*Editors Note: Check out the Web-exclusive photo gallery to see more pictures of the Bernie Sanders rally – as well as a few volunteer Halloween costumes.
Students, faculty, staff and community members crowded the Campus Center Multipurpose Room and spilled into the outdoor Amphitheatre on an unseasonably warm Halloween night to see Bernie Sanders and fellow candidates running for office in the upcoming Nov. 7 elections.
“Vermont, in my view, is going to be a leader,” Sanders said to a cheering audience of supporters clad in Bernie shirts and stickers – some even in Halloween costumes – who came to hear speeches, eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and rub shoulders with the current crop of democratic and, in Sanders’ case, independent, candidates running for office.
Sanders, accompanied by Peter Welch, the democratic candidate running for Sanders’ U.S. Senate seat, Scudder Parker, democratic candidate running for Governor, and Matt Dunne, a democrat running for Lt. Governor, strongly criticized the Bush administration and promised a better future for the younger generation.
“We need your help,” said Sanders, not just in the upcoming election, but also “in the upcoming years.”
Hitting on topics like increased grants and student loans for college, creating “good, high-paying jobs,” nationalized health care, combating poverty, the “loss of the middle class,” and finding a solution for the war in Iraq, Sanders, Welch, Parker and Dunne put on a united front against what Sanders described as the “right-wing extremism” of the Bush administration.
Citing the legacy of Senators Patrick Leahy, James Jeffords and student loan namesake Robert Stafford, Welch said that if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he wants to see people working together to bring issues like the environment to the forefront, adding that he admires the efforts of Castleton to become the greenest college campus in Vermont.
“You guys are doing a tremendous job,” he said. “It isn’t a choice between affordability and environmentally sound. It’s both.”
Some candidates, like Parker, faced the obstacle of political apathy felt by many college-aged voters.
“What does it look like when hope gets taken away from you?” Parker asked the crowd, adding that when politicians make people believe that politics is “B.S.” that the next thing to go is, “your rights.”
Dunne, 37, of Hartland, who was first elected to the Vt. General Assembly at age 22, said that he learned a lot about community work projects he calls ‘service politics’ as the national director of AmeriCorpsVISTA and feels that younger generations can bring a fresh perspective to politics.
“We are changing politics,” he said. “There are real choices ahead of you at both the national and the state level.”
Parker said, like Bernie, that the state can be a leader for the future of the country’s politics.
“Vermont is small enough to be the model for the rest of the country.” he said.