U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders encouraged College of Charleston students to reach out to people, especially those who think differently, to promote the political agenda that most Americans want.
Initiatives includes affordable higher education and health care, as well as strengthening the economic health of middle-class families, said Sanders, an independent from Vermont.
"The agenda we are talking about is the agenda the vast majority of Americans want to see," Sanders said. "It's not a Communist agenda."
Sanders was in Charleston on Friday to support Gloria Bromell Tinubu, a Democratic candidate for South Carolina's 7th Congressional District. But he made a stop at the College of Charleston to meet with students who are members of the grassroots group "Fight for CofC." The packed meeting in the Wachovia Auditorium in the Beatty Center also included faculty, staff and members of the public.
"Fight for CofC" recently has organized several campus protests in response to the college's Board of Trustees hiring Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the school's next president, despite his lack of academic experience and the negative impact his support of the Confederate battle flag flying on Statehouse grounds could have on minority recruitment. The group also is opposed to censorship and the S.C. House's move to cut $52,000 from the school's budget over a gay-themed book selected for a freshman summer reading program.
Senior Adrian Barry, who is from New Jersey, said he's impressed that Sanders, who co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus and describes himself as a democratic socialist, reached out to students and offered to speak on campus. Many senators and members of Congress make stops on campus only when they are campaigning, Barry said.
Sanders was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history.
Sanders said he's from Vermont, "one of the bluest states in the country." South Carolina, "I understand, is a little bit different," he said.
But Americans really aren't divided on the issues that matter most to them, he said. "Don't accept the mythology that we are such a divided nation."
The problem is that lower-income people and those with less education are less likely to vote than their higher-earning counterparts. "So people who need help and jobs aren't voting. People who want more tax breaks for the rich come out."
"Big money is dominating the political agenda," Sanders said. Candidates who are part of the extreme right trying to land votes don't say, "I'll cut Social Security and give tax breaks to billionaires, and I want to send your job to China."
Instead, they attempt to divide people by focusing on controversial issues such as "abortion, guns and gays," Sanders said.
Students need to remain a strong part of the political process and not allow themselves to become disillusioned and walk away from politics. "These are very serious times in America," Sanders said. "You don't have the luxury of doing that."
Students need to educate and organize and make sure the majority comes out to vote, he said.
Senior Briosha "Bri" Sanders (no relation) said "Fight for CofC" already is reaching out to all different kinds of people, and the group will continue to expand those efforts. "We're finding things that bring people together."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.