By Jon Sundby, News Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the past week, Grinnell dusted off its soapbox and welcomed two democratic presidential candidates. Making their way through tours of Iowa, former Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders stopped to sell the potential of their presidency to students and residents. O’Malley came to speak in JRC 101 on Sunday, while Sanders followed up in Central Park on Thursday.
O’Malley arrived a little after noon on Sunday to a packed room in JRC 101. Originally booked for the much smaller JRC 209, the event was moved last-minute, because of the need for more space. Students, professors and residents had already filled the room an hour before O’Malley arrived.
The rally began with a video entitled “New Leadership,” which featured both landscapes of America and clips of the former governor talking about his platform, from police reform to climate change. Soon after, the iconic intro to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” by the Dropkick Murphys started and O’Malley bounded into the JRC.
Throughout his speech, O’Malley used both nostalgia and hope in order to rally the audience around his campaign. Exemplified by the slog “Rebuild the American Dream,” which was printed on the signs being handed out to students, O’Malley harkened back to an older time when there was a general feeling of American prosperity.
“You and I are part of a living, self-creating mystery called the United States of America,” O’Malley said. “The promise that is at the heart of that mystery is not some vague abstraction or amorphous idea out here somewhere. It is the very real and concrete promise, a covenant, if you will, that in our country, you start where you start, but whatever your parents zip code, through your own hard work, your own grit, your own love of family, your own determination, you’re able to get ahead.”
O’Malley also emphasized the role of youth in shaping the future of America. He praised the recent direction of social values in American politics, pointing out the popularity of gay marriage and immigration reform with young voters.
“I’ve talked to young people all around this country, and if you ever have any doubts about where our country’s headed, talk to the young people of America, especially those under 30,” O’Malley said. “But you’ll rarely find among them Americans who deny that climate change is real … who want to bash immigrants or discriminate against gay couples or their families. And all this stuff means that we are moving to a much more connected, generous and compassionate place.”
Especially prominent in O’Malley’s speech was his stance on college education, which he plans to make “debt-free,” if elected president. O’Malley emphasized how as governor of Maryland, he froze tuition and turned Maryland public universities from the sixth to twenty-eighth most expensive in the nation. He accomplished this feat mainly through a tuition freeze and promised to enact similar freezes, along with loan refinancing options for current student debt, in order to ease the financial burden on students.
“He wants to represent college students, you know, he did his thing about freezing college tuition. Now, that doesn’t apply to us since we’re a private institution, but Grinnell is all about making college accessible to everybody, with need-blind admission. Well here’s a candidate who wants to make college debt free so anybody can have access to college education,” said Greg Margida ’16, who volunteers for the O’Malley campaign.
Although the applause that O’Malley received was often loud and supportive during his speech, the candidate also had his share of controversy. On July 18, Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted O’Malley at a convention. In response to the demonstrators, O’Malley proclaimed, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.”
During his Grinnell appearance, O’Malley made several attempts to illustrate his dedication to combating police brutality, although he also had trouble answering a student’s question about his support of stop-and-frisk tactics during his time as mayor of Baltimore.
Margida expressed dissatisfaction with O’Malley’s use of the phrase “all lives matter.”
“I was really disappointed that he chose those words, and I’m really not that satisfied with him saying that he didn’t understand the meaning of it, because of his relationship with Maryland, and everything that’s going on there. You know, when the campaign started, I really wanted him to be the ‘Black Lives Matter’ candidate, but unfortunately no one has emerged as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ candidate,” Margida, who is also active in the college chapter of Concerned Black Students, said.
Four days later, on Sept. 3, Sanders stopped in Grinnell for his own campaign event. Despite the midday heat and 2 p.m. time slot, which overlapped with classes, Central Park was packed with both students and residents excited to hear the presidential candidate speak.
Earlier in the day, volunteers for Sanders were busy setting up 500 chairs on the lawn to prepare for the crowds. During the event, however, the event chairs quickly filled up, and people crowded around the sides of the pavilion. By one organizer’s estimate, there were around 700 people at the event.
The event was co-sponsored by the campus groups Grinnellians for Bernie Sanders and Grinnell College Campus Democrats. To introduce the Senator, the co-founder of Grinnellians for Bernie Sanders, Dhruv Gupta ’17, took to the microphone.
“We need the next leader of free world to not be beholden to corporations that have a vested interest in keeping things as they are,” Gupta said. “We need Bernie Sanders, representing all, but beholden to none!”
After Gupta spoke, representatives from the union, National Nurses United, and the Democratic organization of Poweshiek County gave short speeches before inviting Sanders to the podium. Almost immediately after thanking the event’s organizers, Sanders dove into explaining the sections of his platforms, starting with income inequality.
“The people of our country completely understand that corporate greed is destroying our economy and that it is wrong, it is unacceptable that almost all of the new income and wealth generated is going to the top one percent,” Sanders said. “That is not the economy that the American people want.”
While most of Sander’s speech covered the issues of wealth distribution, misconduct on Wall Street and campaign finance reform, he also touched on issues of racial justice, a topic that, just like O’Malley, has haunted his campaign in recent months.
“When we talk about making America the kind of nation we want it to become, we must understand that we still have a long way to go in terms of racial justice,” Sanders said. “Our goal must be to end all forms of institutional racism and make major reforms in our broken criminal justice system.”
To conclude his speech, Sanders begged for unity in the face of long odds.
“There is nothing we can’t accomplish if we stand together. But if we allow them to divide us up, as they have for many years, by the color of our skin, where we were born or our sexual orientation, they will continue to dominatr, and the rich will continue to get richer and everybody else gets poorer.”
As Sanders came down into the crowd to greet his supporters, he was surrounded by students eager to shake his hand and take selfies. Although most of the crowd seemed enthusiastic about the candidate’s appearance, a couple of students shouted questions about his stance on Israel, which Sanders ignored.
“He has made clear so far, he appears to be a Zionist. When he has been asked on Palestine before, he has spoken in really vague terms about a two-state solution, but he hasn’t taken a clear stance, he hasn’t opposed U.S. aid to Israel, he hasn’t said anything about ending the siege on the Palestinian people,” said Eli Shepherd ’18, who was one of the concerned students, adding “in his silence he is complicit.”
Despite these complaints, and some concerns that Sanders could not win a general election, students at the rally seemed emboldened by the Senator’s performance and looked forward to seeing how the race will play out.
“The fact that he is a grouchy, pragmatic man who is willing to talk about what actually matters is really the thing that he has going for him,” said Ian Stout ’17.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that O’Malley’s slogan was “Make America Great Again” instead of “Rebuild the American Dream.” The S&B apologizes for the mistake.