When Progressive Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke in Arlington, Virginia last Thursday night (July 9), it was to yet another enthusiastic, supportive crowd in a room filled to capacity at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

There also was a number of anti-Sanders protesters – about twelve or so. It’s the first time any such protesters have been reported at a Bernie Sanders rally. And, so far, only one media outlet has even reported on it – the right-leaning Washington Examiner.

It’s not unusual for a political candidate to attract protesters. In most cases, particularly in recent history, such protesters are not well received by the candidates, or even tolerated. Many of us remember the “free speech zones” that were part of George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign – essentially, cages in which the protesters were confined. Even without cages, protests against a particular candidate tend to get ugly and confrontational.

This was not the case at the recent Sanders forum in Arlington. The Examiner, which has little cause to love Bernie Sanders, acknowledged that the dozen or so protesters were “treated well by Sanders event organizers.”

The protest was organized by a small group calling themselves the “Arlington-Falls Church Young Republicans.”  Their arguments are the same ones we’ve all been hearing for the past thirty years: “failed Big Government policies,” how the “free market is the single greatest engine of economic prosperity” has “lifted hundreds of millions of people out of global poverty,” and so forth. Aside from their miniscule numbers, the old, stale and by now, glaringly inaccurate statements may be a big reason the protesters were essentially ignored.  Still, compared with protests at other political rallies, this one was remarkably civil. Sanders staffers asked only that the protesters refrain from blocking exits and sidewalks.

Through its civil treatment of protestors, it is clear that the Sanders campaign is once again setting a refreshing new tone for this campaign. Not only is Sanders focusing on the issues and refraining from personal attacks – he is allowing the opposition to openly present their views. Hopefully, this will encourage civil discussion and rational debate – which is part of what democracy is about.

Watch our commentary on Bernie’s progressive surge:

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues.