A Town Hall with Substance!
[Editor’s Note: Richelle Friedman, CHN’s Director of Public Policy, attended a town hall meeting held by Senator Bernie Sanders. Her reflections on the event are below.]
An enthusiastic crowd of 150 gathered at a church in northwest DC to hear from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), described by one attendee as a ‘different kind of politician.’ He’d come to talk about the devastating budgets recently passed by the Republican House and Senate, to hear the stories from panelists from ‘the real world’ for whom some of the very programs slashed in those budgets are a life-line, and to hold out an alternative vision. Senator Sanders, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, believes that federal budgets should be about asking what the needs of our nation and its people are, and addressing those needs through the budget process.
Three panelists shared the role some key government programs were playing in their lives. A young college freshman already anticipating graduating with over $20,000 of debt despite scholarships, a federal student loan and income from her work-study program worried about the consequences of cuts to federal student loans. Another speaker talked about how vital programs like disability insurance and LIHEAP (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) are for her because she is dealing with chronic physical and mental health issues related to domestic abuse and an auto accident. A single working mom who has diabetes and who was laid off three times during the recession now earns too much to receive SNAP but struggles to make ends meet and can’t imagine what she’d do if Medicaid is cut. She commented how lucky people are who don’t have to worry about health care.
Senator Sanders asked the audience what issues they thought were important. The immediate first response was ‘jobs.’ The discussion of jobs led to a conversation about the disappearing middle class; workers working longer hours for low wages; young people whose dream of college has disappeared; millions who are one paycheck away from financial disaster; and massive income and wealth inequality.
Why are these and other critical issues like climate change, international trade policies, and wealth inequality receiving so little attention in the mainstream media? Senator Sanders suggested that at least part of the answer lies in the fact that many media outlets are owned by wealthy individuals and corporations whose financial interests are maintained when the public is unaware of the consequences of dealing with those issues.
Senator Sanders answered questions on a wide range of issues from Social Security to living wages to immigration. The receptive audience seemed to appreciate the opportunity to interact with a ‘real lawmaker’ who understands that the United States, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, the nation with the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, and the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care system, can do better.
[Photo Credit: J. Alex Cooney/StumpSource.org via Flickr]