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Sen. Bernie Sanders: Teachers Are Part of the 'Political Revolution'

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Pittsburgh, Penn.

Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to a receptive crowd here at the American Federation of Teachers' biennial convention, saying there was a political revolution "sweeping across this country." 

Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, condemned many of the president's actions and praised recent activism among workers, including the teacher strikes and protests in about six states this spring. He spoke of a changing tide among public opinion for "radical" ideas, such as tuition-free college education. That policy proposal was part of his campaign for president in 2016. 

"The American people are going to make Donald Trump a one-term president," he said to huge applause. "We intend in the 2018 midterm elections to ... take back the House and the Senate."

Sanders, who ran against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary presidential election, is widely expected to run for president in 2020, though he has not announced his candidacy. A New York Times article published today looked at how both Warren and Sanders were preparing for a 2020 campaign, along with a slew of other hopefuls. (Warren addressed delegates at the AFT convention yesterday, and Clinton spoke on the opening day of the conference.) 

In his speech, Sanders criticized wealth inequality, saying that the "top 25 hedge-fund managers of Wall Street make more money than all of the kindergarten teachers in this country combined." 

He also slammed Trump for his social policies, including the child-separation policy at the U.S.-Mexican border. 

"I know every day, you tell your students, you say to your kids: Tell the truth," Sanders said. "You say to your kids: Don't be bullies. And what kind of terrible example is he setting to the children of this country?"

Sanders, who pledged to fight against Trump's nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, also criticized many of the Supreme Court's decisions, including the recent decision that prohibited "agency" or "fair share" fees that unions in 22 states had been charging to nonmembers to cover the cost of collective bargaining. 

"They have recently given us the disastrous Janus decision," Sanders said to boos. "Well, you know, sometimes decisions and actions have unintended consequences, and I have a feeling that those who thought that the Janus decision would hurt the trade unions in this country may be in for a big surprise. It may end up being one of those decisions that helps us rebuild the trade union movement in America."

That line generated a standing ovation among the crowd, as did several other lines throughout his speech. Delegates chanted, "Bernie, Bernie," at the end of his speech. In 2016, the AFT and the other major national teacher's union, the National Education Association, both endorsed Clinton over Sanders—a controversial decision among the delegates, many of whom favored Sanders. Today, AFT President Randi Weingarten said Sanders has "inspired an entire generation" and added that many people have "felt the Bern more and more over those past two years ... including myself."

Sanders concluded his speech by saying, "We are not going back, we are going forward."

"As part of this political revolution, teachers are standing up and leading the fight for education reform," he said. "Who would have thought that in West Virginia or Kentucky, in Oklahoma, teachers are demanding decent education for our kids and are taking on right-wing political establishments? Thank you, teachers." 

Sanders also praised a wave of progressive candidates who are running in the 2018 midterm elections, including Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York City. (Sanders will soon head to Kansas with Ocasio-Cortez to campaign for other Democratic congressional candidates, according to the Washington Post.) 

In fact, after Sanders' speech, two campaigning Democrats delivered remarks, as well: Rep. Conor Lamb, from Pennsylvania, and Randy Bryce, who is running for retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan's seat in Wisconsin. Both candidates, but particularly Bryce, a former union activist, were warmly received by the crowd.

"Our job now as is never before is to stand up, fight back, and create the nation we can become," Sanders concluded to the cheering educators. 

Image of Sen. Bernie Sanders and AFT President Randi Weingarten, by Elliott Cramer/AFT. Courtesy of the American Federation of Teachers, all rights reserved.

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