1990 press release from the Anti War Action Group on their occupation of Bernie Sanders' Burlington office over his support for the first Iraq war and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 09:21:29 -0400
From: Will Miller
Subject: Occupying Bernie Sander's Burlington Office with follow-up
Instant Antiwar Action Group Contact: Will Miller
April 26th, 1999
Why We are Occupying Bernie Sander's Burlington Office:
[Burlington, VT] I am writing on behalf of the
anarcho-socialist-feminist and anti-racist left in Vermont, some 25 of whom
are sitting next to me in this occupation. We are in Bernie's Sander's
office to help bring a halt to the escalating war in Yugoslavia and the
ongoing war against Iraq, both supported by Sanders.
Many of us worked on Bernie's campaigns through 1980's, the years
he was--as the local press repeatedly put it--the "avowed socialist" Mayor
of Burlington, Vermont. His descent into de facto membership the Democratic
party has been a major setback for the task of building a real electoral
alternative to the two factions of the corporate property that monopolize
what passes for political choice in the United States. Bernie's selling out
says clearly to working people and those unable to find work that even
leftists become mainstream politicians,
when and if they win office.
Sanders presented himself to the left outside of Vermont as the
leader of the third party movement, vanquishing the two major parties in
every Mayoral election from 1981-88.
When he first got elected Mayor of Burlington he was the only
elected U.S. official to attend the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution
in Managua. The Gannett owned Burlington Free Press said he had to be
removed from office "by any means necessary." Now that same Burlington
Free Press endorses his Congressional candidacy.
Bernie became an imperialist to get elected in 1990. In August,
1990--after the Bush administration enticed Iraq into invading
Kuwait--Sanders said he wasn't "going to let some damn war cost him the
election," according to a staff member who was present at the time. So
Sanders backed the buildup in the Persian Gulf and dumped on the left
anti-imperialist peace movement, singling out his former
allies like Dave Dellinger for public criticism.
He lost in 1988 Congressional race, the last time the Democratic
party ran an official candidate against him. In that election Sanders and
the Democrat, Paul Poirer, split the majority of votes and the election
went to the Republican, Peter Smith.
Bernie--out of office for the first time in eight years--then went
to the Kennedy School at Harvard for six months and came back with a new
relationship with the state's Democrats. The Vermont Democratic Party
leadership has allowed no authorized candidate to run against Bernie in
1990 (or since) and in return, Bernie has repeatedly
blocked third party building. His closet party, the Democrats, are very
worried about a left 3rd party forming in Vermont. In the last two
elections, Sanders has prevented Progressives in his machine from running
against Howard Dean, our conservative Democratic
Governor who was ahead of Gingrich in the attack on welfare.
The unauthorized Democratic candidate in 1990, Delores Sandoval, an
African American faculty member at the University of Vermont, was amazed
that the official party treated her as a nonperson and Bernie kept
outflanking her to her right. She opposed the Gulf build-up, Bernie
supported it. She supported decriminalization of drug use and Bernie
defended the war on drugs, and so on.....
After being safely elected in November of 1990, Bernie continued to
support the buildup while seeking membership in the Democratic
Congressional Caucus--with the enthusiastic support of the Vermont
Democratic Party leadership. But, the national Democratic Party blew him
off, so he finally voted against the war and returned home--and as the war
began--belatedly claimed to be the leader of the anti-war movement in
Since 1991 the Democrats have given Bernie membership in their
Congressional Caucus. Reciprocally, Bernie has become an ardent
imperialist. Sanders endorsed Clinton in 1992 and 1996. In 1992 he
described Clinton as the "lesser of evils," ( a justification he used to
denounce when he was what the local press called an "avowed socialist").
By 1996 he gave Clinton an unqualified endorsement. He has been a
consistent "Friend of Bill's" from since 1992. One student I knew
worked on the Clinton Campaign in 1996 and all across Vermont, Bernie was
on the stage with the rest of the Vermont Democratic Party Leadership,
while the unauthorized Democratic candidate for his Congressional seat was
kept out in the audience.
