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Senator Bernie Sanders Rallies Book Fair Attendees: "Despair Is Not an Option"

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During the second presidential debate, in early October, Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton “a fighter.” He said, “She doesn’t quit. She doesn’t give up.” While that’s very much true, the same can be said of Bernie Sanders, who’s endured quite a few blows, many of them from his own party.

After the DNC allegedly colluded with the Clinton campaign to sabotage his presidential campaign, the senator from Vermont threw his support behind the former secretary of state, only to see her lose the election to a racist tanning-bed tragedy.

Yet during his appearance at the Miami Book Fair this past Saturday night, a resolute Sanders delivered some very important messages to the crowd packing the Chapman Conference Center on the Miami Dade College campus. “Don’t lose faith in our ambitions,” he encouraged the audience. “Despair,” he continued, “is not an option.”

Although Sanders was in town to promote his new book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, he spent the first 30 minutes of the hour-and-a-half event explaining how we arrived at so dark and dreary a moment in American history.

It was a stark contrast to how the night began. Sanders was greeted by raucous applause and a standing ovation before uttering a single word, with two-thirds of the room chanting, “Bernie! Bernie!” Supporters in attendance wore shirts bearing the outline of his frazzled-looking hair, some held campaign signs, and others even brought original artwork, framed drawings and paintings on canvas. It was the sort of thing a hopeless romantic might do even in the face of a devastating breakup; ultimately, it winds up being futile and slightly sad.

Once the hubbub died down, he got straight to it, at one point humbly deflecting the admiration: “It’s not about me; it’s about you.”

If there’s one thing Bernie Sanders can be accused of, it’s consistency. He’s been fighting the good fight for more than 50 years. Whether it was leading a sit-in at the University of Chicago in 1962 to protest segregated housing or supporting the Standing Rock Sioux and their battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline during a rally last week in Washington, D.C., Sanders has made a political career of standing up for the little guy.

In that spirit, he minced no words about Donald Trump and the president-elect's hateful, inflammatory rhetoric, as well as how such a man was elected. He dismissed the idea that Trump voters are all racist, sexist xenophobes. Instead, he acknowledged that the real-estate magnate “tapped into the anger and frustration of the forgotten.” This was where the Democratic Party failed miserably, he said: They cannot, as he put it, “serve two masters.”

Alongside Elizabeth Warren, Sanders was recently promoted within the Democratic Party. He shared his uncompromising view of where it needs to reconsider its loyalties and priorities.

“You can’t tell [the working class] we’re on their side when we’re hustling money from Wall Street,” he proclaimed.

It was, on the whole, a galvanizing series of speeches meant to spur both politicians and the public to action. While the Democrats are scrambling to reorganize and restructure their approach in the wake of a stunning (if not wholly unexpected) loss, Sanders called on everyone in attendance, either in the room with him or viewers watching on C-SPAN nationwide, to rethink politics. Yes, the day-to-day care of our families is important, he said, but so is getting “involved in the process.”

During the final third of the event, Sanders answered a number of questions collected from the audience on index cards. He roundly denounced the term “deplorables” that helped sink Clinton; he railed against Big Pharma and voter suppression; he politely declined an invitation to dinner from a fan.

Most important, though, he reiterated an earlier statement. For those who read his book, he said, his hope is that they understand one thing: “I am not looking back; I am looking forward.”

The “forward” he referred to is the immediate future. His wife Jane made that fact evident when she spoke to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in response to a question about Sanders possibly running in 2020. “That is the wrong question,” she said. Instead, she and her husband emphasized that we, the American people, need to focus on the here and now.

The now is here. Despite his loss to Clinton and the impending inauguration of a demagogue, it was clear Saturday night that Sanders has lost none of his fire. From the first applause to the very last, he used that vitality and vigor to light another fire under everyone’s ass, and it’s clear he will continue to do so for as long as he can.

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