Progressive politicians, activists and leaders gathered Thursday in Burlington for the kickoff of a two-day conference.
The event — called "The Gathering" — is being put on by the Sanders Institute, a progressive policy think tank founded by Jane O’Meara Sanders, the wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The lineup for the conference includes a number of high-profile figures like San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, actor Danny Glover and Dr. Cornel West.
On Thursday night, West gave a passionate introduction to Bernie Sanders and praised him for being focused on helping the working class.
“When our dear brother Bernie Sanders stepped forward and I heard his voice and I looked in his eyes, I said: ‘He’s for real, he’s not one of those simulacrums and semblances who wants to use the language but not want to bear the burden and engage in the service to working people,’” West said.
In his keynote address, Sanders said the goal of the weekend is to unify the different wings of the progressive movement.
“Some of us are fighting for health care for all and some of us are fighting for affordable housing and some of us are trying to stop the destruction of the planet,” Sanders said. “But at the end of the day, our vision is a world that works for all of the children of this world, not for a handful of billionaires.”
The conference comes amid speculation that Sanders is mulling a presidential run in 2020. But O’Meara Sanders said the event is not to help her husband craft an agenda for a potential presidential run.
“I think we’ve all heard his agenda,” she said, with a laugh. “This has nothing to do with the campaign or any campaign — it has to do with policy, principles, facts. … We believe at the Sanders Institute that an informed electorate, civil discourse and bold progressive ideas are essential to a democracy.”
The conference runs through Saturday and features panels on topics such as criminal justice reform, climate change and health care reform.