Way Back at Mac: Campus was “Feeling the Bern” in 1987

Senator Bernie Sanders addresses Macalester in 1987 in Weyerhaeuser Chapel. Photo by Heidi Freund, reprinted from the April 3, 1987 issue of The Mac Weekly.
Senator Bernie Sanders addresses Macalester in 1987 in Weyerhaeuser Chapel. Photo by Heidi Freund, reprinted from the April 3, 1987 issue of The Mac Weekly.

On March 17, 1987, a certain mayor visited Macalester Campus and spoke to an audience of 200 packed into Weyerhaeuser Chapel. If this same man visited campus today, the spectators would fill the chapel, spill out across the Campus Center lawn and all the way onto Shaw Field as well. Any ideas? Hint — he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont at the time.

None other than Bernard Sanders addressed students and community members on our very own campus just over 29 years ago. His visit was part of the Mayor’s Forum on the Quality of Urban Life. Organized by St. Paul Mayor George Latimer and Macalester Professor Emeritus David Lanegran, the idea of the forum was to invite mayors from all across the country and even across the world to give presentations on how they were enacting change in their cities, to collaborate and learn from other mayors and to talk to Macalester students.

“Mayors are the highest elected position that can actually do something,” Lanegran explained. “Senators need approval from the Senate, but mayors can really enact change.” The forum gave mayors a chance to share policies that had worked in their cities and collaborate on issues that were universally present in cities around the world. For example, Charles Royer, Mayor of Seattle, was the first mayor to actively seek minorities for the police force to make the police mirror the community. Although definitely not a problem most mayors faced, Luciano Orlando, Mayor of Palermo, Italy, spoke about his crackdown on the mafia in the late 1980s.

Sanders, at the time, did not exactly fit the mold of the other mayors. First off, he wasn’t extremely well-known.
Secondly, most mayors talked about policy — real changes that had created in their cities, while Sanders just had ideas. Lanegran summed up the distinction: most mayors were concerned with local urban issues, while Sanders was talking about a revolution. Instead of what can be done, he talked about what should be done. A Mac Weekly article, published April 3, 1987, reporting on Sanders’s speech, noted that Sanders promoted socialism and proved it successful in his city. He noted in his speech, “Socialism is no longer a dirty word in Burlington.”

Additionally, Lanegran noted that Sanders’s ideas were truly ahead of the times. He spoke about themes from academic programs that were currently nonexistent such as WGSS and American studies. To say the least, Sanders caused quite a stir.

Despite his differences, Lanegran regarded impressions of Sanders as quite positive. He noted that students seemed very taken with his message, and most community members were impressed by his conviction. The Mac Weekly article from 1987 disclosed that Sanders’ liberal policies led to greater voter awareness about city government.

“Sanders today is exactly how he was 30 years ago,” Lanegran observed with a laugh. “Same body language, same fast, New York speech pattern.” He’s singing the same song as decades ago, but now to an audience that would never fit inside Weyerhaeuser Chapel.

April 8, 2016

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