Bernie Sanders received a rock-star reception Tuesday afternoon in Charleston, bringing a crowd of more than 700 to its feet clapping and chanting his name at the Memminger Auditorium.
The 74-year-old U.S. senator from Vermont started and ended his rally with his populist brand of Democratic socialism and his call on voters to declare “enough is enough,” saying that throughout history America has been changed by the better for people who got fed up, risking life and property to secure civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights and more.
“Even in South Carolina, are you ready for a radical idea?” Sanders said rhetorically. “In America, someone who works 40 hours a week should not live in poverty.”
Sanders decried an economy he said is rigged to benefit the rich, and a “corrupt campaign finance system” that allows billionaires to buy elections.
Income inequality, the world’s highest rate of incarceration, an expensive health care system that leaves millions uninsured, and a higher-education system that leaves families saddled with debt are among the problems to which Sanders hopes voters will say “enough is enough.”
“We are doing something radical,” he said. “We are telling the American people the truth.”
Comparing himself to a doctor who is obligated to tell a patient there’s something wrong, Sanders was making his first campaign visits in South Carolina since winning the New Hampshire primary.
“It was great to hear the young people fired up,” said Kay Krans, a 68-year-old Wisconsin resident who attended the Charleston rally with her husband Jeff. “It’s great to hear a politician say what he really believes.”
Sanders started the day at a prayer breakfast at the historically black Allen University in Columbia, where he delivered his call to fix an unjust criminal justice system, demilitarize police departments, improve low-income wages and tackle poverty.
“How many of those executives who helped destroy the economy and the lives of millions of Americans have a police record? Zero,” Sanders said. “So a kid gets picked up in South Carolina for possessing marijuana, that kid’s life is significantly altered.”
His proposals for tuition-free college education, universal health coverage and better jobs through $1 trillion in infrastructure investments resonated with the students and middle-age predominantly black crowd at the school, and with the mostly white crowd at Memminger Auditorium near the College of Charleston campus.
He also spoke at the University of South Carolina’s Russell House Theater.
“We will create an economy that works for working families, not just the top 1 percent,” Sanders said at Allen University. “And when we talk about inequality, it goes without saying that the African-American community is suffering even more.”
Calling for a $15 minimum wage, Sanders said while in Charleston that some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals — he singled out Wal-Mart’s Walton family — got rich paying “starvation wages” that taxpayers subsidized with food stamps, Medicaid and public housing.
Sanders trails former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 23 points, on average, in South Carolina polls ahead of the Feb. 27 Democratic presidential primary.
Sanders did not mention Clinton at his Charleston appearance but took a few shots at Republicans, suggesting that denial of climate change is a position purchased by campaign donors, and calling Republicans hypocrites for claiming to want less government “unless you’re a woman faced with a very difficult decision.”