MIDDLEBURY — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will host a first of its kind tele-town hall meeting Sunday, which will include a film screening followed by a question-and-answer session about income inequality in the United States.
“In my view, the issue of income and wealth inequality is the great moral, economic and political issue of our time,” Vermont’s junior senator said in an interview Monday.
Sanders will be at the Middlebury Union High School auditorium, while video equipment will connect him with residents at high schools in Brattleboro, St. Johnsbury and Bennington. The event will begin at 10:30 a.m. on March 30 at 73 Charles Ave. in Middlebury.
Sanders will screen the film “Inequality for All,” a documentary directed by Jacob Kornbluth and presented by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich that focuses on the widening gap between rich and poor in this country.
Sanders first screened the film in Burlington back in January, and said he was impressed by the turnout.
“We showed the film in Burlington and had 500 come out,” he said, noting that the crowd filled two and a half theatres at the Palace 9 Cineplex. “That told me that income and wealth inequality are issues that people deeply care about.”
Sanders said he believes if legislators don’t take steps to decrease income inequality, the United States will suffer dire economic consequences.
“The fear I have, if present trends continue, is that we’ll see the collapse of the middle class and an increase in poverty, while the wealthiest people get wealthier,” Sanders said. “If these trends continue, we’re moving in the direction of an oligarchic society that is controlled by a small handful of billionaire families.”
Sanders, who is the longest-serving independent member of Congress, urged his colleagues to allocate more funds for job creation.
“We need to create millions of jobs in America by rebuilding infrastructure, rebuilding our energy system and shifting to sustainable energy,” Sanders said.
A 2010 study done by the U.S. Census Bureau using the Gini coefficient, a formula used to calculate income inequality, found that Vermont ranked 19th among all states. Utah had the least income disparity, while New York and the District of Columbia had the highest.
“Economically, we have tens of millions of Americans who have almost nothing in their bank accounts,” Sanders said. “Ordinary people can’t buy goods and services.”
Sanders said that little progress has been made to combat income inequality because powerful interests oppose measures that would decrease it.
“When we talk about income and wealth inequality, we’re taking on some of the most powerful and wealthy special interests in America,” Sanders said. “The Koch brothers are worth $80 billion, who are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates, to propagate right-wing mythology.”
Sanders said it is unacceptable that in the United States, the top 1 percent of income earners own 38 percent of all wealth, while the bottom 60 percent of earners collectively control just 2.3 percent.
“Ninety-five percent of the new income over the last five years went to the top 1 percent,” Sanders said. “We have to deal with that issue.”
Sanders supports raising the federal minimum wage and preserving entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He argued that while the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, that wealth is concentrated among top earners and does not trickle down to the middle class and working families.
The senator, who is considering running as a dark horse presidential candidate in two years, said he would use a hypothetical campaign to further his advocacy about income inequality.
“If I run for president I intend to use that platform to talk about income inequality, as well as other issues I don’t think get enough attention,” Sanders said.
One of these other issues is climate change, which Sanders described as the most serious environmental crisis facing this planet. He added if the screening and talk on Sunday go well, he’ll seek to host others across the state.
“It’s an enormously important issue, and I hope other members of Congress have similar discussions,” Sanders said. “I’m glad we’re doing this — technologically, I’m excited about having a simultaneous meeting.”