TULSA, Okla. — Sixty-year-old Wally Cox was one of many voters who showed up to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ Feb. 24 rally at the Cox Business Center in Tulsa. While Sanders is well-known for garnering young voters with his plan to make tuition at public universities free, Cox is proof that the idea can equally appeal to older generations.
He has worked since he was 16 years old, but was never able to pay for his children’s college education.
“I’m 60 years old, OK I was born in 1956," Cox said. "I grew up in the home of two working class people. I’ve worked all my life. Neither one of my children went to college on money that I could get them. They both joined the army so that they could go to college because that was their only option.”
Cox was in the crowd of about 6,500 people at the Tulsa rally when Sanders repeated his promise that, if elected, he would push for free tuition.
"We are listening to young people saying 'Why is it that I come out of college in debt?’” Sanders said in his speech at the rally.
“Can we afford free tuition?” Cox said. “I don’t think we can afford to not. I mean, the way it’s structured right now, my grandchildren are never gonna be able to go to college. None of them. None of them are ever gonna have the chance to go to college. I don’t think that’s right. I think all these young people are here because of the outrage over inequality.”
Sanders has garnered a lot of support from millennials, voters between the ages of 18 to 33, a feat that is often attributed to his call for free tuition in the United States.
“What kind of stupidity is it that we punish people for wanting an education?” Sanders asked. “We need a political revolution. We need the best educated workforce in the world.”
Sanders said free tuition is the way to start that revolution. His proposal is to create a speculation tax on the wealthy, which would in turn raise money for student tuition.
Malynn Montgomery, one of the young supporters at Sanders’ rally, dropped out of college because she could not afford it, but says that with free tuition, she would go back in a heartbeat.
“I just did not want to have the debt that everyone else has,” she said. “I could not handle that. If tuition were to be really free, I would definitely go back.”
Others are still skeptical of Sanders’ proposal.
“I don’t think that he can do it," said Jack Day, who attended the rally with his 17-year-old son. "I hope he can, but I don’t see it."
“It’s a nice promise, you know,” Day said about Sanders’ free tuition proposal. “I’m kind of an older guy. I’ve heard a lot of promises. I know it’s hard to get that stuff done yourself. I think he has good intentions.
“I have two young sons, one is 17 and the other is 21,” he said. “The 21-year-old couldn’t come, but the 17 year old is here. I used to be involved in politics in the '80s. My son was enthusiastic about coming here, and I was excited for him to get involved. My 21-year-old goes to OU and he likes (Sanders) a lot. This boy is 17. He’s just learning about politics. I think that young people feel his energy. They feel the hopefulness.”
Day has seen many elections and heard many broken promises from politicians, he said. He worries Sanders might be just another one to add to the list, but he holds out hope for the candidate.
While the young remain hopeful and enthused about Sanders’ platform, Cox and Day both added that Sanders has hooked them as well. After all, they are the ones paying for their children’s tuition.
“I think it is possible,” Cox said in regard to free tuition. “Like he said, it’s not possible without changing the tax structure, but we’ve been pampering billionaires for a long time. I hope he could do it. You always have our congress to work with first, but it’s not gonna happen if nobody tries. He really does have a strong appeal among young voters.”
Sanders acknowledged Cox’s exact concern in his speech.
“No president, no one, not Bernie Sanders, can bring about the changes this country needs alone,” he said.