of progressive issues and reiterated his call for a "political revolution" in the country.

The Independent senator from Vermont addressed a crowd of approximately 1,400 at the hourlong event, hosted by the U of C's Institute of Politics. Sanders spoke at the Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave., the same building in which he graduated from U of C with a political science degree back in 1964.

Sanders, who said he learned "about Democratic socialism" as a U of C student, touched on the progress that has been made toward "making our country a less discriminatory society" since he graduated from the university.

Speaking about the election of President Barack Obama, for example, Sanders said, "Nobody in that room in 1964 would have thought that was possible, but it happened and we should be proud of it."

"It is not Barack Obama," he added. "It is the fact that the American people reached the maturity of saying that we're gonna vote for the best candidate, not just a white candidate."

Still, many challenges face the country, Sanders said before urging the college students to "join us in the fight to make America the kind of country it must become."

"Change never takes place from the top down, it always takes place from the bottom on up," he stressed.

Sanders went on to discuss familiar themes of his campaign, including his support for combating income inequality, tackling climate change, reforming the criminal justice system and getting big money out of elections, among other issues.

"We need an economy that works for all people, not just the 1 percent," Sanders said to roaring applause.

On the issue of campaign finance, Sanders blasted the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, saying that they are "spending $900 million in this election cycle," which he said represents more money being spent this election by either the Democratic or Republican parties.

"When you have one family, an extreme right-wing family, that spends more money than either of the two major political parties, my friends, you are not looking at Democracy, you are looking at oligarchy, and we have got to change that," he said.

If elected, Sanders said no U.S. Supreme Court nominee of his "will get that job unless he or she is loud and clear that one of their first orders of business will be to overturn Citizens United," which is the landmark Supreme Court ruling that gave rise to Super PACs and a tide of big money from mega-donors in recent elections.

Sanders stressed the importance of creating "a vibrant Democracy" in which elections are publicly funded. 

"If any of you are interested in government and interested in running for office ... I want you to be able to run for office without begging millionaires for campaign contributions," Sanders told the crowd. "And that is why I strongly believe in public funding of elections." 

Sanders further called for a national paid family and medical leave standard and said people who make more than $250,000 should pay more into Social Security so that benefits for seniors and people with disabilities can be expanded.

Regarding climate change, Sanders said the environmental impact of the phenomenon is already being felt across the country and globe, adding that things are only going to get worse "if we do not get our act together" on the issue. 

"We can do this. We can combat climate change effectively. What we are lacking now is not the brain power, not the knowledge, not the technology. What we are lacking is the political will power, and we need your help by the millions to tell Congress to stop worrying about their fossil fuel contributors to their campaigns and worry about their kids and their grandchildren."

During questions and answers, Sanders was asked how he would implement the various policies has has proposed, given the political gridlock in Congress.

"If you follow my campaign, this is what we are talking about. What I have said over and over again, I repeat to you: No president, not the best intentioned in the world, ... can implement the changes we need in this country without a political revolution," Sanders said, adding that if there "are three million people in this country who demand that we act boldly on climate change, we will get action."

Sanders spoke as part of the IOP's "Road to 2016" series. The institute is providing equal opportunity for all presidential candidates to participate in the series.

Today was Sanders' second presidential campaign event in Chicago thus far. He last visited Chicago in August for a fundraiser.

Hundreds of people lined up outside the chapel before today's event. Some who were unable to request a free ticket in time sat outside the building's doors to try to hear the Democratic presidential hopeful's speech.

Sanders, who launched his presidential campaign in May and was immediately declared by political pundits to be a long-shot candidate, has been gaining ground on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

In a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Clinton leads Sanders by 15 points, 53 percent to 38 percent. By comparison, Clinton had a 34-point advantage over Sanders back in July.

With Vice President Joe Biden in the race, Clinton's lead over Sanders shrinks to 7 points, the poll conducted September 20 through September 24 shows. In that scenario, Clinton garners 42 percent of Democratic voters' support to Sanders' 35 percent.

Recent polls have also showed Sanders ahead of Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire. A CBS News/YouGov poll released on September 13 showed Sanders polling at 43 percent among likely Democratic caucus voters in Iowa, compared to Clinton's 33 percent. In that same poll, Sanders had a 22-point lead over Clinton among likely Democratic caucus voters in New Hampshire, at 52 percent and 30 percent. 

And a NBC News/Marist poll released on September 6 had Sanders polling at 49 percent in New Hampshire to Clinton's 38 percent, with Biden not in the race. Even with Biden in the race, Sanders had a 9-point lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, at 41 percent to 32 percent. In Iowa, the NBC News/Marist poll showed Clinton ahead of Sanders, 38 percent to 27 percent. Clinton's lead over Sanders in Iowa has narrowed since the July NBC News/Marist survey, in which she was polling at 49 percent to Sanders' 25 percent. 

Among those who attended today's event was U of C graduate student Henry Stone, 22, who is studying public policy.

Stone said he has struggled to decide whether he will support Clinton or Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary. Today's event with Sanders "actually might tip me over the edge," he said, adding that he particularly liked the senator's position on criminal justice reform.

"I think reforming the criminal justice system is incredibly important for both economic stimulus, fairness and just generally moving forward as a properly Democratic and equal nation," he told Progress Illinois.

Top image courtesy of University of Chicago Institute of Politics.

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