By Katie Gagliano
Sen. Bernie Sanders does not like the billionaire class.
The Democratic candidate emphasized Thursday at a town hall meeting at Northstar Elementary School in Knoxville, Iowa.
Sanders’ campaign paraphernalia made his stance clear: his campaign was geared toward and funded by everyday Americans, not the billionaires. Sanders’ stickers, signs and stage backdrop included “Paid for by Bernie 2016 (Not the Billionaires).”
Sanders said his campaign has received $2.3 million in individual contributions, the most in history, and contributions were valued under $30 on average.
Sanders’ man-of-the-people image was emphasized by the elementary school venue. Iowans filled the aisles and stood against the walls, which consisted of cinder blocks painted by students of the school.
Sanders addressed the packed school gymnasium for over an hour and outlined his plans for a more prosperous and equally representative government. His main focus was income inequality and decreasing the power of establishment economics to improve average Americans’ lives.
“Fifty-eight percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent,” Sanders said. “We are living in an economy which is rigged.”
America is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but 47 million Americans are living in poverty, Sanders said. He proposed raising the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 per hour over the next several years and demanded pay equity for women workers to combat poverty.
Sanders was specifically concerned about the effects of childhood poverty on education and job success. America has the highest levels of childhood poverty among major developed nations, Sanders said.
“I think it is an immoral situation,” Sanders said. “A nation that doesn’t invest in its children will not go far.”
Sanders proposed making public universities and colleges tuition free and providing young people with free vocational training as an alternative to college. Capable students should not be denied an education because of their family’s inability to pay, Sanders said.
Sanders said he plans to fund these programs by instituting a tax on Wall Street speculation.
“Their greed, recklessness and selfish behavior drove this country into the worst economic recession in our country’s history,” Sanders said. “It’s Wall Street’s turn to help out the middle class.”
Sanders’ distrust of Wall Street was evident throughout his speech. He proposed passing anti-trust legislation and re-instituting the Glass-Steagall legislation to impose greater regulations on big banks.
Sanders also targeted big business. He called for the return of production jobs to America, vowed to eliminate corporate use of tax havens and called for radical change in America’s trade agreements.
Income inequality and its impact on education were not Sanders’ only concern. He also called for improved availability of healthcare for all Americans.
Sanders said America needs to move to a Medicare for all, single payer program and reduce the high deductibles and rates that prevent many from receiving quality care.
Those present largely agreed with Sanders’ message. Clapping, cheers and verbal agreement from the audience were sprinkled throughout Sanders’ speech and question and answer session.
Martin Buck, 64, of Chariton, Iowa, said he was an undecided voter gathering information ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses. Though still undecided after the rally, he said Sanders had a lot of good ideas.
“It’s time for a change, no matter what,” Buck said.
Miriam McDonough, 17, also of Chariton, agreed with Buck. McDonough first came across Sanders’ campaign on the blogging platform Tumblr. She said she was drawn by his ideas and first turned out to support his campaign during a parade in Preston, Iowa.
“Government should represent the people, not the companies,” McDonough said. “When politicians begin pushing for interests they become politicians just to be politicians.”
Though McDonough will be too young to vote in the caucuses, she will be supporting Sanders on the campaign trail and said she hopes to have the opportunity to vote for him in the general election.
Sanders has spoken to 34,000 Iowans during his time in the state, and strong numbers continue to turn out to his events.
“I think we stand an excellent chance to win here in Iowa,” Sanders said.