MONUMENT SQ.—US Sen. Bernard Sanders gave a much shorter talk than his famed eight-and-a-half Senate speech to a 350-person audience at the First Church on Feb. 13, organized by Jamaica Plain Forum.
After his 40-minute talk, Sanders, an independent from Vermont, took questions from the audience on policy, his stances on issues, and where he’d like to see the country go in the future.
In his Dec. 10, 2010 symbolic filibuster speech, Sanders critiqued the agreement President Barack Obama struck with Republicans that extended the Bush tax cuts and lowered estate tax rates for the extremely wealthy and set a precedent by establishing a “payroll tax holiday,” diverting revenue away from the Social Security Trust Fund.
The speech was also a dissection of the collapse of the American middle class and an attack on corporate greed and on public policy that, over the last several decades, Sanders said, has led to a huge growth in millionaires even as the United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world.
A long speech such as that is in the tradition of a filibuster, though since it did not block Senate action, it didn’t technically qualify. A filibuster is the right of an individual to extend debate, allowing a lone member to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal. It is usually characterized as a form of obstruction.
At the JP talk, Sanders echoed themes from his historic December speech, such as the collapse of the American middle class, the shift of the Republican party further to the political right, and a call to action to “educate, organize and demand media” attention.
“Where we are politically is a momentous point in American history…We do not have the luxury of becoming cynical. We’ve got a lot of work in front of us,” he said.
“Reality is sort of grim sometimes. He was very honest,” JP resident Jessica Hahn said. This was her first time at a JP Forum event.
“I think [this kind of talk] is really great. He was able to answer a lot of questions. It’s not really a dialogue” when politicians usually make a speech, she added.
Chuck Collins, director of non-partisan JP Forum, said his organization has invited Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown to speak: “We’d love to host them.”
“It’s good to get people out with their elected officials,” Collins said.
About a quarter of the audience on Feb. 13 was under 35, according to a show of hands.
Copies of Sanders’s book, “The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class,” which contains the text of his famous speech, along with commentary by Sanders, were available for sale before and after his talk. Many audience members stayed behind to get their copies signed by Sanders.
His December speech drew millions of online viewers, ultimately crashing the Senate server. The response tied up the phones in the senator’s offices in Vermont and Washington.
Sanders is the junior United States Senator from Vermont, elected in 2006. Before becoming Senator, Sanders represented Vermont’s at-large district in the United States House of Representatives for 16 years. Sanders also served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont from 1981 through 1989.
He is a self-described democratic socialist and has praised European social democracy. He is the first person elected to the US Senate to identify as a socialist. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history.