When Sen. Bernie Sanders stepped onto the podium at Schenley Plaza, surrounded by supporters waving Bernie 2020 signs and chanting his name, he couldn’t help but point out the unusually warm Pittsburgh weather.
“We were told that it was gonna rain and it would be a small turnout,” Sanders said at Sunday afternoon’s rally. “Looks like that’s not the case!”
It certainly wasn’t the case, as nearly 4,500 people attended Sanders’ rally in Schenley Plaza amid clear skies and dozens of “Feel the Bern” posters waving in the air. As part of his campaign for the 2020 presidential election, Sanders spoke about his plans for transforming health care, labor laws, climate change and the trade deficit.
Many advocates of Pitt’s graduate student union also attended the rally to demonstrate their support of Sanders’ policies, especially those regarding unionizing and worker rights. Sanders congratulated those who are organizing to form a union and urged Pitt to negotiate with its graduate workers.
“The University of Pittsburgh is a great academic institution, but I say to them your greatness lies not only on your research and your teaching,” Sanders said. “Your greatness lies on how you treat your employees. Sit down and negotiate with your workers.”
Sanders said he believes the future of the middle class is dependent on a growing and strong trade union movement and that he plans to make it easier for workers to join unions, whereas he said President Donald Trump is trying to make it much harder.
Before Sanders arrived on stage, Kimberly Garrett — a graduate student employee and member of the graduate student organizing committee — spoke about the importance of unionizing. She said while many graduate students generate a lot of wealth and prestige for the University, many have trouble supporting themselves because of low wages.
“Along with our research, we attend classes and teach classes of our own,” Garrett said. “We do this while taking care of children, elderly parents and last of all ourselves. We are coming together as a union to demand fairness and transparency in how decisions are made at Pitt.”
The co-chairs of Sanders’ 2020 campaign, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and former Ohio Democratic state Sen. Nina Turner, also helped speak to the crowd, spreading messages of inclusivity and citing Sanders as a champion for justice. Cruz said the U.S. needs a leader who will “get the job done” and that with Sanders’ messages of free health care and equality for all, he is the man for the job.
“There’s only one man that will look at all of us no matter the color of our skin, no matter what language we speak, no matter where we grew up, no matter who we love,” Cruz said. “It won’t matter to him if you’re part of the LGBT community, it won’t matter to him if you’re a transgender trying to serve this country in the military, it won’t matter to him if you are a DACA student. What will matter to him is if your heart is in the right place.”
During his speech, Sanders referred to Trump as “the most dangerous president in modern American history” and accused him of dividing the country based on skin color, race, religion and sexual orientation. He said he plans to transform the government and make it for everyone, and not just the top 1%.
“We will not accept the massive levels of wealth and income inequality in this country,” Sanders said. “Justice is about ending a process by which CEOs are making 300 times as much as the average worker. Justice means that we will not accept 49 percent of all incomes going to the top 1 percent.”
Sanders took another stab at Trump by calling him a pathological liar, citing how he guaranteed health care to everybody and promised to substantially reduce the trade deficit, but instead did the complete opposite, according to Sanders. He also strongly advocated for ensuring that the voting system is not corrupted by wealthy people like Trump, mentioning the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — a case in which the Supreme Court ruled that under the First Amendment political donations are a form of free speech.
“You wanna hear a radical idea?” Sanders asked the crowd. “How about a political system that is about one person one vote and not about billionaires buying elections? Together we are going to overturn that disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United and have public funding for elections.”
Ava Ferry, a first-year student majoring in biology, said she liked Sanders’ view on reducing student debt, as well as his stance on ending the discrimination that Ferry said has been going on since Trump was elected. She said she was also surprised by Sanders’ stance on climate change and how he believes it is the biggest national security threat.
“I didn’t know he was so much for climate change because a lot of other politicians don’t really care about that,” Ferry said. “It was really refreshing to hear from someone who actually cares a lot about the planet and wants some change to be done.”
First-year student Tristin Carey, majoring in history and philosophy of science, said he came to the rally because he is a part of Community and Students for Academic Workers, an organization that supports the graduate union efforts. Carey said he did not know how involved Sanders was with unionizing efforts and that he appreciated his pro-workers stance.
“The number of unions have been reducing and that correlates with a lot of bad stuff that’s been happening with workers’ rights, so if we start supporting unions again, hopefully workers’ rights will be improved and wages will go up,” Carey said.
Sanders concluded his speech by once again promoting the importance of middle class workers and standing together against discrimination and bigotry.
“Now, I may not be no Nobel Prize winning mathematician, but this I do know,” Sanders said. “At the end of the day, the one percent are the one percent. And at the end of the day we are the 99 percent. So brothers and sisters, this is a pivotal moment in American history. Let us stand together and not let anyone divide us up.”