Zephyr Teachout aims to keep Bernie Sanders vision alive in Woodstock

Sanders may not be running in November, but candidates endorsed by him are and in a classic epicenter of alt-culture, his views are being kept afloat

In August 1969, more than 500,000 people travelled to a music festival at a New York dairy farm, enshrining Woodstocks reputation as a beacon of alt-culture.

As well as the performances of Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane, and the enduring images of blissed-out people wearing tie-dye, Woodstock came to symbolise a political awakening for a generation striving for change.

Today, after an election year in which Bernie Sanders has inspired a new generation with the possibility of transforming America, there is a new clamour for change. But after Bernies revolution was ultimately beaten by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic machine, can anyone win an election holding fast to the Sanders vision?

A handful of progressive candidates hoping to win office in November have the explicit endorsement of Sanders and one of the most likely among them is Zephyr Teachout. She will take on a billionaire Republican in New Yorks 19th congressional district home to the farm where Woodstock took place.

A law professor and activist, Teachout is up against Republican John Faso.

Zephyr Teachout at her campaign headquarters. Photograph: Richard Beaven for the Guardian
Like Sanders, Teachout has been the beneficiary of small donations, raising $1.6m in the first half of this year, at an average of $19 per contribution.

Flanked by supporters at her campaign office in Kingston, New York, this week, she issued a distinctly anti-establishment rallying cry, challenging two hedge-fund donors who are backing her rival to a debate.

I believe that the voters of this district deserve to hear directly from the billionaires backing John Faso about what they expect from him in Congress, she said. Put your mouth where your money is. Debate me directly.

Money in politics is a big issue for Teachout. She says that if elected, she will work to try to overturn Citizens United, the supreme court ruling that allowed corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unlimited money in support of or against political candidates.


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Jimi Hendrix performs at the Woodstock festival in August 1969. Photograph: Henry Diltz/AFP/Getty Images

Speaking to the Guardian at her office before she made her challenge to Fasos backers, she said local problems she cited unrepaired damage from Hurricane Irene, the struggles of local farmers and the lack of high-speed broadband and cellphone coverage stem from things that are wrong with politics as a whole.

Its all connected. Because billionaires buying congressional seats without ever having to show their face is connected to jobs getting offshored.

Billionaires buying congressional seats without ever having to show their face is connected to people trying to privatise their schools.

Theyre deeply, deeply connected to these very real things that are happening in peoples lives, that dont make any sense unless you see the billionaire pulling the puppet strings.

For his part, Faso, a former New York state assemblyman, is portraying Teachout as a hard leftwing academic and seems to exclusively refer to her as Professor Teachout. In a statement responding to Teachouts criticism of his Super Pac donors, Faso said Teachout wants to amend the first amendment to give the government more control over political speech.

It promises to be a close race. The 19th congressional district voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but the area has had a Republican congress member since 2010.

Teachout, however, can take inspiration as well as support from Sanders grassroots success. People for Bernie, a volunteer-run organisation that campaigned for Sanders during the Democratic primary, using social media to reach voters, has offered its help.

Jacques Jocco Alarie knocks on doors to meet voters and campaign for Zephyr Teachout. Photograph: Richard Beaven for the Guardian
She has smaller grassroots organisations campaigning for her, too, including in Sullivan County, where a local volunteer group that began as a Sanders-supporting organisation has morphed itself into a pro-Teachout effort.

It seems that some people, at least, are embracing Teachout and her message in the same way voters were drawn to Sanders. If she can harness the enthusiastic, active supporters that the Vermont senator did, then Sanders fans could be celebrating in November after all.

On Sunday, 47 years after those attendees left Woodstock high on love and hope, a Woodstock reunion was taking place at the same Bethel farm as the 1969 event.

The reunion wasnt quite on par with the original musically. The bands were mostly local, smaller artists, although one did do a convincing cover of Jefferson Airplanes White Rabbit. It wasnt quite on par as a spectacle, either. There were only 800 people and just one small stage, although there was a drum circle.

People there were enjoying themselves, though despite heavy rain over the weekend meaning the mud was the most visceral reminder of the original festival.

Paul Lichtenberger and his friend Charlie Maloney, who was wearing a fluorescent tie-dye T-shirt, were sitting on canvas chairs watching a band called Firebrand. In front of the stage, two people danced barefoot in the mud while some children ran around blowing bubbles.

Both Lichtenberger and Maloney were at Woodstock in 1969. Lichtenberger was driven up from Connecticut in a converted bread van; Maloney got a lift from New York City with his cousin.

It took me two weeks to stop smiling when I went home, Lichtenberger said. Everyone thought I was a lunatic.



figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Dan Causton, in blue, with the Zephyr Teachout campaign for Congress, talks with supporters. Photograph: Richard Beaven for the Guardian

Three months after Woodstock, Maloney took part in an anti-Vietnam war demonstration in Washington DC. Both men took part in other marches campaigning for civil rights and feel this is a moment of passing the baton to a new generation of activists.

Its like: We tried to make a change, hopefully we did, but now its your turn to carry on, Maloney said.

Lichtenberger, a Sanders supporter, said there was a parallel between that time and the current climate.

Its youth trying to rediscover those same values, he said. Theyre trying to define themselves. And theyre taking a little bit from here, a little bit from there, but really their hearts are in pretty much the same place, he said.

Theyre just expressing it through cellphones. We had no cellphones in those days.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/17/zephyr-teachout-bernie-sanders-woodstock-us-election

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