Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delivered this election season’s first candidate address in Gaston Hall yesterday, where he defined democratic socialism as economic security for the middle class and called for collaborative efforts to destroy the Islamic State group.
The speech marked a defining moment in Sanders’ campaign, as the self-proclaimed democratic socialist directly outlined his foreign policy strategy in response to last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, allegedly orchestrated by the Islamic State group.
Sanders called on students to take part in his grassroots movement to restructure the country’s economic system and alleviate income inequality.
“We need to develop a political movement, which is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation,” Sanders said.
The Georgetown Institute for Politics and Public Service organized Sanders’ visit. The group sent invitations to all presidential candidates during the summer. According to IPPS Director Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), Sanders is the first to accept the invitation.
With Gaston Hall filled to maximum capacity, Sanders walked onstage to a standing ovation and a “Feel the Bern” chant. Georgetown is prohibited from endorsing public office candidates due to its status as a tax-exempt organization, and attendees were not allowed to bring campaign signage into the hall.
Sanders began by acknowledging the need for change in the country’s political processes.
“We have an economic and political crisis in this country, and the same old politics and economics will not effectively address those crises,” Sanders said.
Sanders argued that democratic socialism will bring about positive change to the working class.
“Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system which is corrupt, that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy,” Sanders said.
Throughout his speech, Sanders cited direct quotations from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope Francis to highlight the importance of socialist ideas throughout history.
“Real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved and it is time that we did,” Sanders said.
Sanders also noted that many other countries, including Denmark, Canada and Taiwan, employ democratic socialist models.
“I hope all of you know this is not a radical idea. It is a conservative idea. It is an idea and a practice that exists in every other major country on earth,” Sanders said.
In addition to presenting his platform for the economy, Sanders shed light on his stance on social issues, including his support for open immigration policies and his critiques of the fossil fuel industry and mass incarceration.
In a comment that drew the afternoon’s loudest applause, Sanders expressed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans, who are right to proclaim the moral principle that black lives matter,” Sanders said.
Shifting to foreign policy, Sanders warned against repeating failed policies of the Bush administration and that military action should be authorized with caution.
“Our response must begin with an understanding of past mistakes and missteps in our previous approaches to foreign policy,” Sanders said. “Unilateral military options should be a last resort, not a first report.”
Sanders suggested that the United States should play a facilitative role in the fight against the Islamic State group.
“While the U.S. and other Western nations have the strength of our militaries, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations with strong support of their global partners,” Sanders said.
In a question-and-answer session following the address, Sanders clarified his views on democratic socialism and intervention in the Middle East. Sanders also argued that the United States should open its borders to refugees. The questions were submitted by students prior to the event, and were asked by Elleithee onstage.
“I’m not happy about hearing that we should close our borders to men, women and children who have been displaced because of terrorism,” Sanders said. “We should accept refugees from [Syria]. That’s the moral thing to do. Accepting refugees is what America has always done, and I think it’s improper to turn our backs on them now.”
The event has been widely anticipated since the IPPS announced it Wednesday morning in a university-wide email. Elleithee said the IPPS was excited to host Sanders as its first presidential candidate guest.
“Bernie Sanders has been saying for weeks that he wanted to give a speech discussing his political worldview and democratic socialism in America. We completely agree with him. Georgetown is the perfect place to give it,” Elleithee wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Students began lining up outside Gaston Hall at 6 a.m., with the queue stretching out to the front gates by the time doors opened. The rainy weather did little to deter students from waiting outside Healy Hall. Many students were turned away after the seats were filled.
Alan Chen (COL ’18), an attendee, said that although he does not agree with Sanders’ political views, he appreciated his efforts in engaging student voters.
“Personally, I don’t agree with him on many of the political issues, but I think that he is the most willing out of any of the candidates to be engaged with young people like us and college-aged voters, and I think that’s very encouraging for the political process,” Chen said.
Erin Leonard (SFS ’16), a coordinator of the student group Georgetown for Bernie, said she was impressed by Sanders’ performance. Members of the group and the College Democrats met with Sanders after the event.
“It was amazing getting to see Bernie today, and feel how much energy was in the room,” Leonard wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I think he summarized his platform really well and I was really glad that he talked about his stance on foreign policy, because that’s definitely on everyone’s mind right now.”
Democratic Socialists of America Deputy Director David Duhalde, an attendee, said democratic socialist views are particularly appealing to younger generations. The DSA, a national political organization, also operates a student wing, Young Democratic Socialists, which has previously hosted chapters at Georgetown.
“We’ve seen a surge in support, partly because of Bernie, and because our generation of millennials, who have been the most hurt by the recession and the aftershocks, are also the most open to democratic socialist politics and change,” Duhalde said.
Jules Bernstein, an employment attorney who attended the speech, said the event’s turnout is a testament to Sanders’ growing popularity.
“It demonstrates that young people are very interested in hearing from Bernie, what he has to say, and he has some very important things to say,” Bernstein said. “The fact that there are probably over 1,000 people here who wanted to hear him is very gratifying. They want change.”
Hoya Staff Writer Syed Humza Moinuddin contributed reporting.