Thousands Gather In Washington To Hear Bernie Sanders On Wages, Education

Hundreds of people lined up to get into Bernie Sanders’ Vancouver, Washington, rally on Sunday. For hours, supporters waited in the rain, eager to see the presidential hopeful at Hudson’s Bay High School. After taking the stage to a huge round of raucous applause, Sanders dove into his message, ignoring meaningless chatter.

“We are telling the truth.”

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He delivered his standard speech, railing against a rigged economy, and called on the Walton family to pay their WalMart employees a living wage.

“So, I say to the Walton family: Pay your workers a decent wage and get them off welfare!”

The world’s largest retailer is one of many that have resisted treating their employees fairly, closing stores that voted to unionize and keeping wages to a bare minimum. The strategy is counterproductive because it forces workers to either accept welfare or to find second or even third jobs to support their families.

Sanders’ call for WalMart to raise its wages is not just common sense. It’s good business sense. McDonald’s recently released a report detailing the results of higher wages. Fortune magazine reports that, last year, the fast food behemoth decided to increase employee wages from an average of $9.01 per hour to $9.90 per hour, with forecasts of average wages of more than $10 per hour by the end of 2016. These changes occurred only in non-franchise locations.

The result was striking, albeit expected. Turnover fell, customer service improved, and overall employee satisfaction increased. McDonald’s U.S. president Mike Andres said the positive changes weren’t surprising.

“It has done what we expected it to — 90 day turnover rates are down, our survey scores are up — we have more staff in restaurants. So far we’re pleased with it — it was a significant investment obviously but it’s working well.”

Although WalMart has also increased its wages, Sanders doesn’t think the retailer has gone far enough. The retailer still starts its employees out at just $9.00 per hour, a far cry from Sanders’ call for a $15 minimum wage.

Sanders criticized the education industry for forcing college students into massive debt just to get a degree.

“Young people by definition are the future of America. But when you listen to young people, they ask, ‘Why is it we’re leaving school $30,000 or $50,000 in debt?’ Why are we punishing millions of young people with outrageous levels of student debt? Last I heard, getting an education was not a crime that deserves punishment.”

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Sanders’ proposal to pay for public universities would call for a tax on Wall Street speculation that theoretically could bring in enough money to pay for it, with extra to spare.

“We must make public colleges and universities tuition-free.”

During his speech at Hudson’s Bay High School, Sanders called for an end to marijuana prohibition, an investment of $1 trillion in upgrading the nation’s vastly outdated infrastructure, and to treat drug addiction as a health issue, not a criminal issue.

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The argument against free college tuition leaves out the fact that Bernie Sanders pays for his proposal not through taxes on the citizens, but with taxes on Wall Street speculation. His message has been consistent: we bailed out Wall Street. It’s time for Wall Street to pay Americans back.

Part of Sanders’ appeal is that he is willing to talk about issues that other candidates tip-toe around. Washington is home to a substantial Native American population, and many appreciate Sanders’ willingness to include Native American leaders in his campaign. His populist message of government for the people, by the people is resonating among all people, who have watched Wall Street collude with government officials and other big businesses to suppress the will of Americans.

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Bernie Sanders is scheduled to speak at Seattle’s Key Arena at 5 p.m. PDT, where thousands of potential voters have waited in line to hear him speak. Sanders is also expected to deliver his hallmark message on wages, criminal justice, education, immigration, and economic equality.

*Watch a live feed of Bernie’s Seattle rally below.

[Photo: Ralph Freso/Getty]