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Bernie Sanders organizers set sights on March caucus

Elise Thatcher

  The presidential election may be a year away, but Bernie Sanders supporters have their eyes on this spring. The first Democratic caucus is March 1st. And many attracted to Sanders’ platform don’t know what it is-- or how it works. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher stopped by a recent local campaign event and has this story.

There’s a handful of people here at the Glenwood Springs Library, sitting around a circle of tables in a community room. Michael Gibson is in charge. He’s handing out papers, and starts by addressing a key term that often comes up in conversations about Bernie Sanders. That word is socialism. “This letter is specifically around that word,” says Gibson, holding up one of the samples. “And I encourage everybody to at least one time, during the campaign, write a letter to the editor and blanket every newspaper…” Gibson is based in Glenwood Springs and is one of the key Sanders organizers in the Roaring Fork Valley area. “It really all boils down to public policy-- public parks, public hospitals. The U.S. military is a socialist entity.”

Glenwood Springs resident Bobbi Hodge says she’s inspired by a letter Sanders posted online about the Veterans Day holiday. “While planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war, so too is taking care of the service members who use those weapons and fight those battles,” she reads aloud. Hodge goes on to read the rest of the letter, which details Sanders’ frustrations with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while maintaining that veterans should receive better care. “I like this,” she says thoughtfully. “I was very impressed when I read this. If it’s a stupid war that’s our fault over here for letting our congress and the president send them over to a stupid war.” Hodge describes memories of the Vietnam War era, when some protesters treated Vietnam veterans badly.  

But most of this night is about the nuts and bolts of making Sanders the Democratic nominee for Colorado. And that means getting supporters to turn out for the March 1st Democratic caucus. “I wasn’t aware of that before,” says Glenwood Springs resident Leeza Monge, “that we had to show up in person to cast a vote for our nominee. And I was kind of appalled and shocked about that.” After the meeting, Monge is still trying to wrap her head around the caucus system. She

grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley and considers herself an independent, but switched her registration to Democrat in 2008 to support Barack Obama. Monge plans to volunteer for Sanders this time around.

“I don’t trust Hilary,” she says, “But I really like Bernie, I think he has a lot of integrity… his platform really gives me hope for positive changes that I want to see in this country. Especially concerning climate change, women’s rights, taking power back from corporate america...”

“I just believe in what he’s saying, and I think it’s very very important,” says former Garfield County Democratic Chair Jack Real. “I’m involved as being concerned and interested and encouraging. I’m not a hard-working volunteer at this stage.” He’s still with the party, now focusing on membership and outreach.

Real wasn’t able to stick around for last week’s Sanders organizing meeting in Glenwood Springs, and he’s in a little bit of a pickle: he likes both candidates. “I would like to have a woman president. Eight years ago, we were out of the country on the primary day. So I didn't have to choose between Obama and Hillary. This time I will have to choose. And so if Bernie does not prevail, I will certainly vote and support and work for Hillary.”

Gibson says there’s about a hundred and fifty active Bernie Sanders volunteers so far in the Roaring Fork Valley. “Also the campaign just finally started releasing the names of all the people who have signed up online,” he continues, “cause of a lot of people have gone to Bernie Sanders.com and said they want to volunteer, but the campaign has been so overwhelmed because the response has been just rescord-breaking.”

After multiple meetings in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs, the first Aspen gathering is scheduled for Monday night. Co-Chairs for the group are holding a short gathering at the Aspen Brewing Company. Pitkin County is a stronghold for Democrats, and the coming months will show whether Sanders may sway some Clinton supporters. Super delegate and former County Democratic Chair Blanca O’Leary has already chosen to support Hillary Clinton.


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