What Young People Need to Know About Bernie Sanders

October 24th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), has been all over the news lately. Following the Democratic primary debate, whose outcome was hotly debated amid conflicting poll results, Sanders found himself back in the national spotlight after a brief lull and even lampooned on Saturday Night Live over the weekend.

Sanders remains noteworthy, and not because he supposedly owns only one pair of underwear, according to his SNL impersonator Larry David (a joke that Sanders debunked over the weekend), and not just for getting into financial spats with colorful public figures. Rather, he has bluntly staked out distinct positions on the issues. Some of his positions have sharpened since ATTN: published a review in April. Here is an update.

Student debt

Student Debt Hats

Sanders has tackled the issues of student debt and college affordability before, and his plan to deal with them was one of the biggest takeaways from last week's debate. He proposes a Wall Street tax to pay tuition for all students attending public colleges and universities as a way to address the rising costs of college and reduce the obscene levels of student debt.

According to Sanders' website, the plan would also end the government's profiting from student loans, cut loan interest rates, restructure refinancing plans, and implement other need-based programs to ensure that students receive a debt-free education. Some critics, including rival Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, argue that the plan is a quick-fix solution that doesn't address how to lower the costs of college, but rather simply introduces new ways to pay.

Criminal justice reform


On criminal justice, Sanders has said that "major" reform is necessary to combat institutional racism and streamline a bloated criminal justice system. After being confronted at an August campaign rally in Seattle by Black Lives Matter protesters, Sanders has been careful to address issues of racial discrimination, often packaging them with his proposals on criminal justice reform.

Days before the Democratic debate, Sanders quietly met with the mother of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who was found dead in a Texas jail after being pulled over for a traffic infraction. In the debate, he spoke of the need for reform:

"We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China. And I intended to tackle that issue. To make sure that our people have education and jobs rather than jail cells."

Critics have called out Sanders for not including enough specifics in his criminal justice reform platform. So far, he has proposed banning for-profit prisons, rolling back mandatory minimum sentencing and War on Drugs policies, investing in rehabilitation programs, and abolishing things like civil asset forfeiture.

Marijuana and drug reform

Cannabis bud

Sanders' proposal to roll back the War on Drugs includes a specific call to reform marijuana laws. Sanders has voiced support of medical marijuana in the past, noting its importance as an issue among young voters. And in an answer to a question about a ballot measure legalizing the drug in Nevada at the Democratic debate earlier this month, Sanders signaled that he would support legalizing recreational marijuana.

"I suspect I would vote yes," Sanders said. "And I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana."

Minimum wage

Sanders has been an ardent supporter of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He introduced legislation to do so and marked Pope Francis' recent visit to Washington, D.C. by marching with striking government workers in a bid to push lawmakers to follow suit. He has backed efforts calling for wage hikes both for fast food jobs and for government contract jobs and has compared the federal government to McDonald's as a low-wage employer.

Across the board, Sanders supports strengthening the role of unions and allowing fast food workers and government contract workers to organize. Here he is speaking in July at the No Labels Problem Solver Convention in New Hampshire on the need for more well-paying jobs.

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