FORT WAYNE – The fate of American democracy is at stake in coming elections, according to the nations longest-serving independent congressman.
By voting for Republicans, the country risks conversion to an oligarchic form of government run by a handful of large, multinational corporations and billionaires, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont warned Friday at the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center.
Our job is to tell working people that we have got to stand together against the onslaught of big money or there is not going to be a middle class in this country, he said.
Sanders, 70, who typically votes with Democrats, was the featured speaker at an Indiana AFL-CIO lunch held in conjunction with the Democratic Partys state convention at Grand Wayne Center. More than 350 people attended.
Sanders accused Republicans – today a right-wing extremist party – of dividing their political foes over abortion rights, gay marriage and gun ownership rights while diverting attention from growing gaps in wealth and income, the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and efforts to privatize or slash Social Security.
He said workers must fight back in a way that has been true of the labor movement since its inception. That is, we educate and we organize.
Asked to comment about the speech, Indiana Republican Party spokesman Pete Seat said in an email: First it was an evening with Nancy Pelosi and now a weekend with self-described socialist Bernie Sanders. Are these really the folks Indiana Democrats want front-and-center? It was common-sense, taxpayer-focused Republican policies that brought Indiana back after Democrats dug a massive financial and economic hole.
Rep. Pelosi, D-Calif., the House minority leader, spoke May 4 at a state Democratic Party dinner in Indianapolis.
Sanders was elected to the House in 1990 and served eight terms before winning a Senate seat from Vermont in 2006. He said Fridays visit to Fort Wayne was his first speech in Indiana.
His audience – which included members of unions representing machinists, steelworkers, electrical workers, mail carriers and other jobs – gave Sanders several standing ovations during his remarks. His voice booming, Sanders weighed in on:
Free-trade agreements: What is the economic future of a nation when you go shopping and virtually every product that you buy is made in China? There is not a strong economic future for that nation.
The Supreme Court ruling that extends free-speech rights to companies and unions so they can spend unlimited amounts of money on elections: There are about five people in America who think a corporation is a person. Unfortunately, they are all on the Supreme Court.
Wall Street banks that were deregulated but received a $700 billion bailout from taxpayers in 2008: We hate government, but please, can we get a little welfare from the middle class of this country.
After his speech, Sanders signed autographs and posed for photographs with audience members.
Awesome, huh? He was inspiring, said Debbie Odier of St. Joe, the wife of state legislative candidate Charles Odier.