Junead Khan has been a Bernie Sanders supporter since 2016. The British national and UNC student cannot vote in the upcoming United States presidential election but is still drawn to the Vermont senator’s policies.
“I like to see the progressive reforms that Bernie is trying to bring to the United States,” says Khan, “and I like to show my support from the other side of the pond.”
Sanders’ proposal of free healthcare for all is intriguing to Khan. He began following Sanders because he was surprised the U.S. does not already have a healthcare system like that.
“Obviously being from Europe that’s something we take for granted,” Khan says, “but realizing that’s not a thing in the United States was quite a big shock to me. Seeing that he was trying to make a change to that, and how that was originally seen as radical over here by some Americans, was a big [factor] that drew me to him.”
Healthcare was a main talking point for the 78-year-old senator as he addressed more than 2500 people in the Bell Tower Amphitheater. Sanders stressed his belief of free healthcare as a moral right to Americans and pointed to many other countries’ implementation of the same plan.
“In a civilized democratic society,” said Sanders, “families should not go bankrupt because somebody became seriously ill.”
UNC junior Anum Imran says she’s lived all over the world and seen countries with many social and political differences from the U.S. She says Sanders’ stances on topics like healthcare and racial diversity are reasons she supports him.
“His politics very directly align with mine as a Muslim-American,” says Imran. “His support of the minorities communities in America that I relate to drew me to him and continue to draw me to him now.”
Imran says she believes Sanders’ polling numbers among college students, the highest among those running for the Democratic nomination, are because he relates to their struggles more than others. She says it’s a testament to how he treats young voters and backs up his promises with action.
“We have millennial candidates running,” says Imran. “I think, compared to Bernie, they don’t do as good of a job as they could speaking to our views and experience in America.”
One topic Sanders is championing in the leadup to the Democratic primaries is the cost of higher education. The senator has run on the idea of providing tuition free education at public universities since 2016, but now has introduced a plan to eliminate outstanding student debt. While his campaign estimates a costly $2.2 trillion price tag, Sanders plans to pay for it by taxing the wealthiest Americans’ stock trades. It was a plan he emphasized knowing he had college students in the crowd.
“It is extremely cruel and unfair to say to millions and millions of people,” Sanders said, “that they’re going to have to deal with outrageous levels of student debt decade after decade.”
The idea of no student debt sounds pretty good to junior John Beasley.
“As somebody who goes to UNC-Chapel Hill,” he says, “I would very much appreciate my student debt not existing.”
But beyond his personal debt, Beasley says he agrees with Sanders’ idea that eliminating student debt would have a significant impact on the economy. He says the disproportionate amounts of lower-income individuals affected by student debt also makes him believe erasing it would help more Americans have a fair shot at financial stability.
“It should not be a ‘pay to win’ system,” says Beasley. “I think with this [plan] it would benefit the economy by giving people more opportunities at better jobs and I think it’s something we can afford.”
Ahead of the rally, North Carolina Republican Party Chair Michael Whatley released a statement with chairman of UNC College Republicans Joseph Buckner. They wrote, “College students and voters both know that free college, free healthcare, and other government handouts come at a cost: Our economy, your income, and the American Dream.”
But Sanders is urging voters to side with him not just for sweeping policy changes but sweeping culture changes. He closed Thursday’s rally with a plea for unity among voters.
“Let us stand together, let us defeat Trump, and let us transform this country,” he said.
Sanders is visiting North Carolina after attending an event in Charleston, South Carolina, earlier in the week. He is holding a town hall event on Friday in Greensboro at the historically black Bennett College. He is the second politician running for the Democratic nomination to visit UNC after former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke visited in April.