At the time, Bernie was a mere Congressman, the only representative from Vermont in the House of Representatives. He had convened 30 leaders from across the state for a weekend retreat. The conference included organizers and activists engaged around tenant rights and women’s rights leaders as well as farmers and mobile home park residents.
They were low-income and working class leaders from around Vermont who probably weren’t in a position to give money to any candidate. This is in sharp contrast to “leadership” events I’ve witnessed from other members of Congress who are more often gathering with their wealthiest donors than their least well-off constituents.
What struck me about Bernie in that moment was how animated and energized he became by these grassroots leaders. He delighted in them and what they had to say. He wasn’t acting. He smiled and laughed and, I dare say, loved these people. These were the people he was accountable to. This is whom he was working for. Period.
That image came back to me during his presidential campaign. I knew who Bernie was accountable to. And because of that, I trusted him. And I think other people understood that too. He is frankly unimpressed by wealth and power, title or role. His head is not turned by wealth or fame.
There are few politicians that I can say that about. It’s reminiscent of UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in his community garden or photographing manhole covers. They cannot be bought.