In a speech honoring the "revolutionary spirit" of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on what would have been his 90th birthday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday condemned both the individual racism of President Donald Trump and the systemic racism of the American criminal justice system—while emphasizing the urgency of forging ahead with King's radical egalitarian vision.
"We are not going backwards, we are going forwards, to a non-discriminatory society."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist," the Vermont senator said during the NAACP's annual King Day rally in Columbia, South Carolina. "What a president is supposed to do is to bring us together. And we have a president intentionally, purposely trying to divide us up by the color of our skin, by our gender, by the country we came from, by our religion."
At around the time Sanders delivered his speech, Trump took an unannounced trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. The trip lasted around two minutes, and he did not mention the civil rights leader.
Sen. Bernie Sanders at MLK event in South Carolina: "It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a President of the United States who is a racist." https://t.co/NkJuIoh4fP pic.twitter.com/OQHoiTn4WA
— ABC News (@ABC) January 21, 2019
In his address on Monday, Sanders made clear that Trump's bigotry is far from the only obstacle in the way of the kind of equal society King envisioned in his "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
From mass incarceration to staggering levels of wealth, education, housing, and healthcare inequality, Sanders noted that racism is "alive" in the U.S. and can only be defeated with a transformative political agenda and bold collective action.
"What he reminded us is courage of conscience, that we stand up, no matter what the odds, and take on the power, to fight for economic justice, to fight for social justice, to fight for racial justice, and to fight for environmental justice," Sanders said of King.
"This country has suffered too long from discrimination," the Vermont senator continued. "We are not going backwards, we are going forwards, to a non-discriminatory society."
— People For Bernie (@People4Bernie) January 21, 2019
Sanders went on to discuss in detail the ways in which racism undermines voting rights, healthcare, and basic human freedoms:
Racism... exists in this country today and it exists when the median white family owns ten times more wealth than the Median African American family. Racial equality must be central to combating economic inequality if we are going to create a government that works for all of us, and not just the one percent.
Racism is alive when the United States Supreme Court and Republican governors make it harder for people of color to vote, and when they suppress the vote. And that is why I believe we need a constitutional amendment to guarantee every American the right to vote, and that we enact automatic voter registration. If you are 18 years of age, if you're black, if you're white, if you're Latino, you are registered to vote, end of discussion.
Racism is alive and well when we have a broken criminal justice system and we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth. We need, in this country, real criminal justice reform, and that means we need jobs and education for our young people, not more jails and incarceration. It means ending the cash bail system, which puts people in jail for the crime of being poor. Hundreds of thousands of people rotting in jail because they're poor and can't afford bail. It means ending the so-called war on drugs, which has caused so much pain and destruction in this country. It means ending private prisons. In America, you should not be making billions in profit by locking up and incarcerating your fellow Americans.
Racism exists in our country when we have massive levels of healthcare disparity. When the infant mortality rate in the black community is more than double what it is in the white community, and death rates from cancer and almost every other disease is far higher for blacks than whites... In America, we have got to do what every other industrialized country does: guarantee healthcare to all as a right through a Medicare for All, single-payer program.
Declaring that it is not enough to merely "remember" the legacy of Dr. King, Sanders concluded that Americans must "stand with him on taking on the political and economic establishment and creating a government that works for all of us, not just the few."
Watch Sanders' full remarks: