Election 2016

Why Bernie Sanders Got Twice as Much Applause as Hillary Clinton When He Spoke to La Raza

Sanders connects at the Latino civil rights group's big convention.

Photo Credit: Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock.com

On Monday, three Democratic presidential candidates—Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley—gave half-hour speeches at the National Council of La Raza’s annual convention in Kansas City. 

While Clinton spoke with familiarity to an audience she’s long known, it was Sanders whose speech was the most riveting, drawing twice as many applause interruptions as Clinton's. 

Sanders' speech to the nation's largest Latino civil rights organization was notable because he confronted the "stain of racism," his father’s immigrant experience and his impoverished upbringing, and he went into greater detail than Clinton about what federal government could and should do to create more dignity and economic security for individuals and families. 

Many pundits have written that Sanders has a problem addressing audiences of color, because he comes from nearly all-white Vermont. But Sanders’ La Raza speech shows that he can deeply connect with Latino audiences. What follows is a transcript of excerpts from his remarks that prompted 45 applauses and a concluding standing ovation. 

Excerpts from Sanders' La Raza Speech

These are tough times for our country. And it is absolutely essential that we involve more people in the political process, that we provide a voice for those people who have no voice, for those people who are in the shadows, and that we engage in serious debate on serious issues—and that is exactly what La Raza has been doing and will do. (applause)

I want to focus on three issues. I want to talk about the stain of racism in this country. I want to talk about the need for real immigration reform. (applause) And I want to talk about economic policies that address the grotesque levels of income and wealth inequality in America (applause) and the need to create an economy that works for all of us and not just a handful of billionaires. (applause)

Brothers and sisters, throughout history, for whatever reason — and I’m not a psychiatrist — racism has been a stain on human existence… This issue was raised, interestingly enough, just a few days ago when Pope Francis, one of the very great leaders in this world today, stated and I quote, “I humbly ask forgiveness. Not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for the crimes committed against the Native people during the so-called conquest of America.” End of quote. That’s Pope Francis. (applause)

Racism has plagued this country for centuries. We should be proud, however, that in recent decades, we have made significant progress, real progress, in overcoming racism and in defeating it; in creating a country where we judge people, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, not on the color of their skin. Not on the language they speak. Not on the country where they came from. But on their character and qualities as human beings. (applause)

We are making progress in the country and there will be no turning back. And let me be very clear in stating that no one—not Donald Trump, not anyone else—will be successful dividing us on race or our country of origin. (applause)

America becomes a greater nation, a stronger nation, when we stand together as one people and in a very loud and clear voice, we say no to all forms of racism and bigotry. (applause)

I know something about immigration, because my dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket, without much of an education, and without knowing the English language. Like immigrants before and since, he worked hard to give his family a better life in the United States. He never made much money. We lived in a three-and-a-half-room rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, New York. But he worked hard. My mom worked hard. And they were able to create a situation where their two kids went to college. (applause)

When we talk about the Latino community, and in fact, when we talk about America, one critical piece that must be talked about is the need for comprehensive immigration reform. (applause)

Let us be frank. Today’s undocumented workers play an extraordinarily important role in our economy. Without these folks, it is likely that our agricultural system would collapse. (applause)      

Undocumented workers are doing the extremely difficult work of harvesting our crops, building our homes, cooking our meals and caring for our children. They are part of the fabric of America. (applause)

Let me tell you my experience, one of my experiences, with undocumented workers. In 2007, I heard about horrendous exploitation in Immokalee, Florida, where undocumented workers grow tomatoes… I saw the conditions, of workers working horrendously long hours and very low wages; very bad working conditions and awful housing. And I’m happy to say that with people working together, we made some progress. Today workers there get better wages, better working conditions and better housing. (applause)

Eleven million people came to this country, who today are undocumented, so that they could feed their families, escape gang violence and desperate economic circumstances. Let me also be very clear, that people came to this country because they knew that there were jobs here. And if anyone thinks that employers—employers throughout this country—did not know that the workers that they were hiring were undocumented, they know nothing about what’s gone on in this country for 50 years. (applause)

Where do we go from here… I believe there should be a responsible path to citizenship so individuals can come out of the shadows (applause), people can walk the streets (applause) with safety, people can hold their heads high. (applause)

The [2013] Senate bill tried to accomplish this important goal, and the time is long overdue for the House of Representatives to take up comprehensive immigration reform. (applause)

The Senate bill contained the provisions of the Dream Act, which I strongly support, and which would offer the opportunity of permanent residency and eventual citizenship of young people who are brought to the United States as children. (applause)

