Bernie Sanders talks drug costs, addiction with rural New Hampshire residents

By Lillian Eden
BU News Service

CLAREMONT, N.H. — In a Vermont-New Hampshire border town of just 12,000, volunteers walked through a barn filled with a crowd of more than 130 people Thursday afternoon in preparation for a highly anticipated New Yorker who’s been representing Vermonters for nearly 30 years. 

Presidential hopeful and Senator Bernie Sanders appeared through the open barn doors to the tune of cameras clicking and flashing as he walked down the aisle to the low platform that was serving as a stage, backed with a large banner from the New Hampshire Youth Movement.

The conversation with Sanders was far more structured than a traditional town hall. People came up to the stage in pairs to give testimonials and asked Sanders questions. During the testimonials, Sanders usually sat on the left of the stage, often pressing the tips of his fingers together, looking thoughtful. 

“Harm reduction must be at the center of how we heal [the overdose] crisis. How would you shift the focus from one of stigma and criminalization to harm reduction. And then also, what is your overall plan to stop the 70,000 overdose deaths a year and collateral damage that is caused by this disease?”

“I happen to believe that addiction is a health issue, not a criminal one. It is totally absurd that we are attempting to deal with this epidemic by jailing people rather than treating them … Health care, including mental health care, including addiction treatment, is a human right, not a privilege.” 

Sanders also claimed that he believes his plan is the most comprehensive of all the candidates for criminal justice reform and that intersectionality is key. 

“We are going to end the war on drugs, which has destroyed so many lives in this country.”

“So as a follow up, what would you do as far as harm reduction? There are a lot of different things out there available, and we’re wondering what your stance is on that?” 

“Vermont has done better than many states, but we have got to do more, and certainly the rest of the country has got to do more … People need support, they need treatment and they must get that treatment when they need it, regardless of their income … Throwing people in jail only makes a bad situation worse.” 

“Why do you support a homes guarantee, and how will your homes guarantee be a racial justice intervention?” 

“As a nation, we are going to have to fundamentally change our national priorities. So at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, we’re not going to give more tax breaks to billionares and large corporations … And we’re going to use some of that revenue to understand that housing is a human right.”

“It is basically insane,” Sanders continued, “and I can’t use a better word than that, that tonight, we’re gonna have in this country, a half a million people either sleeping out on the streets or in emergency shelters … You’re spending 50% of your income on housing, how do you have money to do anything else?” 

Sanders said under his guidance as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, the city was the first in the nation to develop a housing trust fund in 1987.

“You cannot live with dignity if you’re living in substandard housing, if you’re spending 50% of your income. We’re gonna build that housing, and we are going to put people to work.” 

“What is your plan to address youth homelessness, and more specifically, address the problem of kids in foster care ending up on the streets long term?”

“It is not just a question of building low income and affordable housing, which we must do, it is also providing the ancillary social services that … give people the hope and the support that they need … So all that I can tell you is that rebuilding our housing stock, building over 10 million new units of housing, ending homelessness in America for young people, for any other group of people, is an enormously high priority for my administration.” 

“We want to talk about movement politics and hear about how you and your campaign related to this … To us, movement politics is about elevating people’s power versus the power of the concentrated wealth, using bold-issued agendas and narrative to inspire people. Do you believe in these principles and and how are you using your campaign to strengthen the movement?” 

“As some of you may know, a message of our campaign is ‘not me, us.’  It’s exactly what you’re talking about … What I have said a million times is that no president of the United States, not Bernie Sanders, or anybody else, can do it alone … and the only way that real change has ever taken place in this country is not when somebody on top did it, it’s when millions of people stood up and fought for justice.” 

The testimonials quickly covered other hot-button topics for this election season, including climate and a regenerative economy, worker’s rights and border control. Claremont is in Sullivan County, which voted for Obama in both elections, but in 2016 Trump took nearly 49% of the votes. Runnerup Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire by .04%.

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