Sanders connects with students.


Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders pauses during a speech at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. Sanders is currently trailing Hillary Clinton in the polls by about 10 points. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Aaron Walker, [email protected]

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., didn’t watch the Republican presidential debate Wednesday night; instead, he spent the night speaking to 1,500 George Mason University students and thousands across the nation.

Students from almost 300 colleges and universities, including the University of Iowa, organized viewing parties for the event. About 50 UI students convened in Biology Building East to see the Democratic candidate speak about the incarceration, education, and the environment.

“We need to end all forms of institutional racism and make major reforms in our criminal justice system,” Sanders said.

Earlier in the day, he announced his belief marijuana should no longer be included on the federal governments list of illicit drugs.

His argument for the change is centered on disproportionate arrest rates of African Americans, the 2.2 million people in American prisons today, and the $80 million per year the government pays as a result.

“Schedule 1 drug considered to be as dangerous as heroin. That is absurd,” Sanders said. ”Time is long overdue for us to remove the federal prohibition of marijuana. In my view, states should have the right to regulate marijuana that state and local laws govern the sale of alcohol and tobacco.”

Between 2001 and 2010, more than 8 million people were arrested for marijuana-related offenses, nine of 10 being non-violent possession, according to an ACLU report. State governments reportedly

Students in attendance at Geroge Mason gave Sanders a standing ovation, and students at the UI responded emphatically.

He connected these disadvantages to the “real unemployment,” labeled underemployment by the Economic Policy Institute, of those ages 17-20. Their study shows around 30 percent of whites in that bracket are underemployed, 36 percent of Latinos, and 51 percent of blacks.

Instead of spending money on incarcerating a large number of young people, Sanders argues we should ease marijuana law and invest in education.

“Seems to me instead of investing more and more in jails and incarceration we should be investing in jobs and education,” he said. “It costs a hell of a lot more money to put someone in jail than to send them to the University of Virginia.”

He soon connected the topic to affordable education. To Sanders, only free public tuition at public colleges and universities will ensure unemployment diminishes for the next generation of young workers.

Sanders said the generation of young Americans, largely millennials, must take part in the political process by voting, speaking, writing and marching. As a result, Sanders said, people will persuade politicians to embrace fact and popular opinion, especially on topics like climate change.

“Stop worrying about your campaign donations and start worrying about your kids and your grandchildren,” Sanders said.

Frank Fritz, the president of George Washington University’s Students for Bernie, said his home state of New Jersey and the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy make global climate change his No. 1 issue. For him, Sanders is the strongest candidate on the issue.

“We need to come together as students, as a nation, and as a planet and say enough is enough is enough,” Fritz said.

The nearly two-hour event ran smoothly after a few minor technical setbacks and if UI students took one thing from the event, it was Sanders’s consistency.

“The thing that stuck out the most was that he was a man of integrity, a man who knew what he was saying and would do what he was saying,” said UI graduate student Brian Kim. “He’s very consistent in what he is saying. He doesn’t change because it’s politically convenient.”

The strongest issue resonating with Kim was Sanders’s stance on immigration. He is the son of Korean immigrants and hopes the country does more to protect and encourage immigration.

Other students made such topics as the environment and the price of education their priority. But UI junior Mallory Zook said equal pay and women’s health-care rights were the reason she plans to caucus for Sanders in February.

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