Bernie Sanders advocates higher minimum wage, free college tuition at campus press conference

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Audrey McNamara/Staff

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Speaking with his fists clenched, his finger pointing and his face flushed, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders expounded his progressive platforms — including raising the federal minimum wage and making public colleges tuition-free — at a UC Berkeley press conference Friday afternoon.

The press conference, held at the campus’s Center for Labor Research and Education, came just days before the California primary elections, which will take place June 7. Sanders largely focused on economic issues — a consistent theme throughout his campaign — while also taking time to address climate change, healthcare and social security.

“We (can) pay for every proposal that we have brought forth — rebuilding our infrastructure, making public universities tuition-free and expanding and extending social security,” Sanders said at the press conference. “We are going to transform America, and we are going to address the real issues facing working families.”

Sanders began his statements with a vehement condemnation of the federal minimum wage of just over $7 per hour, calling it a “starving wage.” He then moved into a discussion of the overarching economic trend of the past three decades, which he said has seen the rich become richer as the working class struggles to make ends meet.

“My Republican colleagues are always very concerned about the redistribution of wealth,” Sanders said at the conference. “But the truth is that there has already been a redistribution of wealth, just in the wrong direction — from middle-class Americans to the top one percent.”

Sanders also advocated for tuition-free college and universal healthcare at the event, arguing that many other industrialized countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have similar systems in place already. He repeatedly emphasized the point that “these are not radical policies” — an idea he supported with his belief that a majority of Americans support his progressive reforms — and said he would pay for his tuition plan specifically by taxing Wall Street speculation.

Courtney Brousseau, a former Cal Berkeley Democrats board member, said he cast his first ever vote for Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ primary opponent. Brousseau added that Clinton’s wealth of experience, broader range of platforms and more realistic policy stances help explain her lead over Sanders in the Democratic race.

“Ideally, we would have some of the things that Sanders is proposing,” Brousseau said. “But I don’t see them actually happening or even coming close to happening in the current political climate.”

Sanders was introduced by Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley professor of public policy and a former U.S. secretary of labor who endorsed the Democratic presidential hopeful in February.

“The senator’s policies are necessary to deal with the widening gap between typical workers and those at the top,” Reich said at the press conference. “There’s a new class of people today called the ‘working poor’ — that should be an oxymoron. Senator Sanders has the vision to help those people get out of poverty.”

According to Reich, economists generally cite globalization and technological advancement as the two primary factors responsible for the increasing wealth inequality in America. Reich added, however, that a “third factor” — the growing influence of the super-rich in the nation’s politics — plays an undeniable role in creating policies that disproportionately benefit the highest earners.

Sanders concluded his remarks by affirming his commitment to continue running for president, as well as his desire to introduce publicly funded elections in order to shift congressional attention to ordinary Americans.

“I’m going to do every damn thing that I can to make sure that Congress starts representing the interests of working families rather than wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said.

Logan Goldberg is the executive news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @logangoldberg.