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Remarks by Senator Sanders at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

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Reprinted from Bernie Sanders Website


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Thank you for inviting me to be with you tonight. Thank you for the work you continue to do as leaders in civil rights. You have always been a voice for the voiceless and champions for social justice.

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Your courageous history dates back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott when one person, Rosa Parks, by the simple act of sitting down at the front of the bus, inspired a whole community to stand up and bring the transportation system in Montgomery to its knees, to capture the imagination of the nation and to cause what my friend John Lewis calls "a nonviolent revolution."

You knew then, what the American people are beginning to remember now -- that real change takes place when millions of people stand up and say "enough is enough," and when we create a political revolution from the ground up. That is what the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has always been about. That is what is beginning to happen today. The American people are sick and tired with establishment politics, with establishment economics and with establishment media. They're sick of being told that they don't matter. They fully understand that corporate greed is destroying our economy, that American politics is now dominated by a handful of billionaires and that much of the corporate media is prepared to discuss everything except the most important issues facing our country.

I realize that many of you don't know me very well. So let me take a moment to let you know a little bit about my background. I was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981-1989, Vermont's lone congressman from 1990-2006 and a U.S. senator from Vermont from 2007 until today.

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I was born in Brooklyn, New York. My father came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a penny in his pocket and without much of an education. My mother graduated from high school in New York City. My father worked for almost his entire life as a paint salesman and we lived with my brother in a small rent-controlled apartment. My mother's dream was to move out of that three-room apartment into a home of our own. She died young and her dream was never fulfilled. As a kid I learned what lack of money means to a family, a lesson I have never forgotten.

When I was a young college student, I came to Washington, D.C., to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I heard this organization's first president, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., deliver his famous speech, and he inspired me, just as he inspired a whole generation -- black and white -- to get involved in the civil rights movement. In Chicago, I worked for housing desegregation and was arrested protesting public school segregation. During that time I was active in what was a sister-organization to the SCLC, the Congress of Racial Equality of CORE, which was headed up by the late James Farmer.

Since I have been an elected official, I have used my influence to stand with those who have no power, and to take on virtually every element of our current ruling class -- from Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies to Big Energy, to the Koch Brothers to the Military Industrial Complex. That's what I do.

The decision to run for president was a very difficult one for me and my family. I love my job as Vermont's senator and love spending time in Vermont with my four kids and seven beautiful grandchildren -- something, needless to say, that I am less able to do today.

My family and I decided that I should run for president because the reality is that this country today faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression and, if you include the planetary crisis of climate change, it may well be that the challenges we face now are more dire than any time in our modern history. And to address these crises we need leadership that is prepared to rally the American people, to create the political revolution that this country desperately needs, to take on the wealthy special interests that wield so much power.

Let me take this opportunity to quote from an excellent article by the columnist Eugene Robinson which appeared in the Washington Post. Here are some excerpts from that article:

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"As we celebrate King's great achievement and sacrifice, it is wrong to round off the sharp edges of his legacy. He saw inequality as a fundamental and tragic flaw in this society, and he made clear in the weeks leading up to his assassination that economic issues were becoming the central focus of his advocacy.

"Nearly five decades later, King's words on the subject still ring true. On March 10, 1968, just weeks before his death, he spoke to a union group in New York about what he called 'the other America.' He was preparing to launch a Poor People's Campaign whose premise was that issues of jobs and issues of justice were inextricably intertwined.

"'One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality,' King said. 'That America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. ... But as we assemble here tonight, I'm sure that each of us is painfully aware of the fact that there is another America, and that other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.'

"Those who lived in the other America, King said, were plagued by 'inadequate, substandard and often dilapidated housing conditions,' by 'substandard, inferior, quality-less schools,' by having to choose between unemployment and low-wage jobs that didn't even pay enough to put food on the table.

"The problem was structural, King said: 'This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.'

"Eight days later, speaking in Memphis, King continued the theme. 'Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day?' he asked striking sanitation workers. 'And they are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen, and it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.'

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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)
 

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