POLITICS

In Campaign Kickoff Speech, Bernie Sanders Promises To Fight 'Grotesque Level Of Inequality'

05/26/2015 07:03 pm ET | Updated May 27, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday officially kicked off his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, laying out his populist agenda in a fiery speech to about 5,000 supporters in Burlington, Vermont.

"Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly that enough is enough. This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires, their super PACs and their lobbyists," he said.

Sanders called income inequality "grotesque" and "the great moral issue of our time." He also listed universal health care, campaign finance reform and climate change as key issues in his progressive agenda. Among the specific items on his campaign platform include establishing a $15 minimum wage, closing the gender pay gap, investing $1 trillion over five years to rebuild infrastructure, and overturning the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

In his remarks, Sanders did not specifically attack his Democratic opponents, Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley, the latter of whom is expected to jump in the race on Saturday. He instead pledged to emphasize the issues of the campaign.

"This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton. It is not about Jeb Bush or anyone else," he said. "This campaign is about the needs of the American people, and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs. As someone who has never run a negative political ad in his life, my campaign will be driven by issues and serious debate; not political gossip, not reckless personal attacks or character assassination. This is what I believe the American people want and deserve."

He also drew on his personal experiences in explaining his populist agenda.

"My father came to this country from Poland without a penny in his pocket and without much of an education. My mother graduated high school in New York City. My father worked for almost his entire life as a paint salesman and we were solidly lower-middle class," he said. "My parents, brother and I lived in a small rent-controlled apartment. My mother’s dream was to move out of that small apartment into a home of our own. She died young, and her dream was never fulfilled. As a kid I learned, in many, many ways, every day, what lack of money means to a family, and that is a lesson I have never forgotten and never will."

The announcement event, his first official campaign rally, was held on the shores of Lake Champlain in Burlington. Sanders began his political career in the city in 1981, when he was elected mayor, before going on to represent Vermont in the U.S. House and Senate. Also making appearances at the event were environmental activist Bill McKibben, a Vermont resident, and the creators of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, which is based in Burlington.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to say that Sen. Sanders wants to invest $1 trillion, not $1 billion, over five years to rebuild U.S. infrastructure.

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