Senator Bernie Sanders at Westminster

Senator Bernie Sanders as he delivered Westminster College’s Green Foundation Lecture Thursday in Fulton, MO. Photo courtesy of Westminster College

“As we saw here so clearly in St. Louis in the past week, we need serious reforms in policing and the criminal justice system, so that the life of every person is equally valued and protected,” Senator Bernie Sanders told the crowd at Westminster College on Thursday, September 21.

Many significant political figures have spoken at Westminster College’s Green Foundation Lecture, but when Sanders arrived for his speech, he was treated more like a celebrity.

Students, faculty and guests at the Fulton college cheered heartily for the senator as he arrived and at many points during his speech addressing the flaws and triumphs of United States foreign policy at Westminster’s Champ Auditorium. The longest-serving independent senator, Sanders ran a surprisingly popular campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and is currently sponsoring a bill to bring single-payer health care to the U.S.

The speech focused on foreign policy concerns, but in light of current events, Sanders also condemned marches of Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the U.S. and called on other politicians to unequivocally denounce them.

“There are no two sides of that issue,” Sanders said.

Carolyn Perry, the acting president of Westminster, said the Green Foundation Lecture has always been a forum for significant political speeches.

“We are proud of the rich role Westminster has been able to play in our country’s history,” Perry said.

Established in 1936 as a memorial to Westminster graduate and St. Louis attorney John Finley Green, the lectureship hosts speakers to address “economic and social problems of international concern”. The most famous lecture was Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech addressing the Soviet Union’s policies in Europe; other speakers have included U.S. president Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.

Sanders was presented with an honorary doctorate in political science from the college.

The warm reception continued as Sanders, in his speech, made a point to criticize the foreign policy of the Donald Trump administration.

Sanders tied foreign policy to American budget priorities, pointing to the defense budget of approximately $700 billion, which Congress voted to increase by $50 billion last week.

The bill Sanders criticized, calling for a $54 billion increase in military spending, will likely be passed by the end of the year once the House and Senate reconcile their versions of the bill. Sanders’ Medicare for All bill for single-payer health care has attracted 15 co-sponsors and considerable grassroots pressure for Democrats to sign on; two years ago, he introduced a similar bill and found zero supporters in Congress.

“At the same time as my Republican colleagues want to substantially increase military spending, they want to throw 52 million Americans off the insurance they already have, because supposedly, they are worried about the budget deficit,” Sanders said. “While increasing military spending, they also want to cut education, environmental protection and the needs of our children and senior citizens.”

Sanders quoted from a foreign policy speech given by former president Dwight Eisenhower, the “Chance for Peace” speech Eisenhower made shortly after he took office as he was winding down the Korean war: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Sanders’ speech was notable for its criticisms of the War on Terror and suggestions that international conflicts, including the dispute between the U.S. and North Korea over the latter’s potential development and use of nuclear weapons, could be solved through diplomatic means. He also raised concerns about the growing popularity of right-wing extremism, both abroad and at home.

“What foreign policy also means is that if we are going to expound the virtues of democracy and justice abroad, and be taken seriously, we need to practice those values here at home,” Sanders said. “That means continuing the struggle to end racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia here at home.”

After a week of protests in St. Louis following the Stockley verdict, the largest applause line for Sanders’ Missouri audience came when he addressed structural racism.

“We cannot speak with the moral authority we need if we do not struggle to achieve an ideal we are holding out for others,” Sanders said.

In any case, he had plenty of supporters in the auditorium of Westminster. After the college’s choir sang a final song and its chaplain offered a benediction, the senator left the stage to a hearty, spontaneous chant from the crowd: “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!”

Jessica Karins is an editorial intern for The St. Louis American from Webster University.

‘We need serious reforms in policing’

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