Bernie Sanders was in Brattleboro on Thursday and he was met by a packed house at the Latchis Theatre.
Vermont's junior senator was in town to announce the kick off of Windham Grows, a small business development program, or "business hatchery," that seeks to build the food and agriculture business sector in Windham County by connecting businesses with services, resources and financing. More than $300,000 in funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, U. S. Department of Agriculture and Windham County Economic Development Program will keep participation in the program free.
Windham Grows is an offshoot of Brattleboro's Strolling of the Heifers, which, for the past 10 years, has operated a regional business planning competition and a microloan fund for New England farmers.
But Sanders' visit to Brattleboro was more than just about Windham Grows for many of the people packed into the Latchis. They were also there to hear that he will continue to fight the regressive policies being championed by the current administration and the Republicans in Congress who hope to use the administration's dissembling as cover to implement their own regressive policies.
"Despite the wishes of the people of Brattleboro, Windham County and the state of Vermont, we have a president that most of us did not support," he told the crowd. "This president is moving us in exactly the wrong direction in every major issue facing our country."
In his failed run for the presidency, Sanders often spoke about income inequality, anthropomorphic climate change, out-of-control health care expenses, and the need to defend the rights of women and minorities.
Sanders told the people at the Latchis that the Democratic Party only has itself to blame for the election of Donald Trump because it fails to recognize that most Americans support the progressive agenda he championed during his campaign.
And Sanders' comments were by no means self-aggrandizing. A recent poll by Fox News, which was hardly his friend during the campaign, shows Sanders is the most popular politician in the nation.
But this isn't just about Sanders' progressive agenda; it's also about his honesty and integrity and his willingness to go places many politicians of his ilk fear to tread — including the Deep South and Coal Country — to sit down and listen to ordinary people.
Even prior to Nov. 4, Sanders was rated by some as the most popular politician in the country, even more popular than then-President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. This popularity was hardly dented by the attempt of many pundits and political operatives on both sides of the aisle to disparage him by labeling him a socialist.
Matt Karp, writing for The Jacobin, noted the simplest explanation for Sanders' popularity is that "he stands for popular things," including aggressive financial regulation, a much higher minimum wage, Social Security expansion and free public college.
"Just as important," noted Karp, "Sanders stands against unpopular things. For over 25 years, about 60 percent of Americans have consistently said that the country's wealth distribution is unfair and that the wealthy pay too little in taxes. In the past decade, an equally robust 60 percent majority has expressed dissatisfaction with the size and power of major corporations. Another 60 percent believe major donors exert far more influence on Congress than regular people."
Even in defeat, wrote Karp, "Sanders has successfully established a premise, a vocabulary, and a program for social-democratic politics in America. The premise is almost revolutionary: our society is now controlled by a tiny capitalist elite, whose predatory power can only be toppled by a popular movement from below."
Many people are calling for Sanders to encourage a third party in the United States that can effectively take on the established elite. But while they are asking for Sanders to lead, many people are taken action into their own hands, whether that's organizing resistance to the agendas of Trump and the Republicans or campaigning for seats on local councils or state legislatures. That's where the battle will be won or lost, not on the national level. People are beginning to realize if they really want to effect change, they have to start small and build big.
Sanders' own campaign for presidency proved that starting small can produce big results. We don't ask him to lead, but we will ask him to shepherd the change and mentor the people implementing the change.