Sanders continues to support sanctions even though the Iraqi body
count has now passed 1.5 million. Just as he has supported every bombing
of Iraq since 1992. When Clinton sent military units to Kuwait and Saudi
Arabia in October, 1994 because Iraq moved troops inside Iraq closer to the
Kuwait border (apparently about 100 miles away), Bernie supported this
because "we cannot tolerate aggression."
As a Congressman in Vermont he has allied himself the MIA/POW
crowd, the American Legion and the VFW, the very groups that red baited him
as Mayor. At the same time he and his staff "forget" to invite the Green
Mountain Veteran's for Peace--the only anti-imperialist veterans group in
the state--to his sponsored Veterans events. He sends out mailings to
veterans that supports the US having "the strongest military in the world,"
while praising our sacrifices as veterans "for the freedom of Americans."
Bernie regularly rides out with the rest of the Vermont
Congressional delegation defending the military contracts in Vermont
against cuts by the Pentagon, while arguing that some moderation in
military spending is possible on the grounds "that the
threat of communism is over" (WCAX interview, 10/94)
Incidentally, Sanders now has a stronger record voting on the
Democratic side in the Congress than either Bonier or Gephardt--the
Congressional Leadership of the Democratic Party. It is tempting to
situate Sanders within the framework of the Congress as a whole. By that
standard he doesn't look so bad--though that's a very low standard to use.
But remember, unlike Maxine Waters or Ron Dellums who moved continuously to
their left during their Congressional careers, Bernie
got where he is now by a lurch to the right. He promises working people,
the aged, the poor, and the "vanishing middle class" that he will defend
them while he repeatedly blocks the building of the anti-capitalist
political movement and party that might actual make such promises
legitimate. Indeed, when challenged publicly about his failure to help
build a left alternative to the major capitalist parties, Sanders claims he
is now too busy with his work in Congress to be bothered.
Among his other discredits, Sanders supported the Federal Crime
Bill that give the gave the capitalist state more than 50 new pretexts to
execute members of the working class--because those without capital get the
punishment. He did this while courting the Vermont Police Chief's Assn.
Sanders also voted to extradite Assata Shakur from Cuba in
violation of the existing treaties with Cuba.
Recently, Bernie championed in Congress the dumping of Vermont's
nuclear waste near Sierra Blanca, Texas, a low income border community with
a mostly Latino population that is overwhelmingly opposed to the dump
project. Environmental racism and classism seem not to bother him.
On a related issue, Bernie was recently asked by the local press
why he was the only member of Vermont' s three member Congressional
delegation who had no person of color on his staff. Bernie responded that
"we're hiring the most qualified people we can."
For all of these reasons, we are sitting-in at Bernie Sander's
Office. We call on all Vermonters who shares our concern and horror at
what U.S. Empire is doing in Yugoslavia and Iraq to make your voices heard!
Join us at Sanders office or pay a call on the office of Senators Leahy and
Stafford. All three of them support both of these wars! In a one-party
system, they call it a "bi-partisan" on foreign policy.
In solidarity with the peoples of Iraq and Yugoslavia!
For the Instant Antiwar Action Group
10 Machia Hill Rd.
Westford, VT 05494
At 6:30 PM, one half hour after closing time, Philip Fiermonte of
Bernie's staff had 15 of us arrested for trespass. Sanders refused a
conference call with those in the occupation, which was carried out
nonviolently and with no disruption to his staff. Fiermonte claimed he
could not contact Sanders for the four hours of the occupation--still
another way Bernie has gotten out of touch in the Congress.
Ironically, Fiermonte was one of the defendants in the celebrated
Winooski 44 case in 1984, where the conservative U.S. Senator Robt.
Stafford's (R-VT) office was occupied for his support of Reagan's murderous
wars in Central America. At least Stafford's staff let the occupation
continue for three days before having anyone arrested.
The struggle continues...