by Kelly Mangan
When people heard over the holidays that Donald Trump was planning to come to Burlington, Vermont, the universal reaction seemed to be, “What? *Why?!”* It’s not a popular campaign stop for those angling for the White House. And it’s also home to our own presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, and his campaign headquarters. It was pretty clear Trump’s goal was doing it simply to lift his leg on Sanders’ doorstep — ‘cause he’s classy that way.
It should be a surprise to no one that Trump blew into town and summarily pissed off city hall, the mayor, the entire police department, the staff of the Flynn, much of the Vermont Republican Party, and a majority of the residents.
Vermont Republicans, who already have to walk a pretty careful line when it comes to socially conservative issues, were not aware that Trump was planning a visit to Vermont (prior to reading about it in the paper), and they were not particularly happy about it either. Several Republican legislators wrote to state Republican leaders urging them to publicly denounce Trump for his stance on blocking all Muslims from entering the country. “He is damaging to all Republicans,” wrote Rep. Carolyn Branagan (R-Georgia). Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset) said on Facebook that Trump was a “racist” and a “misogynist who needs to go,” and if he got the Republican nomination for president, she would vote for Bernie.
While the Vermont Republican Party stopped short of condemning Trump publicly (the most they would say was that they didn’t invite him to come), the top of their ticket wasn’t so shy. Lt. Governor Phil Scott, the current Republican candidate for Governor, was quick to differentiate himself from Trump. He tweeted “Real leaders don’t reject American values, incite anger, or exploit fear for political gain.”
Trump reserved the historic Flynn Theatre for his three-ring circus, which seats about 1,400 people. His campaign (amid rumors that activists were picking up tickets with plans to no-show) then proceeded to give out more than 20,000 free tickets for the event, sending city officials into a panic over the public safety concerns associated with having 20,000 people jostling for the first-come, first-serve seats in the middle of Burlington’s small downtown. Despite calls from city officials and local police to Trump’s campaign to make accommodations for ticket-holders not able to get in, the campaign effectively responded that what happened outside the doors of the venue was not their problem. The campaign then, reportedly, stopped returning the police department’s phone calls.
Streets, businesses, public transportation, parking, schools and childcare facilities in downtown Burlington were shut down from midday on as a result of the Trump circus, causing many people to have to take days off work, scramble to pick up kids early, or find alternate routes of transportation.
Ahead of the event, police chief Brandon del Pozo issued a warning to local residents that downtown Burlington was going to be a cluster, and that the police presence in downtown would mirror the size and scope of a major festival, like the annual Vermont City Marathon, the largest single sporting event in the state. “If Phish was holding a free concert at the Flynn and gave away 20,000 free tickets, we would cancel the event out of public safety concerns,” del Pozo told press. He said the only reason they aren’t doing so in this case was because they were committed to accommodating First Amendment speech.
No less than five demonstrations were planned against Trump’s visit, each with a different tone and tactic, ranging from silent, candlelit vigils to loud anti-racism demonstrations. Office buildings across from the Flynn put up signs in their windows saying things like “Tolerance,” and even those public employees working in City Hall (right across the street) put up signs in their windows saying “Refugees Welcome.”
As television media went down the line of folks waiting to get into the theatre (a line which began at 4:30 a.m. that morning), I wasn’t surprised to see that most of those in attendance were actually from across the lake, in upstate New York. At the door, the Trump campaign forced every ticket-holder to swear that they intended to vote for Trump before they’d be allowed in. Non-supporters and undecided voters weren’t allowed in. At least a half-dozen folks who lied to get inside shouted Trump down at different points during his speech, and were escorted outside by security. Like the class-act he is, Trump tried to get security to take protestors’ coats away before ejecting them into the 20-degree temperatures, but that didn’t happen, much to The Donald’s disappointment. Some of the protestors chanted “Bernie! Bernie!” as they were ejected, and then went to join those protesting outside with a little victory dance.
Trump’s campaign also managed to piss off the staff of the Flynn Theatre by passing out campaign signs (there was a strict no-signs-allowed-inside rule that the campaign had agreed to prior to the event), and when staff tried to shut it down, the campaign viciously accused them of being Bernie supporters. The director of the Flynn eventually instructed staff to leave it alone rather than continue to fight with Trump’s staff.
From all the tweeted-out pictures I saw from inside the event, I was surprised to see that the balcony of the Flynn was almost empty during Trump’s speech. I’m not exactly sure how you manage that when you’ve given out 20,000 tickets, but I guess they did. It’s not much, I would like to pat myself on the back for being the proud owner of one of those empty seats.
Nobody from Bernie Sanders’ campaign staff went to the event, as they were all working at the time. But Bernie did say from his successful campaigning in Iowa that he hopes Trump’s presence in Burlington “will help him better understand Vermont values: social and economic justice, tolerance, respect for all people and the environment.”
A noble sentiment. Though, I suspect, a futile one. There’s only one thing that Trump understands. On January 8, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in the Burlington Free Press that he believed the lack of organization and communication by the Trump campaign resulted in higher costs for the city and much unnecessary disruption for local businesses. He said the campaign would be billed for the full cost to the city for handling the event.
Kelly Mangan (third from the left) currently lives in Vermont where she is the Executive Director of the Vermont Progressive Party. In 2012 she was Bernie Sanders’ Field Director for his Senate Re-Election Campaign. She is a past coordinator of the Civic Media Center, a former women’s liberation activist, and has also worked as a union organizer. D