Unity vs. Accountability — They Can Coexist

Photo: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images; Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

When I endorsed Bernie Sanders this past January, Bernie wasn’t doing too well in Nevada. Being a caucus state, there wasn’t much polling available, and the only polling done showed Bernie down more than 20 points.

I struggled with my decision on which candidate to support for a few reasons. One reason was that I was in the midst of my own congressional race and any decision I made could potentially have an impact on my race — either negative or positive — there really was no telling. And with Bernie being down 20 points as the only data point to turn to, it wasn’t a stretch to conclude that the impact very well could be negative.

Another reason was that I wasn’t a political newcomer. I knew what happened when you “chose wrong.” Ending up on the losing or wrong side of political leadership has its consequences. I knew that by endorsing Bernie I was putting myself at odds with the majority of this country’s political leadership, which also included the non-elected organizational elite who are separated by one degree, and therefore talk amongst themselves often.

I knew most people would respect my decision and that I had a solid record of legislative and leadership accomplishment to fall back on, but I also knew I would be the outsider for awhile. Ultimately though, I was OK with all of this because frankly, the only thing that ever mattered to me was making decisions that made the most sense for me and the people I represented, or hoped to represent. With that in mind, I decided to endorse the person whose agenda and values most aligned with my own and in a post that went viral, I laid out the reasons for my choice in the most honest and heartfelt way I possibly could. I didn’t try to make a case for Bernie, but rather, I just let my reasons pour onto my keyboard and if that persuaded anyone, then part of my mission was accomplished.

Ultimately, both Bernie and I lost our respective races, but I believe that despite those losses there is net gain that we won’t be able to measure for years to come, if ever. Bernie ignited a fire and lit a beacon of hope for people across the country, myself included. That hope and newfound energy spread like wildfire across genders, ethnicities, ages and religions. Bernie ignited an energy, much like Barack Obama did in 2008, that took the country by storm.

Naturally, there is profound disappointment now that Bernie is officially out of the race. After investing so much of oneself in a person, it’s normal to feel despair and grief. Some might feel like it’s over, like this Political Revolution that Bernie called for is suddenly gone — but it’s not, it’s actually just begun. All of the problems that Bernie sought solutions for are still there waiting to be solved. The injustice and the inequality and the abject misery that so many people in this country live in continue to be an American reality, and the sure fire way to make those problems worse, is to elect Donald Trump.

To say a Trump presidency would be a national, and likely global disaster isn’t even close to being bluster. Search “Trump Disaster” and the internet delivers over 22 pages of written articles counting the ways. The violence he continues to incite while casually brushing it off is callous at best, criminal at worst. So when Bernie says we need to do everything we can to ensure the only way Donald Trump gets in the White House is with a guest tour pass (he didn’t literally say that), I wholeheartedly agree.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Hillary Clinton suddenly gets a free ride. Our Democracy means nothing if we don’t keep our candidates and elected officials accountable. While many people will easily pull the lever for Hillary Clinton, for many others it won’t be so easy, and for some, they never will. She needs to recognize that, her team needs to recognize that, and the progressive movement needs to recognize that. Ultimately, however, it is incumbent on Hillary Clinton herself to go out there and earn those votes, and earn the trust of voters across the country. She is going to have to demonstrate that despite some of her more conservative actions and statements of the past, her embrace of most of Bernie’s agenda isn’t just an empty campaign promise — remember Obama’s first year in office immigration reform promise? Yeah, millions of immigrant families and I do too.

To be sure, Hillary has her work cut out for her, and rightly so. The discontent with the “status quo,” establishment politicians and party politics is very real and in many instances very deserved, but to support Hillary doesn’t mean that the Revolution doesn’t continue- in fact, it means the opposite. It means that in order to achieve real progressive change, we must open the throttle. It means that sometimes, we have to have the courage to be critical of our friends. I have always noted that it’s easy to disagree with those you oppose- it’s much harder to disagree with your friends. And much like the Dreamer movement brought about some immigration relief, and the Black Lives Matter movement finally brought some long-overdue attention to the racial and social injustices that plague our country (both movements heavily criticized for calling out both Democrats and Republicans alike, and engaging in “rude” behavior like interrupting speeches), the progressive movement should continue to fight for a progressive agenda.

We can defeat Trump. We can achieve a progressive agenda. We can do both.