Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) launched his presidential campaign with a rally in Brooklyn, where he was born and raised in a rent-controlled apartment by his mother and immigrant father. In a speech delivered at Brooklyn College, where he was a student for a year, Sanders emphasized his personal story, a topic he has not focused on in the past. He compared his lower-middle-class upbringing with President Donald Trump’s childhood, “I did not have a father who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers, casinos and country clubs. I did not come from a family that gave me a $200,000 allowance every year beginning at the age of three.”
“I know where I came from,” he said. “And that is something I will never forget.”
Sanders told the story of his father, an immigrant from Poland: “I learned a great deal about immigration as a child because my father came from Poland at the age of 17, without a nickel in his pocket. Without knowing one word of English. He came to the US to escape the crushing poverty that existed in his community, and to escape widespread anti-Semitism. And it was a good thing that he came to this country, because virtually his entire family was wiped out by Hitler and Nazi barbarism.”
Sanders surrogates like activist Shaun King emphasized the senator’s background in activism, attending the March on Washington and helping organize the first known sit-in at the University of Chicago, his alma mater. “This is not some exaggerated myth,” King told the crowd. “This is the origin story of a political revolutionary.”
In his speech, Sanders called for “a political revolution which is going to transform America” and promised to implement a “Medicare for all single-payer program” for health care. He also decried the “billionaire class” as well as big businesses, fossil fuel companies and corporate retailers like Amazon who resist unionization and refuse to pay a “living wage” until political pressure from Sanders and workers forces them to do so.
Sanders promised a government based on “economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice,” adding, “the underlying principles of our government will not be greed, hatred and lies. It will not be racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and religious bigotry. That is going to end.”
This is not Sanders’ first presidential run, and he has been criticized for the sexual harassment and gender wage disparity that occurred on his 2016 campaign. After former female workers came forward in the media, Sanders issued an apology during a Capitol Hill news conference in January. He also met privately with former campaign staff.
“The allegations that I have heard, that you have heard, speak to unacceptable behavior that must not be tolerated in any campaign, or in any workplace in our country,” Sanders said at the time. “To the women in our campaign who were harassed or mistreated, I apologize. Our standards, our procedures, out safeguards were clearly inadequate.”