Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist from Vermont, spent part of Friday afternoon preaching to the choir in an auditorium at the College of Charleston. Throughout a wide-ranging talk that touched on wealth distribution, single-payer healthcare, and the Koch brothers' political clout, Sanders earned applause and enthusiastic nods from the crowd that consisted largely of students, faculty, and local liberal activists.
The senator's talking points largely echoed ones he made in October at a fall getaway of the S.C. Progressive Network. He said that the United States is turning into an oligarchy, called for a jobs program to rebuild infrastructure, praised European models of taxpayer-funded college education, and criticized Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal.
"I believe the agenda that we are talking about is an agenda that the vast majority of the American people support. You agree?" Sanders said. "OK, it's not some communist theory out here. People do not want cuts in Social Security. People want healthcare. People want jobs. People want educational opportunities. People want to protect our environment. People believe in equality, mostly."
Sanders' talk was co-hosted by the college's Gender and Sexuality Equity Center and the activist group #FightForCofC, which has been organizing protests against the Fun Home funding cuts and the selection process for incoming president Glenn McConnell. However, while Sanders stood under a screen with the #FightForCofC logo projected onto it, he did not directly address the hot-button issues that have recently drawn national media attention.
Asked for his opinion after the meeting, Sanders said he disagreed with S.C. lawmakers' push to cut CofC's funding because of a controversial book the college gave to freshmen last fall.
"I saw the article in the New York Times," Sanders said. "Do I believe that a legislature should take money away form an organization for promoting a book? No, I don't."
Sanders' original reason for coming to town was to support Gloria Tinubu, a Democratic Congressional candidate who is challenging Republican Rep. Tom Rice in the District 7 race this year (He will speak at a Tinubu rally tonight at 7:30 at the International Longshoremen's Hall at 1142 Morrison Drive). But Adrian Barry, an organizer with #FightForCofC, said that Sanders had been briefed on the situation at the college.
"Bernie Sanders' name draws a certain kind of crowd. But in South Carolina, we need that," Barry said after the talk. "We need someone to energize, and he is a great energizer."
Asked about future plans for protests on campus, Barry said the group does not intend to slow down after exam week.
"We know that the Statehouse and the Board [of Trustees] expect us to fizzle after finals, so we plan to put at least as much effort as we put into the previous events into preparing for the summer," Barry said. "We're not going anywhere."