In front of a crowd one Burlington police officer estimated at 5,000 or more, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, celebrated the kickoff of his pursuit of the White House Tuesday. The rally took place in Waterfront Park, a busy spot in Burlington which Sanders said he was proud to help preserve as mayor of the city in the 1980s.
Sanders, a self-described "democratic socialist," is seeking the Democrats' nomination for President of the United States.
At the rally, Sanders laid out a progressive vision for the country--a revolution, he termed it--to transform the U.S. to a place that'll wrestle power and influence away from billionaires and strengthen working families. Sanders also promised more jobs through federal road and bridge upgrades, better health care and social services for the poor, and an approach to climate change that he said should lead the world.
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"When people stand together, when people are prepared to fight back, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished," Sanders told the cheering crowd.
To many in Vermont, Sanders is a hero for always sticking up for the little guy, whether that little guy is a veteran, a senior, a student, a low-income family, or other often-challenged groups. The mountain he'll have to climb over the next several months is: can his popularity here translate to grassroots support in other states?
"I think if people learn who Bernie Sanders is as a candidate, his message will really resonate beyond Vermont," predicted Sanders supporter Debbie White, who attended Tuesday afternoon's rally.
"He's not in bed with corporations, he's not in bed with Wall Street, he's not in bed with banks," observed Ann Schmidt of Burlington. "He's [for many years] had the same message: he's for the people."
He's honest; he's got integrity," added Charlie Thomas of Lake Placid, New York. "He speaks for the disenfranchised. No one else is saying any of that stuff."
Of course, not everyone is on board the Sanders train: Vermont's Republican Party issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon saying, in part, "Fear and frustration are a powerful political cocktail. But all you have to do is take a good look at Vermont’s growing crisis of affordability to get a good look at what the hangover from a Sanders administration would look and feel like."
Following his rally in Burlington, Sanders is next off to campaign events in New Hampshire and Iowa.