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Thousands Show Up, Pitch In At Sanders Kickoff

Taylor Dobbs
At Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign kickoff, Karen Baldwin of East Hardwick was selling hula hoops she designed to raise money for the campaign.

Hours before Bernie Sanders took the stage Tuesday to kick off his presidential campaign, people were arriving at Burlington's Waterfront Park to show their support.

Daniel Chojolan was among the first to arrive. He was sitting on the lawn right in front of the stage with his dog Axel.

The pair left Chojolan's home in Poughkeepsie, New York at around 8 a.m. to come to Sanders' kickoff.

"I've seen some interviews with Bernie Sanders, and some of the speeches he's done, and he's just a straightforward guy," Chojolan said. "Even before he announced he was going to become president, I was exposed to him and I liked him as a person and the policies that he had."

Chojolan said he's already signed up to volunteer with the campaign.

As the crowds came in, so too did people selling things like T-shirts and campaign buttons. Set up behind some bleachers were Karen and Barry Baldwin. The pair came from East Hardwick to support Sanders in the best way they could think of - with the hand-designed hula hoops Karen makes, usually for sale at craft shows.

On a rack next to them were a few dozen brightly colored and patterned hula hoops and a sign that read "Hoops for Bernie."

"I really didn't have money to contribute to the campaign, but I thought if I made a bunch of hoops and sold some, then I could contribute that money." - Karen Baldwin

"I really didn't have money to contribute to the campaign," Karen said, "but I thought if I made a bunch of hoops and sold some, then I could contribute that money."

Karen says they sold about $100 worth of hoops, all of which she plans to donate to the campaign.

Thousands of people showed up for Sanders rally, and many of them said they were drawn to Sanders' consistency over the decades, as well as his message.

Next to the long line for Ben & Jerry's ice cream, a chant broke out. A group of college-aged men and women were chanting "feel the bern" and holding up big letters that spelled out "People for Bernie."

Credit Oliver Parini / VPR
A group holding People for Bernie signs chanted "feel the bern," along with other supporters before Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage.

Winnie Wong is part of People for Bernie, what she describes as a grassroots effort to get Sanders' message out across the country. Wong said she was one of about a dozen organizers and activists who came from New York City for the event.

Wong said some of the people involved with People for Bernie were also part of the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011.

"Now it's four years later and we're really stoked that this is happening," Wong said.

It was a theme of the kickoff - and Sanders' said in his speech that he hopes it will be a theme of the election - for supporters to be those who aren't usually involved in so-called "mainstream politics."

Bridget Iverson, a twenty something Underhill resident with dyed hair, walked over to the kickoff after work. She's signed up to volunteer on the campaign.

"I'm politically involved, but mostly on the internet, which is a very millennial thing to say," she said. "It's nice to be doing something in real life."

Iverson said she really liked Sanders' stance on campaign finance, but she was quick to admit she's not an avid political type when asked why she supports Sanders.

"Definitely his opinion on the issues. Definitely his, both-" she paused, frustrated with her response.

"I can't talk about politics," she said. "I really, really like the way he approaches politics though."

After a big turnout in his home town, Sanders is taking to the campaign trail to see if he can convince millions more that the Bernie brand of politics is the best for America.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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