In a speech at George Washington University on Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders laid out his vision of a democratic socialist society and made the case for why an ambitious agenda centered on economic rights for all is the only way to confront America’s deep inequities and defeat far-right authoritarianism.

“We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights,” said Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. “And that is what I mean by democratic socialism.”

Decrying an economic system that has left millions of families one accident or sickness away from complete “devastation” while billionaires thrive, Sanders said the Democratic Party must “take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion” by guaranteeing healthcare, education, housing, and a clean environment to all as a right.

Sanders acknowledged that he and other progressives fighting for a bold transformation of American society will face relentless attacks from the oligarchs and corporate forces invested in upholding the status quo, from Wall Street to the military-industrial complex to the pharmaceutical industry.

On this point, Sanders quoted a famous line from Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me. And I welcome their hatred.”

“I must say,” the Vermont senator added, “it does sound a little contemporary, doesn’t it?”

Sanders argued that the corporate forces standing in the way of necessary economic, political, and environmental change can only be overcome by a grassroots progressive movement committed to creating a just society.

The United States, Sanders said, must reject the “corporatist economics” and xenophobia of President Donald Trump and other far-right leaders and instead choose a “path of compassion, justice, and love.”

Watch Sanders’s speech, entitled “How Democratic Socialism Is the Only Way to Defeat Oligarchy and Authoritarianism”:

Sanders’s unwavering embrace of the “democratic socialist” label sets him apart from other 2020 presidential contenders, many of whom proudly tout their capitalist credentials and openly scoff at the Vermont senator for embracing an alternative economic vision.

During his State of the Union address in February, President Donald Trump took a shot at socialism and declared, “America will never be a socialist country.”

Sanders was one of the few lawmakers who remained seated as Republicans, and many Democrats, responded to the president’s line with a standing ovation.

“While President Trump and his fellow oligarchs attack us for our support of democratic socialism, they don’t really oppose all forms of socialism,” Sanders said. “They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires.”

In an interview with The Nation ahead of his speech, Sanders detailed what he means by economic rights:

When we talk about that, we’re talking about the right to a decent job, a job that pays you at least a living wage. We’re talking about the right to quality healthcare for every man, woman, and child. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. We’re talking about affordable housing…

We’re talking about education as a human right. That means quality pre-K and childcare. It means free public colleges and universities. It means doing away with much of the student debt that graduates or those who left school are now forced to assume.

We are talking about a decent retirement for our parents. Right now in America, you’ve got 20 percent of seniors trying to live on incomes of $13,500 a year, which is insane. And you’ve got millions and millions of seniors who can’t afford the prescription drugs that they need.

“And last, but certainly not least,” Sanders added, “we’re talking about the right to a clean environment… [All] over this country, you’ve got people who are turning on their water faucets today and the water that’s coming out is not drinkable. It’s toxic.”

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