Bernie's purpose was to address 100 or so Progressives at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. The Penn Center played a major role in the anti-slavery movement and is a highly regarded education and preservation site not far from Port Royal, S.C. My visit was more personal - spend time with a daughter, a nurse practitioner, at one of Charleston's major medical centers.
After my 5-day visit I came back home to Vermont. Bernie continued on for additional speaking engagements in Atlanta and Birmingham.
In a recent editorial in the Banner (originated in the Brattleboro Reformer), there was all praise for Vermont Socialist Senator's sojourn into the "Deep South" (the paper's description). The headline alone was quite telling, "Venturing into hostile territory." The writer of the editorial went on to note, "It takes courage for Congress' lone Socialist to venture into a part of the country that has often met voices for change with violence."
I found the comment to be unnecessary, inappropriate and stereotyping. It is quite obvious that the writer has never ventured south of Putney or Pownal.
If there is a common thread that is so clear among the southern states, it is change. I am certain that when Bernie's plane was coming into the Charleston International Airport (or he could have landed in Savannah) he could not have missed seeing the Boeing Company's massive airplane manufacturing facility. The brand new 787's and Dreamliner's where lined up outside the plant and from the sky they appeared toy-like next to the huge hanger/manufacturing buildings.
On the landing approach it would have been impossible for the senator to have not observed the numerous ships lined up to take on or unload the tens of thousands of ship containers. These two employment centers did not exist 10 years ago - this is change.
Cory Hutchins, writing for the Charleston City Paper, Oct. 30 edition, noted Bernie's message made to the gathering at the Penn Center; "Sanders called that an unbelievable concentration of ownership in the hands of a half dozen major financial institutions that he labeled as greedy and reckless."
God help us! Does his message ever change? It is too bad Bernie did not meet the folks I had met at the medical center.
They mentioned how the hospital just completed a major expansion and has built two more hospitals in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. (across the river from Charleston). The town's population has increased from about 35,000 to over 75,000 in less than 10 years. If this is "hostile territory" why in the world would companies and families be moving here? Back in Vermont of course we are losing populations and downsizing medical facilities (except for Methadone treatment facilities and FQHC clinics). And the population loss is even more critical among the younger generation.
South Carolina does not have 15 percent of its population on drugs as Vermont (first in the nation) according to a recent article in Business Insider. "At least 32 percent of Vermonters cannot afford either enough food or enough nutritious food," (the Rutland Herald), a percentage not evident in South Carolina." Drugs and poverty are indeed present in South Carolina. What is not in evident is the despair that is so prevalent in Vermont where drugs and government dependency are so obvious.
From the Reformer's perspective taking responsibility for one's behavior and having to pay the consequences would be a "hostile act" in Vermont. According to the Reformer, "Bernie went south to harness that discontent".
If there is discontent among Americans it stems from the very institution Bernie gets his monthly paycheck from, the U.S. Congress. Bernie will go on ad infinitum blaming the recklessness of the economy on banks, corporations and the Koch Brothers. But I have one question for Bernie: How reckless and negligent was it this past summer when Congress went on vacation for six weeks knowing all along that the country was in a dire budget mess?
The younger generation of Vermonters may know who actually won the Civil War.
Let's be clear on one point, the South has won the "economic war" and our youth are quite aware of it - why else would they be leaving Vermont for "hostile territory?"
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.