I was a senior in high school, just 17 years old when I first had the opportunity to meet Sen. Bernie Sanders. I remember thinking to myself, “who the hell is Bernie Sanders and why do we care?”
It was 2014 and he came to my high school in Newport, Vermont to announce his plans to run for presidency. I had never heard of him in my entire life, but thinking back, I’m glad I was at school that day.
We crammed into the auditorium that fit about 200 or 300 people; I’m not great with estimates. I was with my then field hockey teammate, my now college roommate and closest friend.
We sat through a 30-minute speech given by the senator. He spoke to us about income inequality, actually many types in inequalities in our country, healthcare and most importantly, affordable college for ALL.
I had never been more inspired by anything than I was when listening to Bernie talk.
Everything he was saying just seemed to make sense. Why is it that 1 percent of the country holds the most wealth? Why is it that other countries see healthcare as a right and the U.S. sees it as privilege? Why are we such an assbackwards country?
One word: Elitists. But we won’t get into that today.
When he was done, I wasn’t. I wanted to hear more. I wanted to pick his brain about another topic that I felt (and still feel) needs to be addressed.
I wasn’t alone, but nobody seemed to have the guts to ask the senator such a “blunt” question.
So, me being the unrestrained person that I am, I walked right up to the senator (with a group of around six people following me) to ask him about the legalization of recreational marijuana in Vermont.
But the only thing is, he beat ME to it.
Is this guy a mind reader?
Did I look stoned?
Was I stoned?
As I took a deep, confident breath, I was quickly interrupted by Bernie who said, “You’re not going to ask me about marijuana are you?”
I was dumbfounded. I truly didn’t know how to respond in that moment. I just started laughing, and responded with “Yes, actually I was.”
He said, “Why do you think legalizing marijuana would be a good idea?”
Colorado had just legalized recreational marijuana at this point and made roughly $60.7 million in taxes and fees in the first SIX MONTHS.
Imagine how a plant can boost an economy to the point where they’re practically giving the money away.
“Colorado has made so much money that they’re funneling it back into schools and it’s helping rebuild the state’s infrastructure,” is along the lines of what I said. But of course I was paraphrased in the local paper to look like a moron.
Anyway, Bernie said to me and I quote, “do you really want everyone in school to be stoned all the time?” Also, I feel inclined to add that I was given a full backrub by the senator as he made his point.
I felt like saying “they’re going to be stoned regardless if their education is funded by weed money.”
I guess he wasn’t feeling the “burn.”
Nonetheless, I respected Bernie. Even though he totally deflected my question. In retrospect, he was about to run for president. He probably didn’t want to go on the record endorsing marijuana.
But I did what a lot of young people my age did and supported Bernie until the bitter end.
To this day, he’s still fighting for our civil liberties and rights. Since he was a young man, he fought, and I believe he will fight, until he takes his last breath on earth.
That’s the kind of person we want as president, not the bag of Cheetos we have in office now.
So when I heard he was coming to the school to announce his free tuition plan, I knew I had to get another word with the Bern Man, this time as a professional.
I sat through another speech and was again awed by his love and passion for the people in this country. I waited for my peers to take photos with him and thank him for advocating for our generation.
I nearly peed myself. I rehearsed my question over and over again to make absolutely certain it was compelling and most importantly made sense. I was reassured countless times it sounded good.
When the time came, I choked up. I’m not sure why, but it was very nerve wracking for me. I mustered up the courage to get his attention and finally the words came out.
“Senator Sanders, I also have a question for you.”
He was all ears.
“Do you think the president and his current administration has exposed and normalized a side of the country that has always lurked in the shadows?”
This is a question that has been burning inside of me since Trump announced his campaign.
He replied by saying “I think that’s a very good question. I think what he is doing is reaching, in a very terrible way, trying to appeal to prejudices that I had hoped were long behind us. I think his presidency is trying to exacerbate his prejudices and I think that is an awful thing.”
If he didn’t already have my heart, he would have won it 10 times over in that moment.
This was an experience that I will never forget. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to talk to Bernie again and hear his wisdom.
If I continue down this path as a journalist, I’m certain I’ll have the chance interview him again. Maybe one day as our president? One can only hope.