By Rachel Gobep & Additional Reporting
by Morgan Petronelli
Chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie,” could be heard at Lordstown High School on Sunday afternoon as the hopeful 2020 presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., entered the school’s auditorium.
The American Federation of Teachers hosted a panel that featured Sanders as a guest panelist to discuss the upcoming election and how Lordstown can come back after the closure of the General Motors Co. plant, joining AFT President Randi Weingarten.
The Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper and Charles Khan from the Hedge Clippers organization were also part on the panel.
During the town hall event, Sanders discussed both local and national issues such as education, school funding, corporate greed, local job loss and economic inequality.
He said it was an important meeting to discuss the “horrific impact” of what is happening to the community by the closure of GM and the company preparing to give “billions of dollars in stock buybacks to make the very rich even richer.” He said this discussion makes an impact on “virtually every state in this country and our entire economy.”
“What we have to decide [is] whether, in our democracy, we are going to allow a handful of billionaires on Wall Street to close down profitable plants like the one here in Lordstown,” he said.
Sanders said the job now is to tell Wall Street that “whether they like it or not, they’re going to be good corporate citizens.”
“That means if entities like General Motors think that they can throw workers out on the street while they’re making billions in modeling, and move to Mexico and pay people there starvation wages and then line up to get federal government contracts, well they got another guess coming,” he said.
According to watchdog.org, the Communications Manager for GM Public Policy Jeannine Ginivan, said in an email that although the company would not address Sanders’s comments directly, the company has been “investing extensively” in the United States.
“GM has invested more than $22 billion in its plants since 2009 in 11 states including Ohio, Michigan, Texas and New York,” Ginivan said. “This accounts for 26% of all U.S. manufacturing in that time frame. In fact, GM recently announced that it will invest $1.8 billion in our U.S. manufacturing operations across six states, creating 700 new jobs and supporting a total of 28,000 jobs.”
After criticizing GM, Sanders called President Donald Trump a “tough guy” because he shutdown the federal government, denying people paychecks when Congressional Democrats did not want to meet his demands for U.S.-Mexico border wall funding.
He asked Trump to show GM how tough he is by telling the company “no more federal contracts.”
Republicans held a press conference before the town hall outside of the school that included Rep. Don Manning, state Chairwoman Jane Timken and Sen. Michael Rulli, who argued that a Sanders presidency would be a disaster for Ohio jobs and workers.
Alyssa Brookbank, an intervention specialist at Lordstown Elementary and president of the Lordstown Teachers Association, said she has seen Lordstown families torn apart and children struggle due to the closure of the GM plant and the opioid crisis.
She asked Sanders what he would do to support similar students not only in Lordstown, but across the country.
Sanders said America needs to give adequate funding to education including a salary that attracts the best teachers.
“Education is what being human is about,” he said.
Sanders praised AFT for showing that there is a connection between the children in the community and how the closure has impacted them.
Eva Lamberson, a freshman philosophy and religious studies major, attended the town hall and also went to Sanders’ campaign rally in Pittsburgh the same day.
She said Sanders’ focus on blue collar workers and bringing well-paying jobs back to the U.S. is especially key to his electoral prospects in the Midwest.
“I think he did a great job highlighting the distinctions between himself and President Trump, whose policies have massively harmed Midwestern workers,” Lamberson said.
She said Sanders has her support because he has the strongest platform for economic justice of any candidate running for the 2020 presidential election.
“He is advocating for reform of the healthcare industry, the criminal justice system, immigration policy, environmental policy, foreign policy, and so many other major issues that could benefit, and save, the lives of millions of people,” Lamberson said. “His campaign and platform give me a lot of hope for major, beneficial changes to our political system and climate.”
The town hall event came after a report titled, “Hedge Papers No. 66, Hedge Funds Attack General Motors and American Jobs,” was developed in partnership with AFT.