GREENSBORO, N.C. — In a freewheeling speech delivered from the Coliseum in Greensboro Sunday night, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) further distanced himself from the establishment while repeatedly reassuring a raucous crowd he's not all that radical.
Attendance surpassed early estimates, with the senator drawing 9,129 to the Coliseum, according to a spokesman.
Sanders stuck to a familiar platform of railing against income inequality, and the senator previewed his plan for reducing student debt through lower interest rates, with an estimated cost of $70 billion per year to fund the program. He proposed paying for it with a new tax on Wall Street speculation.
"It makes no sense for people with student debt to be paying 6, 8, 10 percent interest rates on that debt when you can refinance your home for 2, 3, 4 percent," Sanders said.
Referring to a "grotesque level of income and wealth inequality" in the United States, the presidential candidate singled out the Koch brothers, billionaires that have traditionally bankrolled the Republican Party. Sanders did not mention a single Republican candidate by name, preferring to criticize the party as a whole. He also did not mention Hillary Clinton, his main rival on the left. A recent CNN/ORC poll found that Clinton's lead on Sanders has shrunk to just 10 percentage points.
In emphasizing his grassroots platform, Sanders said his campaign has received more than 400,000 donations that average $31.20, each. After claiming his, "Republican colleagues get very nervous when we talk about redistribution of wealth," Sanders derided the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United vs. FEC, which allowed for the rise of super-PAC-supported political campaigns.
"[The Supreme Court] is now going to give you the opportunity to purchase the United States government, and that is what they are attempting to do right now," Sanders said of the Koch brothers and large interest groups.
Sanders calls his candidacy a "political revolution," especially when trying to capture the attention, and votes, of a group that some say has lost interest in the political system due to dysfunction: millennials and other young people. For college graduates, job prospects have improved from 2008 lows, but there's still a ways to go, the senator said.
"If you are a college graduate, you are desperately trying to find a job commensurate with your education," Sanders said. "And that is often very hard to do."
Jax Preyer, a high school senior from Chapel Hill who attended the speech, recently applied to Elon University to perhaps join next year's freshman class. She called the cost of college in the United States "completely absurd." Elon's total cost of attendance this academic year comes to $46,670, an increase of 3 percent from the year prior (and a 27-year low in terms of the percentage increase).
"We've kind of been conditioned to feel like it's normal, but, really, we've been duped," said Preyer, 17, of the cost of college.
Preyer said Sanders' policy line to her is not radical, though she admitted she saw how others could see the self-described socialist in a different light. The senator several times reinforced his claim that little he's promoting hasn't already been done in another country, despite attacks from Republicans who call his agenda radical to the point of ridiculous.
"In the year 2015, the American people are sick and tired of establishment politics," Sanders said.
The independent senator also touched on the Black Lives Matter Movement, about a month after a disruption caused by some of the movement's organizers at a Seattle campaign event back in early August. Sanders added, though, that bad police officers are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to police brutality and the shootings of unarmed black people in the United States.
"If anybody thinks that being a police officer in this world is an easy job, you would be sorely mistaken," Sanders said. "When a police officer, like any other public official, breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable."
James Pettiford, a retired human relations director who lives in High Point, said he supports Sanders because the senator will touch on issues where others won't — even if that can seem radical, to some.
"He's taking a balanced perspective," Pettiford, 73, said. "He realizes there's good and bad in every individual."
Sanders also touched on climate change, CEO compensation, paid sick and pregnancy leave, trade agreements and healthcare.