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Foreign Policy Analysis

Bernie’s Burlington: The Spark That Spread Around the Country


Everybody thought it was a fluke. Bernie won the mayoral race by ten votes. Running against a Democratic old guard that had run the city for a decade. He faced a board of Alderman who was completely dedicated to opposing everything he wanted to do. They didn’t even want to let him hire the person he wanted to hire as his secretary. And there was just an outcry from the population. Who said hey, this guy was elected mayor, let him be mayor. The public saw that this was a guy that not only had good ideas, but was willing to do whatever he could to try to implement them to better the lives of the average person in Burlington. One of his campaign slogans was the waterfront is not for sale. You know when Bernie was elected the shores of Lake Champlain were a wasteland. What Bernie, more than anything, wanted to make sure is that it was a waterfront that was open to all people, that it wasn’t kind of an enclave for the wealthy. Bernie led the effort to really transform the city. And did it successfully, and it was by mobilizing lots of people. He gave people a reason to vote who hadn’t been voting. We were able to get a large amount of housing to be permanently affordable for people of modest means. He stood up to the developers of Northgate and said: Not over my dead body am I going to allow the displacement of 336 low-income families. If they don’t have decent, safe, and affordable housing they don’t have a foundation from which to build their lives, the lives of their families. Then he’d pop up his head at the appropriate moment and tell them I know you’re going to do the right thing. This is about the residents at Northgate. And they were like, they’d never got talking to like that. But people are realizing now that all over the country, working people can’t afford a home. What can we do to bring the government to a place that it helps people here. Looking at what the needs of the community are, and find ways to meet those needs locally. Locally owned companies would hire local people, they would invest their profits locally. They would serve on boards of non-profits. Business thrived, unemployment was very low. People were happy, people were doing good. The city of Burlington went from being very ordinary to being really the vibrant city that it is today. The idea was we were starting on a path to try to transform the entire country. Real change is made by real people. Power is going to cede nothing without a struggle. I don’t think this revolution is going to happen overnight. But I do think it’s important that in Burlington, Vermont, and in cities and towns all over this country Workers and people who are interested in true democracy, begin talking about these ideas. Then maybe in Burlington, Vermont, we will strike a little bit of a spark. that might spread around the country.

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