Progressive and liberal thinkers from around the world are in Burlington, Vermont this weekend to discuss issues and find practical ways to move forward. Many of the people at this first conference organized by the Sanders Institute attended the opening reception Thursday evening to hear the keynote speech from Independent Senator Bernie Sanders.
The Sanders Institute was created in June 2017 by Senator Bernie Sanders’ wife Jane O’Meara Sanders and his stepson David Driscoll. The Senator is not affiliated with the group. O’Meara Sanders says this is the first major event the organization has coordinated. “We are using the Sanders Institute Gathering, our first conference, to bring together leading intellectuals and people from a variety of experience to come and talk together. We ended up with 49 speakers in 48 hours and it’s only the beginning. We’re hoping that a lot of things spin off from this and we’re going to establish a global network of progressives that resonate each others’ ideas.”
Among those attending the three-day “Gathering” are San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, environmentalist Bill McKibben, international economist David McWilliams and actor and activist Danny Glover, who is a founding fellow of the Sanders Institute. “One of the things that’s imperative for us to develop is a left think tank that is able to embrace the political realities that we face right now but at the same time begin to offer alternatives, real alternatives that’s real change transformative change. And certainly with extraordinary young leaders here and those who have been on the battle lines for years I think it’s an important moment a critical moment so that we can have a conversation about our relationship to humanity.”
Civil rights attorney James Thompson, who ran for Congress in the Kansas 4th district, finds many people are looking for progressive alternatives. “It’s like people starving for a progressive vision out there. There’s also a lot of pushback because we have such a conservative state. But there’s a lot of people that are getting tired of having their lives ruled over by the 1 percent. They’re really wanting somebody that’s going to talk to them about helping working people.”
The first speaker of the evening was author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek. During the question and answer session he unnerved the crowd a bit by admonishing them to learn from President Donald Trump. “When we think about people like Trump and other Republicans it’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that they’re worthy rivals at all. And we have to. Because if we see Trump purely as evil all we do is get angry. And it feeds a narrative that they capitalize on by the way. And you’re going to get uncomfortable with me even saying these words. We are really good at connecting with people rationally except rational doesn’t inspire anything. And Trump is extremely good at connecting complicated ideas in extremely emotional ways. We should listen and learn from him. It’ll make us better.”
The keynote was delivered by Senator Sanders, who touched on many of his familiar themes. “On issue after issue I want you all to know that the American people are with us on those issues. So what do we do? Our job is to bring our people together around a strong progressive agenda that speaks to the needs of all and not just the 1 percent. And I know that within this room there is an enormous amount of brain power, an enormous amount of experience, in terms of dealing with all of these important issues. And I can tell you as a United States Senator we desperately need your expertise. We need your ideas.”
Senator Sanders did not address his plans for 2020. His 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver believes if he does run many people will support him. “I think he’s been very transparent about this process. You know he’s weighing it right now and you know I think in the not too distant future he’ll have something to say about it.”
The Sanders Institute Gathering runs through Saturday in Burlington.