Senator Bernie Sanders holds town hall meeting to hear concerns and reveal plan for student debt

by Luke Wrin Piper, staff writer/ Photos by Michelle Snider, co-editor

Sanders waves to a crowd of over 1,000 at an Aug. 23 town hall in downtown San Francisco. The event focused on student debt and higher education.

More than 1,000 potential voters packed a San Francisco event hall August 28 to hear presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders share his vision about everything from student loan debt to civil rights.

The excitable crowd packed the former car dealership and cheered loudly every time Sanders gestured to the crowd and spoke about the “road to victory” ahead of them.

“Is there any particular reason why it’s so dark in here?” Sanders asked from the podium.

“You look beautiful, but I can’t see you. Maybe someone could turn on the lights.”

A handful of yips and claps bubbled up from the crowd, followed by an extended and solitary, “We love you, Bernie!”

More cheers followed, and the fervor continued.

Sanders began by criticizing Trump, saying, “We have a president who is a pathological liar, a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a religious bigot, and my guess is, an anti-Semite as well.”

As Sanders continued his trademark rhetoric, he hit all the points of his familiar platform: economic equality, free public education, affordable housing and healthcare for all.

“These are the kinds of human rights we believe,” Sanders said, “that economic rights are human rights.”

San Francisco Unified School District principal Freedom Siyam speaks about his own struggles with debt from student loans and medical bills

Throughout the event, Sanders spoke directly to students. “Why in God’s name should you have to deal with so much financial anxiety, when you did exactly what you were supposed to do and what this society wants you to do?”

Vivianna, who travelled from Marin and declined to give her last name, related her own family’s personal struggles with student debt as she sat with her mother Monika near the front, patiently waiting for the rally to begin. “I have a kid, and she is in college, and it is so expensive,” she said.

“She is at Berkeley, and right now [tuition] is $40,000 a year.”

When asked about Bernie’s plan to forgive student debt, Vivianna lit up.

“Oh, it would mean everything,” she said. “She will be getting married in a few years and trying to get a loan for a house, but she cannot get a loan because she will be dealing with student debt.”

“All we are saying today is that every person in this country, regardless of his or her income, has the right to get a higher education,” Sanders said.

Bay Area family (right to left) Adrian, Anya, Elsa and Ivan Besack showed their full support of Sen. Sanders

One of Sanders’ most controversial platforms is cancelling all student debt and making public higher education tuition-free. The funding, Sanders said, would come from a modest tax on Wall Street speculation.

“If we can afford to bail out the crooks on Wall Street, we can afford this as well,” Sanders said.

Climate change was the burning question for many, as Sanders recently released his $16 trillion plan to address looming ecological crises.

“There is the absolute necessity for all aggressive action now to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and towards renewable energy,” Sanders said. “We are going to transform our own energy system and lead the world… bring the world together on fighting climate change.”

Several dozen activists gathered near the stage to represent the Sunrise Movement, a youth-run movement that supports policies aggressively confronting climate change.

Danielle Platt, 24, was among the group of activists. “We should be creating economic systems that are based on renewable resources, incorporating those into our economic activity to ultimately provide jobs for American citizens,” said Platt.

Nick Alvarez, a professor at Los Positas College, was concerned about the global attention on the American 2020 election. “We would definitely send a message to the rest of the world,” Alvarez said of voting in a progressive candidate.

“Something like, we recognize that we made a big mistake last time around, and we’ve managed to be able to correct that.”

Sanders reiterated his willingness to take on difficult issues as he delivered a battle cry to the crowd.

“Change never takes place unless people are prepared to fight for it.”