Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders made stops in Orangeburg and Denmark on Saturday to discuss educational and environmental issues.
During an education town hall at Orangeburg’s Life Cathedral Church, the Vermont senator unveiled a 10-point proposal for major reforms of the K-12 education system.
The Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education and Educators focuses on reversing what Sanders said is racial and economic segregation that is plaguing elementary and secondary schools.
“What we’re discussing today ... is the need to revolutionize national priorities and start giving education in this country the attention and the resources that it needs,” Sanders said.
The proposal was announced a day after the 65th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case, which first began in Summerton with Briggs v. Elliott in 1947. Briggs v. Elliott, litigated by Thurgood Marshall, was one of the five cases that led to the famous Supreme Court case.
The decision “determined that separate school systems for African Americans and whites was inherently unequal,” Sanders said.
“What many people across this country don’t know – but I’m sure the people of South Carolina know -- is that this historic case was launched 40 miles down the road ... in Summerton.”
Sanders’ plan calls for a ban on for-profit charter schools and an immediate moratorium on federal funding for new charter schools, which Sanders said are exacerbating educational segregation.
He proposed new regulations to increase charter school transparency, limit the pay of charter school CEOs and ensure that charter schools don’t siphon funds from the public school system.
The plan also calls for large new investments in programs that serve high-poverty communities, support special needs students and augment local efforts to integrate school districts.
Sanders proposed a national per-pupil spending floor for all school districts in America, a plan for universal school meals and increasing school infrastructure funding to renovate, modernize and “green” schools.
“It has been said today and it has been said a million times that the future of our country is in our children,” he said.
“And I get a little bit tired of hearing people tell me how much they love America, but apparently they don’t love the children of America. I don’t understand it.”
Sanders also called for increases in teacher pay so that the starting salary for educators is no less than $60,000. And Sanders called for a new grant program to help teachers defray the cost of school supplies, as well as the expansion of existing tax credits for teachers who pay for those supplies out of their own pockets.
He praised the teachers who recently participated in a rally at the State House in Columbia.
“What encourages me and gives me so much hope about the future is, in fact, the courage that we have seen in West Virginia, in Oklahoma, all over the states, South Carolina, North Carolina ... teachers standing up for their kids,” Sanders said.
“They’re not doing it for themselves, they’re doing it for the future of this country.”
Sanders held what was billed as an “environmental justice” town hall at Denmark Technical College a few hours later. Taking a break from the environmental theme, he opened with a call to action and promoted his proposal of “Medicare for all.”
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“This country faces an unprecedented moment in our history, and we need an unprecedented response. And that means that people have got to be involved in the political process in a way that we as a nation have never been involved before,” Sanders said.
“We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world,” he said. “There’s no reason why as a nation we’re the only major country on earth not to guarantee health care to all people as a right. Not a radical idea.”
Later, conversation turned to the town of Denmark’s water woes. Sanders said he visited the home of Denmark resident and activist Pauline Brown and her husband.
“The water in their home is not drinkable. This is America, this is 2019. One might think that when you turn the tap on, you’ll get water that is not toxic,” Sanders said.
This is not unique to Denmark, the senator said. Water safety is a problem all over the country.
Brown, a panelist at the event, said that town residents can’t drink or cook with the town’s tap water. She said that she has experienced burning and sores from bathing with the water.
Deanna Miller Berry, the founder of Denmark Citizens for Safe Water, was also part of the panel.
Moving to Denmark about six years ago, she said that “to learn about this water crisis was something I never, ever thought to uncover.”
Berry was determined to get to the root of the problem.
“What we found was horrific. It was appalling. I was angry,” she said.
Filmmaker and environmental activist Josh Fox said, “We take water for granted. I stopped taking water for granted in 2008 when the oil and gas industry came to my neck of the woods. ... They wanted to come in and frack the watershed.
“Fracking, as you may know, injects chemicals down into the earth, down into the substrata, where those chemicals can leach into water supplies and cause natural gas to come up into the water table.”
Fox began to investigate and discovered problems all over the country, with animals and people suffering from unsafe water. He eventually became an activist for safe, clean water.
“This is coast to coast. This is a crisis. And where the water is good, you have infrastructure, pipes that are over a hundred years old,” he said.
Fox posed a question to the audience: Where are these things happening?
“They’re not happening on Wall Street. They’re not happening in Silicon Valley. They’re happening to poor people. They’re happening to people of color,” he said.
Those people have to be like Pauline Brown, he said, and “stand up together and fight back for our rights.”
“Because water is the most basic, fundamental underpinning of everything we have in our society,” he said.
“If you don’t have water, you don’t have anything.”