Bernie Sanders speaks about income inequality to his largest audience yet at Phoenix rally

Sanders has been described as "someone who's not afraid to take on Wall Street billionaires."

Bernie Sanders, the presidential hopeful and progressive challenger to 2016 front-runner Hillary Clinton, took the podium on Saturday at the Phoenix Convention Center to speak about income inequality and the need for education to the largest turnout of his campaign so far.

With the growing number of people that were expected to attend the Sanders speech, the event was relocated to accommodate a crowd that exceeded 11,000 attendees: almost 7,000 more than presidential hopeful Donald Trump's rally last week. 

Described as “someone who's not afraid to take on Wall Street and the billionaires” and “someone who is not for sale” by the opening speaker, Sanders riled up the crowd by describing the extreme state of income inequality he said America is in.

“What this campaign is about is saying that our great country and our government belong to all the people and not to the billionaires,” Sanders said.

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By Ben Moffat

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders cheer during a campaign rally on Saturday, July 18, 2015, at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The crowd shouted their discontentment as Sanders described America as having more wealth inequality than any other country: he said the top one-tenth of the 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 99 percent.

Sanders' win for the Democratic nomination against Clinton is considered a long shot with Clinton leading in the polls by 64 percent as of Thursday. But his income inequality rhetoric has attracted large crowds on the left. 

Sanders criticized Republicans for deeming wealthy CEOs and owners of large corporations as the job creators.

“You are the job creators,” Sanders shouted at the crowd. “When millions of people have nothing to spend we are not creating the jobs that we need."

Sanders said that he believes America should be about “putting money into the hands of working people" as opposed to putting money in the hands of billionaires.

"This grotesque level of income and wealth inequality is bad economics," Sanders said. " It is unattainable, and it is not what the USA is supposed to be about."

Sanders lamented the disappearance of the once-enviable American middle class.

"We have seen in recent years an explosion of technology and worker productivity, and yet despite that median, family income today is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999," he said

Sanders proposed eliminating this problem by raising the minimum wage to a livable $15 per hour.

"I don't think it is a radical idea to say that if somebody works 40 hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty,” Sanders said. “Our people do not need to be working longer hours. They need higher wages.”

Sanders moved on to talk about youth unemployment in America, discussing a recent study that claimed the unemployment rate for kids who graduate high school is far higher than expected, at 33 percent for those who are white even higher for Hispanics and African-Americans.

Sanders said that America has a problem with young people unable to get jobs and unable to get education.

“There are hundreds of thousands of bright, hardworking, qualified young people who are unable to get a college education, not because they didn't have the ability, but because their family doesn’t have the money,” Sanders said.

Sanders said that he has introduced legislation and will continue to work toward making public college free.

“We live in a nation with a highly competitive global economy and if we are going to succeed into the future we need the best-educated workforce in the world,” Sanders said.

Sanders also spoke about the issue of “outrageous student debt,” and said that his legislation will end the “absurdity” of student loans with an interest rate of 8 percent to 10 percent.

Sanders covered other issues as well, ranging from universal healthcare and better treatment of veterans to energy efficiency and immigration reform, all to the approving cheers of the audience.

Sanders proposed that in order to combat Republican agenda, the people need to stay united.

"We need to create a political movement: a political movement that brings our people together,” Sanders said. "Our job is not to divide. Our job is to bring people together."

Toward the end of his speech, Sanders brought back the notion of combatting income inequality.

"We are going to be a nation, and we are going to create a nation where everyone, not matter their race, their religion, their disability, or their sexual orientation realizes the full potential of the equality that is the birthright of Americans," he said. 

Sanders reminded the crowd that these changes will be no easy feat. He quoted Frederick Douglas,  saying, “Freedom does not come without struggle.” 

"We can do it when we stand up and say enough is enough," Sanders said as he ended his speech. "The billionaires are not going to have it all. It’s our country. Let's create the nation."

Reach the reporter at icastil3@asu.edu or follow @isabella_m_cast on twitter 

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