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ARLINGTON, Va. — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaking at a conference on the “Politics of Love” Thursday evening, said he feared that President Trump would plunge the nation into war.
“This is one of the things that scares me most: For a demagogue to succeed, they need to cultivate hatred. Now the hatred may be against immigrants — we’re all supposed to hate immigrants, and maybe it’s other minorities, African-Americans, Latinos,” Sanders said. “But also I worry that the hatred will spill over to foreign affairs, and that we are maybe entering into a situation where a Trump needs a war — and war and war — to rally public support.”
Sanders spoke before a rapturous audience at the second Sister Giant conference, hosted by bestselling spirituality author Marianne Williamson, author of “A Return to Love” and “The Age of Miracles.” The conference was part of a movement Williamson has dubbed the Great Resistance of 2017. Attendees were overwhelmingly female — fans and followers of Williamson, who is among the leading figures in the New Spirituality movement in America.
The gathering, billed as “Creating a Politics of Love,” illustrates how normally inward-looking communities, especially of women who had expected Hillary Clinton to win even if they were not all-in on her candidacy, have been galvanized into action by the polarizing 2016 election outcome.
While the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches around the country struck a chord with the crafting lifestyle community — so much so that the marches wound up being visually defined by their pink hand-knitted and crocheted “pussy hats” — Sister Giant is seeking to mobilize what Williamson calls the “higher consciousness community” to resist Trump’s agenda and reach out to Americans who hold political views different from their own.
The conference, which drew 1,800 guests and an online audience of more than 3,000, opened with a video featuring a medley of words and phrases: “Say Hell No to Tyranny,” “Rise Up,” “Resist” and “Don’t Be Gaslighted.” The stage was backed by a banner showing a woman in lotus position silhouetted against a stylized American flag; on either side stood tall shelves holding candles. The Washington Unity Choir sang “My Country ’Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful.” A handful of women in the audience held up Bernie signs, and when he walked out to take his seat in the speakers’ section, one shouted, “2020!”
Sanders, the conference’s keynote speaker, told the audience that the enthusiasm for his message at the first-ever Sister Giant in 2015 in Los Angeles helped encourage him to run for president.
Not knowing precisely what to do next, but feeling called to action, was a common refrain Thursday. “With what’s happening today, I don’t know exactly what to do,” Williamson said.
“We have more than a political problem. We have an emotional problem, in that this moment scares us. It scares us. We have a psychological problem in that we are all being bullied in this moment. We have a spiritual problem in that hate has been harnessed for political purposes,” she said.
Sanders echoed her remarks. “If you think that you don’t have the answers, trust me, you are not alone,” he said. “What is imperative as never before is that we really think this thing through, because the stakes are so extraordinary for this country and for the world. And on behalf of my seven grandchildren, and the children all over this planet: We cannot fail.”
“I know that some of your friends say, ‘Wow, this sucks,’” added Sanders. He acknowledged that some people are reacting to the moment by wanting to turn off the news, stop reading the papers “and kind of sink slowly into despair.”
“And to those people who say this, I say, as loudly as I can — not only for your lives, but for the lives of future generations — despair is not an option.”
Sanders assured the audience: “On every important issue facing this country, the views of Donald Trump and his friends are a minority position — and don’t ever forget that.”
And yet, he said, being in the majority is not enough. “Let me suggest to you, and some will disagree with me, that’s OK too. Let me suggest to you that what happened on November 8th, Trump’s victory, was not a victory for Trump or his ideology. It was a gross political failure of the Democratic Party.”
This won Sanders a partial standing ovation.
“Some people may disagree with me, but if you think that everybody who voted for Donald Trump is a racist or a sexist or a homophobe, you would be dead wrong,” Sanders said. Instead, he said, what happened is that “hardworking decent people” had a lot of questions about their lives, about long hours and poor wages and their declining standard of living and school debt and Wall Street destroying the economy.
“So Trump comes along, and Trump is, among many other qualities, a pathological liar. So bad that he practically has no ideology at all. Tomorrow he may come out for a single health care payer program, I don’t know. He doesn’t believe in anything. It’s just what sounds right at the moment,” Sanders said.
But what Trump did do, “if you listen carefully to what he said, he said, ‘I, Donald Trump, I’m going to take on the establishment,’” Sanders said.
He won because “there are people in this country who are hurting, and they are hurting terribly,” Sanders said. “And for years they looked to the Democratic Party, which at one time was the party of working people. And they looked and they looked and they looked and they got nothing in return, and out of desperation they turned to Mr. Trump.”
“All over this country there are people who are hurting, and our job is to communicate and talk to and stand up and fight with those people for a government that listens to them,” he said.
“It is always easy to come to beautiful conferences like this, where we look to our friends over here, friends over there, and we’re all in basic agreement,” he counseled. “It is a hell of a lot harder to start talking to people who have a worldview very different than yours. But that is exactly what we have to do.”
Sanders said he planned to go to McDowell County in West Virginia with MSNBC to hold a town hall. McDowell County, which voted 74 percent for Trump, is the poorest county in West Virginia and also has one of the worst opium and prescription-drug abuse problems in the nation. The needs and problems in McDowell are so acute that West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and his wife have been for years now seeking to rally influential figures in Washington and around the country to give the place more attention.
Sanders, who is positioning himself as a leading voice of the opposition to Trump, also plans to debate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on CNN Feb. 7 in a 90-minute show devoted to the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have vowed to repeal.
Sanders encouraged conference attendees to run for office, especially school boards, city councils and state legislatures. “To people who don’t have confidence to run for office … I’m a member of the Senate. You should see some of the Senate. If you have any doubt about your ability to run for office, turn on C-SPAN,” he joked.
The conference runs through the end of the day Saturday and features such other speakers as Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman in the House, and activist attorney Zephyr Teachout.
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