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Conyers, Sanders town hall rallies crowd

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Jobs, health care and economic progress were touted as the focus of a town hall in Detroit led by U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday night.

But the issues immediately became a rallying cry for the more than 1,000 attendees to push back against divisive policies under President Donald Trump’s administration and seek change in government.

“Trump and his friends know something very profound, and we know the same thing: that when we are divided up, we fail. When we stand together, we win,” Sander said, adding: “Yes there are divisions in this country on a number of issues — I won’t deny that. But on major issue after major issue, the American people are united in wanting a government that represents all of us and not the one percent!”

Tackling some of the most pressing issues affecting Americans, from wages to economic growth, the politicians agreed, is key to lifting the nation.

“We need jobs, justice and peace,” Conyers, a Democrat from Detroit, said to applause at Fellowship Chapel Church on the city’s west side. “We need political justice and economic justice.”

Tuesday’s forum, which drewa diverse crowd from across the region, was an “important gathering of people who believe in freedom, justice and equality,” said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP and the church’s pastor.

Sanders, a presidential candidate in 2016 who this week attended rallies in Ohio and Indiana, received several standing ovations and shouts of “Bernie 2020!” while pointing out what he believes is driving the public’s anger with the government.

“We have to acknowledge that … for the first time in the modern history of our country, our kids might have a lower standard of living than our generation,” he said.

The town hall comes as Republicans in Congress have failed to repeal and replace the Obama-era health care law. A plan passed the House in late May but later failed to muster enough votes in the Senate.

The president has insisted that lawmakers try again and has said that the health care law is collapsing. He also has threatened to stop billions of dollars in payments to insurers. Some Republicans are considering fallback measures to stabilize markets.

The 2018 sign-up season for subsidized private health plans starts Nov. 1, with about 10 million people served through and its state counterparts.

In January, Conyers reintroduced H.R. 676, which would expand and improve Medicare and provide universal access to care to all Americans.

Sanders has announced he planned to introduce a similar legislation in the Senate.

Both men argued Tuesday that securing health-care access for everyone enhances quality of life. “Health care is a human right,” Sanders told the crowd. “... If every other major country guarantees health care to every man, woman and child in their nations, by God we can do it in the United States.”

That notion heartened attendees like Elbert Collier Jr., a UAW worker from Ohio who worries about relatives who could lose health care if the law is replaced. “I want to make sure there are things in place that keep the Affordable Care Act viable for them,” he said.

Vanessa Lynn of Commerce Township, whose husband works in the auto industry, is grateful for their health coverage through his job, but fears others won’t be covered if lawmakers repeal the law.

“As a country, we’re only as good as we are collectively,” she said. “So we need health care for moms and children.”

Jobs also were a focus of much of the forum.

Sanders and Conyers recently have introduced companion youth jobs bills in the House and Senate to tackle unemployment. The Employ Young Americans Now Act would provide $5.5 billion to employ 1 million residents in summer and year-round jobs as well as help offer training and apprenticeship programs.

Conyers called finding a job one of the “fundamental human rights in our great democracy.”

“There should be full employment in the wealthiest nation in history — jobs for everybody,” the Democrat said.

Sanders’ and Conyers’ proposals left an impression on Machhadie Assi, a college student from Dearborn.

“We’re looking for hope,” she said. “We all fall under the same umbrella.”

The town hall was “a breath of fresh air,” said Nicole Breadon of Clarkston, who was there with her 13-year-old son. “To come to Detroit and be around like-minded people — I feel the strength.”

The oversize crowd in the pews reflected the political climate, said Karin Brown, a longtime church member from Detroit. “There’s so much frustration,” she said.

The forum helped remind the public to stay engaged, said Colin MacDougall, 27, of Dearborn. “I’m trying to be as politically involved as I can.”

The gathering, and Sanders’ appearance there, sparked criticism from Michigan GOP officials.

“The Democratic Party is so devoid of ideas that they have turned to a Socialist who isn’t even a member of their party to help them write an agenda.” said Ron Weiser, Michigan Republican Party chairman, in a statement.

“Bernie Sanders’ far left-wing policies have repeatedly been proven wrong. When tried in the 1960’s and 70’s, they brought decades of decay to Detroit, a decay that is now in retreat due to the efforts of the Detroit business community and the reorganization led by Governor Snyder and our Republican Legislature.”

The Associated Press contributed.