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Live Blog: Bernie Sanders Kicks Off His Campaign In Burlington

If it wasn't official before, it is now: Bernie Sanders is running for president. Supporters, members of the press and onlookers are descending upon Burlington's Waterfront Park this afternoon to see the independent senator — who is running as a Democrat — launch his bid for a primary nomination. 

Follow VPR's online coverage here, and tune in at 5 p.m. for our live broadcast of the event.

Update 6:55 p.m. Listen to  Sanders' speech from the event today:

Update 6:12 p.m. Sanders closed by recounting the story of his childhood in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn — his father came to America from Poland and worked as a paint salesman; his mother died before realizing her dream of buying a house — and made an appeal for the endurance of the American Dream.

Equality is our "birthright as Americans," Sanders said. "I ask you ... to join us in this campaign to build a future that works for all of us, and not just the people on top." 

Sanders left the stage to more applause, more "Bernie! Bernie!" chants and a recording of "This Land Is Your Land."

Update 6:07 p.m. After several minutes of quiet from the crowd, Sanders revved supporters back up by pledging to make public colleges and universities free. He then transitioned to his opposition to an "endless war in the Middle East" and recalled his vote against the war in Iraq.

"Yes, we must be vigilant in fighting terrorism and ISIS. But we as a nation should not have to bear that burden alone," he said to more applause.

Update 6:03 p.m. Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage to deafening applause from the crowd. "This is an emotional day for me," Sanders said, thanking the thousands who came out to support him, the speakers who preceded him and his family, including his seven grandchildren. 

"Today, here in our small city, the state that has led this nation in so many ways, I am proud to announce my candidacy for president of the United States," Sanders said, and a full 10 seconds of applause followed.

Sanders said today was the day to begin a "political revolution" to transform the country politically, economically, socially and environmentally. "Today we say loudly and clearly, 'Enough is enough.'"

"Here is my promise: Not only will I fight to protect the working families of this country, but we are going to build a movement of millions of Americans who are prepared to stand up and fight back. We are going to take this campaign directly to the people, in town meetings, door-to-door conversations, on street corners and in social media," he said.

Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
Supporters, members of the press and onlookers are descending upon Burlington's Waterfront Park this afternoon to see the independent senator - who is running as a Democrat - launch his bid for a primary nomination.

"Let me be clear. This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It's not about Hilary Clinton and it's not about Jeb Bush or anybody else," Sanders continued. "This campaign is about the needs of the American people, and the ideas and proposals that effectively address those needs. As someone who has never run a negative political ad in my life, my campaign will not be driven by political gossip or reckless personal attacks. This is what the American people want and deserve. These are serious times. We need serious debates."

Sanders outlined a campaign platform squarely centered on fighting income inequality. "The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time; it is the great economic issue of our time, it is the great political issue of our time, and we will address it," he said to applause, listing off a slew of statistics to illustrate his point while his voice echoed across the park. 

Sanders also addressed unemployment and access to health insurance, and called out the conservative Koch brothers, citing a statistic that they are poised to spend more on the upcoming elections than the Democratic and Republican parties combined.

"That's not democracy. That's oligarchy," he said.

The independent senator also touched on climate change, affirming its existence and calling on the United States to lead the international community in mitigating its effects.

Sanders then ticked through many other issues which have historically preoccupied him: the disillusionment of the American voter, the need to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling equating political spending with free speech, his opposition to President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership, the need to increase minimum wage (he proposed raising it to $15 per hour in the next few years), jobs, access to affordable health care, "taking on" the billionaire class, early education, tax cuts for the wealthy, Social Security and college debt.

Update 5:33 p.m. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, took to the stage to echo Sanders' common critique of corporations: "The system isn't broken; it's fixed. It's rigged," Cohen said. "It's no accident that corporate profits are through the roof while wages are stagnant."

"Finally there's a candidate worth voting for," Cohen said. "Let this be the start of the Bernie rebellion ... a rebellion against inequality and shoving marginalized people aside, a rebellion against democracy in name only, and a return to a government of the people, by the people and for the people."

Update 5:28 p.m. Brenda Torpy, CEO of the Champlain Housing Trust, praised Sanders for his work on affordable housing and community development issues. "It's immoral that nowhere in this county can a person working at minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom apartment," she said. "Bernie is a champion for these ordinary Americans. He lives and breathes this commitment. He's known outside our little state for his consistent and effective" advocacy of the poor and working class, she said.

