At Burlington Book Tour Stop, Sanders Soothes Supporters | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
At Burlington Book Tour Stop, Sanders Soothes Supporters


Sen. Bernie Sanders at a book tour event in Burlington Tuesday night - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders at a book tour event in Burlington Tuesday night
Several hundred Vermonters assembled at the Church of Bernie on Tuesday night.

The hymn books at the First Unitarian Universalist Society Meeting House where they gathered went unopened. Instead, people in the pews paged through hardback copies of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) hefty new book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, waiting for the man himself to appear at the pulpit. It proved a fitting setting for a former presidential candidate who’s now famous for his political proselytizing.

Hosted by Phoenix Books and held in Sanders’ hometown of Burlington, the event was one of several sold-out stops on his nationwide book tour. Sanders announced his Senate campaign at the same church in 2006 and some of his most zealous fans attended Tuesday night’s sermon.

Sanders wrote his book, which describes his presidential campaign and lays out his policy prescriptions, before Donald Trump was elected president. The book’s release, just a week after the election, gave Sanders a reason to again traverse the country, bringing renewed attention to his platform at a time when many of his supporters seek a counterweight to Trump.

Diehards lined up outside in the cold 90 minutes before the event. Julie Curtin, a Burlington resident who works at the University of Vermont Medical Center, pulled off a glove to reveal a “Bernie” ring on her right hand featuring a silver silhouette of Sanders’ hair and glasses. She donated to his campaign, called voters and attended his rallies. Inspired by his run, Curtin said she will continue to donate to down-ballot Progressives.

If Trump’s win demoralized Sanders, the seasoned senator didn’t let it show. Instead, Sanders told the crowd that his campaign message still resonates: “On virtually every major issue facing the country, the American people are on the side of progressive ideas.”

Noting that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Sanders said, “Mr. Trump does not have a mandate and certainly does not have a mandate for some of the very ugly, horrific things that he said during the campaign.”

Sanders holds court. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Sanders holds court.
In the aftermath of the election, Sanders vowed to try and work with Trump. But on Tuesday, he also promised to stand up for those slandered and demeaned during the campaign.

“There is one issue where in my view there cannot be compromise and that is on the issue of bigotry,” Sanders said.

That was precisely what Lena Ginawi and Kiran Waqar* had come hoping to hear. The 16-year-old girls from South Burlington, who are both Muslim and wear head scarves, explained beforehand that they wanted to hear Sanders speak because he’s proof, amid Trump’s rise to power, that “somebody is rooting for us.”

At the end of his lecture — which more resembled a campaign stump speech than a book promotion — Sanders answered several questions that audience members submitted on index cards.

Among the first: Did Sanders really write his book on an iPad?

Sanders, who had just railed against the corporate media and its focus on candidates rather than policy, entertained the question with surprisingly good humor.

“It’s about 90 percent true,” he said. The crowd erupted in laughter as he continued. “I tend to be, um, not the most high-tech human being in the world but every time I dealt with my personal computer I was wiping out three pages … It was slower to go forward with the iPad but at least I knew what I put in the damn thing stayed in the damn thing.”

Before the event started, Beth Wallace stood in line with her 6-year-old daughter, Emily Grace, and her mother, Kathy Cardiff. During the primary, Wallace and Emily Grace canvassed for Sanders in New York and New Hampshire. They drove up from Bennington for the book event because, in the wake of Trump’s election, “I want to ask what specifically we can do as Vermonters,” Wallace said.

She didn’t get to ask Sanders that directly, but an 8-year-old child posed a similar question: “How can kids make a difference in politics?”

“When Vermont does something good ... it spreads that idea in five seconds across the country,” Sanders responded. “So I think at the end of the day maybe our greatest responsibility is to try to create a state which in every way people from 49 other states are looking at Vermont and saying, ‘you know what, we want to be like Vermont.’”

Correction, November 23, 2016: An earlier version of this story misspelled Kiran Waqar's name.