BRATTLEBORO—If there’s a Bernie Sanders rally in Washington, D.C., David Reed promises he’ll be there – even if he has to hitchhike from his Putney home.
At an Aug. 27 meeting in Brattleboro, Reed demonstrated his dedication by bringing along a box of green T-shirts he had emblazoned with social media hashtags supporting the Vermont senator’s presidential campaign: “#EnoughisEnough, Washington, D.C., #BernieOrBust.”
“This election is too damn important to not be talking about it every day,” Reed declared.
Reed may have been the most vociferous attendee at the “Windham County for Bernie” gathering, but he had plenty of company: About 70 people crowded into 118 Elliot to talk about ways to support Sanders’ 2016 Democratic presidential effort.
In a place where red “Bernie” bumper stickers from his previous Senate campaigns are common, those who attended weren’t interested in taking home campaign signs for their yards. Instead, they sought volunteers and organizational help to carry their message into neighboring New Hampshire – specifically, Cheshire County and the city of Keene – for that state’s influential February primary election.
“Mobilizing this part of this state for Bernie isn’t a problem. We know that our effort would be wasted here,” said Leslie Sullivan Sachs, one of those leading the “Windham County for Bernie” group. “But we only have to look across the river and see one of the most important primaries in the country.”
Sanders, serving his second U.S. Senate term as an independent, has gained early traction in the 2016 race by drawing large crowds. The New Hampshire primary is scheduled for Feb. 9, eight days after the all-important Iowa caucus and three weeks before the full slate of “Super Tuesday” primaries.
Because it is a presidential election year, Vermont’s primary will be one of those Super Tuesday contests March 1.
After Sanders supporters held several meetings here in July, the talk Thursday night focused on how to get involved with more than five months remaining before New Hampshire’s balloting.
A Sanders staff member from Concord, N.H. – who afterward declined to give her name and said she was not authorized to speak to the media – gave a brief presentation on the possibilities, which included phone banks and canvassing as well as staffing events and campaign offices.
A volunteer said the campaign soon will establish a Keene office, which generated a buzz in the Brattleboro crowd. Attendees at Thursday’s rally were urged to get involved with volunteer work and a possible bus trip to Washington. A table at the entrance was loaded with Bernie buttons, bumper stickers and books.
There were several sign-up sheets on clipboards at the back of the room, and volunteers also were asked to contact the group via the Windham County for Bernie Facebook page.
Among those speaking was John Wilmerding, a past chairman of the Windham County Democrats, who said he decided to publicly endorse Sanders after stepping down from that post this year. He urged those in attendance to become involved with Democrats in their own towns to spread Sanders’ message.
“We need a political revolution in this country ... that’s why I support him,” Wilmerding said. “Right now, organizing to win New Hampshire is No. 1.”
Wilmerding added that “we have to absolutely change the whole dialogue about politics in this country in the direction of getting big money out of politics. Personally, I believe that to be the No. 1. issue.”
Others had different reasons for supporting Sanders. Nancy Braus, an owner of Everyone’s Books just down the street, ticked off a variety of issues that were important to her including combatting climate change, economic inequality and racial discrimination.
Braus said she has worked for Sanders’ congressional campaigns and intends to get involved in the presidential race.
“There are just so many reasons why we need a more just society, and I feel like Bernie is the only person running who presents the possibility of a more just society,” she said.
She characterized Democrat Hillary Clinton as a “war hawk” and took a jab at a Republican contender who’s been grabbing headlines in recent weeks.
“Bernie treats people as if they were intelligent human beings,” Braus said. “He talks to the American people with full ideas, full sentences – not soundbites. If we don’t have a public that is capable of thinking, we’re going to get Donald Trump.”
Charlie Curry-Smithson – who, like Braus, is trying to organize Windham County residents for the New Hampshire primary – doesn’t see Sanders as a one-man movement.
Rather, Curry-Smithson believes the Brooklyn native and Burlington resident is the right candidate at the right time.
“I know enough about the political system to know that one person is not going to do it ... there has to be a broad movement, and I think there are a lot of movements in the last two or three years,” the Brattleboro resident said in an interview before Thursday’s meeting. “Occupy Wall Street helped people recognize the disparity in income and wealth. Since that time, there’s been a lot of movement in a lot of different spheres, and I think he’s a person who can really tap into that.”
Sullivan Sachs is a prominent anti-nuclear activist, but she said she is joining the Sanders campaign simply as a Windham County resident. She believes the Progressive movement is gaining momentum, though Sullivan Sachs reached back to personal attributes to explain her enthusiasm for the senator’s presidential bid.
“He’s telling the truth. Bernie is not like the political candidates that we’ve seen in my lifetime,” she said. “He’s not groomed. He doesn’t look at polls.”
“Many times I thought, it would be so cool if Bernie were president,” Sullivan Sachs added. “Now is the time.”
Braus is a Bernie believer, but she’s also trying to rally the troops. Before Thursday’s gathering, she described it as “not a ‘go round in a circle and get to know each other and feel good’ meeting. This is about what we can do.”
If Sanders’ Vermont supporters don’t go to New Hampshire, she said, “it will just be people who like Bernie talking to people who like Bernie.”
A spokeswoman for Sanders’ New Hampshire campaign welcomed the help of Vermonters.
“Every day we’ll have ways for people to help, and will make sure we are utilizing our Vermont volunteers from now until the primary by having them help us talk to voters about why Sen. Sanders has been great for Vermont and why he will be great for the country,” Julia Barnes said in an email. Barnes recently left her post as chair of the Vermont Democratic Party to help direct Sanders’ Granite State effort.