Jesse Paul Warren
A Designer*
Jesse Paul Warren
a designer*
The Gathering
Coffee table book of photography and wisdom from The Sanders Institute Gathering of 2018.
Designer + Photographer

In 2018 I was asked to help organize and photograph The Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington, VT. This is the institute started by Sen. Bernie Sanders' family to promote his policy ideas.

The energy in the room was explosive. At the time, Bernie Sanders was contemplating whether or not to run for President in 2020. After coming so close in 2016, everyone there knew he had a real shot of winning. This buzz gave everything an intense positive charge. I wanted to capture the love, enthusiasm, and profound ideas shared there in a way that the rest of the world, who did not have the privilege to be there, could feel.

So after the event, I worked with the Institute to create a full-length book of photos and insights, aiming to capture the soul of the event.


In my various campaign and political jobs, I always ended up taking a lot of pictures. When I did, I usually focused on capturing the fleeting, organic moments. To me those are way more interesting and beautiful than a posed shot. And that means there’s no time to be perfect. You might miss the magic. The imperfection is what makes it beautiful. Like wabi-sabi.


The first step of arranging the book was transcribing the panels, and plucking out the most important insights. I looked for the most condensed nuggets of wisdom: the sentence or paragraph from someone's talk that contained the most insight.

Eventually, I had a pile of around 270 pulled quotes. Then I had to figure out how to make sense of all them. I did this by laying them out on my floor, arranging them in piles of similar themes, alongside photos that might work with them.


A quote from Susan Sarandon, who had attended the event, that I used in the introductory section.


How would these quotes be organized in the book?

The conference featured clearly defined panels, but there was a lot of overlap. For example, the “Mayor’s Roundtable” panel had significant overlap with “The Housing Crisis” panel. So arranging the book simply by the panels would not be optimal.

More importantly, there were broader themes that emerged, which transcended any specific issue. For example, the idea that we can build stronger coalitions by striving to understand one another more deeply. Ideas like this were repeated by different speakers in different panels across the weekend. These recurring themes seemed to me to be the most important messages of the whole weekend.

Over time, two major categories emerged: THE ISSUES and THE MOVEMENT. The first was around specific policy areas, and the second was about how to build and energize a successful movement. Within each of these sections, groups of related quotes were arranged into a total of 16 chapters.


Next came the process of actually designing the book. Design is like a puzzle. How can you make it all fit together and make sense?

There’s a lot of give and take. For example, finding the right pairing of photographs and quotes was a big challenge. For some speakers, I had a lot of photographs, but only a few quotes. Or vice versa.

Another challenge was finding a design system that made sense for quotes of different lengths. Some quotes were a single sentence. Others would span multiple pages.

In the end, I came up with a system was consistent and felt cohesive, but was flexible enough to accommodate the various sized quotes and image pairings.


Although I was completely exhausted by the end of the event itself, being there was a privilege. I felt I had a responsibility to help more people feel the love and optimism that was flowing there. That's what I tried to do with my photographs and the book.

I was also complete exhausted, yet grateful, at the end of the 8 month process of editing, arranging, and designing the book.

Ultimately it never got shared or published. I still hope one day someone will find it in the Bernie Sanders archives and do something useful with it.