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Bernie Sanders On Pennsylvania Races: Fetterman, The DSA And The Power Of Organizing

Michael Dwyer
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally in Springfield, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015.

Senator Bernie Sanders will visit Pittsburgh this weekend. He'll speak at the American Federation of Teachers convention, and campaign with Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, John Fetterman.

90.5 WESA's Lucy Perkins spoke with Sanders.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

LUCY PERKINS: You'll be addressing one of the country's biggest public-sector unions just a few weeks after the Supreme Court's Janus decision dealt those unions a serious blow. How is that shaping your message this weekend?

BERNIE SANDERS: The attack by the Supreme Court on public-sector unions is a huge issue, and it's something that I am deeply concerned about. It's consistent with what the Supreme Court has been doing on a number of issues -- which by the way, is why I'm opposed to the Kavanaugh nomination. The bottom line is that the trade-union movement in this country has been responsible for decent wages and decent working conditions for millions of Americans, including public employees, municipal workers, and teachers. We've got to fight as hard as we can to defend the trade union movement in this country.

PERKINS: Speaking of Kavanaugh, you have said people must do everything possible to stop the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. But with the math in the Senate as it is, what is possible here?

SANDERS: Well, here's what you got: I think you've got the American people on one side, in terms of what they want to see, and you’ve got the Trump administration and the Supreme Court on the other side. So, if you take an issue like Roe v. Wade, well you've got about 70 percent of the American people thinking that Roe v. Wade should be maintained. And you've got a president who was very clear -- and he said during the campaign in so many words -- that he will appoint only people to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade.

Our job, politically, is to go out around the country and say to the American people: Do you think that Roe v. Wade should be overturned? That it should be the government and not a woman who makes the fundamental decisions regarding control of her own body? I think if we make that case effectively, if we organize effectively, we can turn around some Republican senators.

Look, the math is against us. You've got 51 Republicans, you've got 49 people in the Democratic caucus. We are going to need two Republicans. It's going to be a hard fight. I think it is possible if we do our job well. The issue is not just Roe v. Wade and women's health -- the issue has to do with health care, it has to do with pre-existing conditions. I want somebody there, and I think the American people in overwhelming numbers, want to retain the right of people to get health care regardless of the kind of illnesses they have.

PERKINS: After this weekend, you will have campaigned for John Fetterman twice, but lieutenant governor isn't a position that most people pay attention to -- why is this candidate important to you, and what do you hope he would accomplish as lieutenant governor?

SANDERS: That's a very good question. And you're right: I don't usually go around the country campaigning for lieutenant governor candidates. But I think John understands that the position of lieutenant governor can be used as an organizing tool in the sense of bringing more people into the political process.

One of the things that concerns me most about the future of American democracy is that we have one of the lowest voter-turnout rates of any major country on earth. A lot of people are giving up on the political process: They don't think that their vote matters. And I think that John is the kind of candidate that can turn that around, and that can make people aware that he is listening, that they have the power to bring about change.

PERKINS: Pittsburgh has elected two DSA-backed candidates to the state legislature. What advice you would give them about pursuing their goals once they get to Harrisburg?

SANDERS: I've followed this a little bit, the campaigns that both Summer [Lee] and Sara [Innamorato] ran, and what really blew me away was their ability to involve hundreds and hundreds of volunteers into their campaigns and knocking on doors. I think what they have got to do is go to Harrisburg and stand up and fight. Sometimes you're not going to win right away, but the ground is shifting all across this country.

Let me tell you something: It's not just Pennsylvania where we're seeing progressives being elected. We just saw it a few weeks ago in Maryland, we're seeing that in Chicago, several months before that. So I'm quite confident that they're going to more than hold their own in the legislature.