Torpy pointed out that the location of this kickoff — Burlington's Waterfront Park — would be nothing but high-rise expensive condos if it weren't for action that Sanders' administration took when Sanders was mayor of Burlington in the 1980s. Torpy called the park "the people's park" and thanked Sanders for establishing "permanently affordable" near the park.

Update 5:21 Mike O’Day, a Communications Workers of America district vice president, took the stage and incited a short "Bernie! Bernie!" chant. "As Bernie's been saying for the last 30 years, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and we're footing the tab," O'Day said. "We need a leader that's willing to take on Wall Street and the major corporations" — someone who backs workers, not CEOs, O'Day said.

"Stop voting against your own best interests. Vote Sanders in 2016!" he concluded, to applause from the still-growing crowd.

Update 5:16 Renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben drew the greatest response yet from the crowd, proclaiming that there is no politician for whom Vermonters have voted more. "With Bernie, what you see is what you get!" McKibben said to cheers. 

Credit Oliver Parini for VPR
Environmental activist Bill McKibben speaks at the official launch of Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign on Tuesday afternoon at the Burlington waterfront. "With Bernie, what you see is what you get!" McKibben said to cheers.

"Bernie, this message of yours as it gets out is going to resonate in every corner of this country. The Koch brothers have all the money, but in the end, people, all of us, trump money," McKibben said. 

Update 5:13 p.m. Donna Bailey, the executive director of the Addison County Parent/Child Center, said that Sanders "understands the importance of early childhood education to our society, and to our economy" and said, to applause from the crowd, that Sanders donated 100 percent of the proceeds from his book The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class to children and families in Vermont.

"Bernie understands the plight of the poor and working families and how our children need us to re-prioritize our budgets to ensure a better tomorrow," she said. "I ask you to proudly join me in following Bernie Sanders to the White House."

Update 5:03 p.m. Emcee Jenny Nelson has taken the stage. Nelson, a Ryegate dairy farmer and former Democratic state representative, praised Sanders for his advocacy for farming families. Nelson introduced Nicole Nelson, who has appeared on NBC's The Voice, to sing "God Bless America."

Update 4:55 p.m. With the stream of incoming people — some wearing sun hats, some wearing Bernie swag and many wearing both — showing no sign of letting up, estimates of the size of the crowd are now in the thousands. 

Update 4:11 p.m. A group of supporters gathered behind the bleachers, holding letters that spelled out "PEOPLE FOR BERNIE" and chanting, "We are the students, the mighty mighty students, fighting for justice, and free health care!" and, "Feel the Bern! Fell the Bern!" 

People For Bernie describes itself as a grassroots effort to organize national support for Bernie Sanders, and includes some who were affiliated with Occupy Wall Street. 

Credit Oliver Parini for VPR
People For Bernie describes itself as a grassroots effort to organize national support for Bernie Sanders, and includes some who were affiliated with Occupy Wall Street.

Gwen Mongeon, 20, and Adam Chamberlain, 26, both from Colchester, said the group included Sanders' supporters from various states. Mongeon said she was there to "get people going." 

"All last year, I was saying that Bernie should run for president," she said. 

Chamberlain said he appreciated Sanders' consistency on various issues. "He doesn't change his stance," he said. "I think that's really admirable."

Credit Oliver Parini for VPR
A crowd of hundreds, with more streaming in, is gathering at Burlington's Waterfront Park.

Update 3:31 p.m. Congressman Peter Welch has been spotted at the event, but he tells VPR News Director John Dillon that his presence doesn't imply an endorsement of Sen. Sanders. "It's not my place to endorse," he said, and noted that he would not be able to stay through the entire event. 

Last week, on Twitter, Gov. Peter Shumlin endorsed Sanders' opponent Hillary Clinton; Sen. Patrick Leahy has also previously endorsed Clinton.

From original post 3:20 p.m. And, while you're waiting, check out today's Vermont Edition with political analysts Ken Rudin and Matt Dickinson, of The Political Junkie podcast and Middlebury College's political science department, respectively. And read a synopsis of their takes on a Sanders candidacy — with input from campaign strategist Joe Trippi, who headed up Gov. Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign.

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