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What the Vermont Electorate Can Teach You About Bernie Sanders

What we see in Bernie is what we get. And millions of us like what we see.

Before becoming a national figure, he hosted free, simple meals with discussions of the vital issues of the day in communities small and smaller (this is Vermont). (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Before becoming a national figure, he hosted free, simple meals with discussions of the vital issues of the day in communities small and smaller (this is Vermont). (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders won his last Senate race with 71.1 percent of the vote, while we also elected a "moderate" Republican as governor on the same ballot.  He won the Vermont presidential primary in 2016 with greater than 86 percent of the state's voters. As a long time Vermonter, I wish it were true that Bernie's wins  reflect the fact that 71 percent of our state identifies as Democratic Socialists, but that is complete fantasy. For years, I have told my out of state friends and family, "Listen to this guy. He is saying what the country wants to hear, and he means it." And the reaction was often a chuckle with a shrug  and an "oh, you crazy Vermonters."

Regardless of the corporate media and the right wing "centrist" moans and groans that Bernie can't win in November, his track record in Vermont of being a hard worker, bringing Vermonters into the political process, treating people with respect, and his honesty and kindness have won him the respect of almost all but the hard core Republicans.

How has he done this? My first actual view of Bernie was when he was the mayor of Burlington. I was out for a walk at 6AM on a Sunday, and glimpsed Bernie climbing the steps of City Hall with his briefcase. Soon after that, I was volunteering for his first Congressional campaign. He lost that one to a real moderate Republican, but in 1990, he won the election, decisively beating the incumbent Republican and a weak Democrat. I can recall hosting a house party where two attendees screamed at me that Bernie was the spoiler (sound familiar?) and he would for sure get the Republican re-elected. An aside: I recently spoke with Peter Smith, the Republican Bernie defeated. I am not sure if he is still a Republican, but he laughed when I told him I had worked for his opponent and said that he was glad for Bernie's victory.

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How has Bernie brought along most of our state? Before becoming a national figure, he hosted free, simple meals with discussions of the vital issues of the day in communities small and smaller (this is Vermont). Often featuring panels of average citizens telling their stories, I attended some of these gatherings: how do we oppose the Iraq War? Appearing with Bill McKibben, about 8 years ago, discussing how we combat climate destruction. Another night I was locked out of a health care for all discussion because the venue was overfull—and I arrived on time!

I am a politically active, left bookstore owner/manager. We hosted Bernie's campaign office for our county in our back room for the first few Congressional campaigns. I, like so many other Vermonters, have been able to get to know Bernie to some extent. We have seen his warmth and caring for his fellow human beings. When the pundits complain about Bernie's anger, it is because he really believes in justice for all and a green future, goals that are being impeded on every day by Trump and company. And he, like many of us, is angry. He sees the vision of a government that works for people. This vision is reflected in the amazing staff in his Congressional office. From knowing the issues deeply, to understanding how to cut through the red tape of the government, Bernie's office is who I call when I have a problem needing to be solved or an opinion to be expressed.

The corporate media, and even the alternative press, rarely talk with Vermonters about why Bernie wins and why the "kitchen sink strategy" of the Republican party, and some Democrats, has never worked. A final example: during one of Bernie's early runs, a company from Virginia was hired by the Republican party to dig up dirt about Bernie. They went to his first wife, thinking about all the fun they could have. She not only shared that she had nothing negative to say about her ex- husband, but she then proceeded to call every media outlet and spread the word around the state. Bernie is not teflon, but the established parties and the media have been working to trash him for forty years- tough when someone has integrity and has been at this for a very long time. What we see in Bernie is what we get. And millions of us like what we see.

Nancy Braus

Nancy is the co-owner and buyer for Everyone's Books in Brattleboro, Vermont. She has been an environmental and peace activist for decades, as well as a volunteer for Bernie and other progressive candidates.

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