It is my belief that we should recognize the young men and women who comprise the dreamers for what they are—American kids who deserve the right to legally be in the country they know as home. (applause)

This is not to say that I do not have significant criticisms of this long and complicated bill. I believe the pathway to citizenship was unnecessarily linked to border security treaties—measures that many believe were put in place so that the path to citizenship would be delayed or even denied for the millions of undocumented people here; and I want to change those provisions. (applause)

I also believe that the penalties and fines of the bill would be hard for the poor, essentially preventing them from accessing the path to legal residency and eventual citizenship. (applause)

To be meaningful, a pathway to citizenship needs to be achievable for the millions of workers at the low end of the economic class. These and other barriers of the bill, including the use of more than a decade that it would take to achieve citizenship, make it a flawed piece of legislation and needs to be improved. (applause)

Until we can pass comprehensive immigration reform, we must be aggressive in pursuing policies that are humane and sensible and that keep families together. (applause)

This includes taking measures that are currently available, including using the presidential power of executive order when it is appropriate. (applause)

While the Senate passed the Dream Act in its immigration bill, and the House has not acted, I think President Obama did exactly the right thing with his executive order for childhood arrivals. That was a good first step, but it should be expanded. Deferred action should include the parents of citizens (applause), the parents of legal permanent residents (applause) and the parents of dreamers. (applause)

We should be pursuing policies that unite families, not tear them apart. (applause

Let me now touch on a broader issue that impacts all Americans, but especially lower-income people, whether Latino, African American, white, Native American, Asian or whatever. And here is the reality. The reality is that for the last 40 years, the great middle class of this country has been disappearing… And while millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, there is another reality that we have got to put on the table: and that is that almost all of the new wealth and income being created in America today, and in the last many years, has gone to the top 1 percent. And that’s wrong. (applause)

It is not acceptable that youth unemployment in this country has reached tragic proportions… For white kids, that number is 33 percent. For Hispanic kids, it is 36 percent. For African-American kids, it is 51 percent. That is unacceptable. And maybe, just maybe, instead of building more jails, and locking up more people (applause) …maybe, just maybe, we should be investing in jobs and education for our young people. (applause)

I want America to be known as the best-educated country in the world, not the country with more people in jail than any other country. (applause)

When we talk about the problems of America, it is not only jobs; it is income. We need to raise the minimum wage, which today is a starvation wage of $7.25 to $15 an hour, so that anyone who works (applause) in this country does not live in poverty. (applause)

We talk about the need to compete in a highly competitive global economy. If we are going to compete effectively, we need the best-educated workforce in the world. And today in America we have the shameful situation of hundreds of thousands of bright qualified young people who want to go to college, but can’t go to college, because their families do not have enough money. That is grossly unfair to those young people and grossly unfair, and dumb for the future of the American economy—that is why I have introduced legislation that would make public colleges and public universities tuition-free. (applause)

In my view, furthermore, to be a great country, our government has to start protecting working families and not just wealthy campaign contributors. (applause

That means policies which end voter suppression. (applause)

There are politicians who are simply cowardly, are afraid to face the people because they know their ideas do not represent the majority. The only way they win is by creating situations that make it difficult for people to vote. I want to see us have the highest voter turnout in the world. I want to see us make it easier to vote, (applause) not harder for people to vote. (applause)

The United States is the only major industrialized country that does not guarantee medical and parental leave for its people. That’s wrong. When a woman has a baby, regardless of her income, she should be able to stay home with that baby (applause) and not be forced to go back to work. (applause)

We need to overturn this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision (applause) which allows billionaires to buy elections. (applause)

I voted for the Affordable Care Act, but it doesn’t go far enough. Every other major industrialized country guarantees healthcare to all of its people as a right, and so should we in the United States of America. (applause)

We are, in America today, the wealthiest country in the history of the world. But most people don’t know that because almost all of the wealth rests in the hands of the few. So what I would like you to do is to think big, not small. Think of a nation where every working parent has quality and affordable childcare. (applause) Think of a nation… where every person, regardless of income, can get all of the education that they need. (applause) Think of a nation where youth unemployment is not over 30 percent, but are in school or have training or have quality jobs. (applause)

Last but not least, think of a nation where every person in this country—no matter their race, no matter their country of origin, no matter their religion, no matter their disability, no matter their sexual orientation—that all come together, to create the greatest country that anyone has even seen; a country that works for all of our people, and we do it when we stand together, and we do not allow people to divide us, divide us, divide us. (applause)” 

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Steven Rosenfeld is a senior writing fellow of the Independent Media Institute, where he covers national political issues. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).