The Bernie Sanders Moment
1967 saw the arrival of a peculiar breed of adolescents. They all looked alike. They would immediately recognize each other. They seemed to possess a silent and absolute knowledge of certain issues, but to be totally ignorant about others. Their hands were unbelievably skillful at pasting up posters, handling paving stones, spraying short and cryptic messages which stuck in the memory. All the while calling for more hands to pass on the message they’d received but not completely deciphered. Those fragile hands have left us the mark of their fragility. Once they even wrote it on a banner: workers will take the flag of struggle from the fragile hands of the students. But that was the following year.
Chris Marker, A Grin Without a Cat
The Democratic Party marginalizes Bernie Sanders and his supporters at its peril. He has reawakened in the national consciousness the simmering spirit of progressivism that courses through our history. For too long, young people and progressives in this country have been patronized, pathologized, and pandered to by Democrats content with pettifogging half-measures. Now, what were treated like the mere burbles and yawps of marginal actors can no longer be heard as anything but a clear message: We’re united, we’ve had enough, and we’re doing something about it.
Sanders calls for a return to the genuinely progressive values of the Roosevelts, starting with Teddy, of the Great Society, and of the Civil Rights movement–values that Democrats are quick to evoke but slow to act on.
Folks my age — I’m 27 — have lived in a United States at war since our early adolescence, and the youngest voters have lived with war as long as they can remember. We have lived with rising extreme poverty, a gutted middle class, and a crumbling infrastructure, personified in the Flint water crisis, persistent segregation in our cities and schools, and a foreign policy that only engenders greater violence around the world. Even if not directly victimized in all of this, many of us are appalled none the less.
Hillary Clinton proposes nothing to address the systemic problems that plague our nation. In fact, she has served — under the banner of liberalism — to exacerbate them, whether as First Lady, as Senator, or as Secretary of State. The neoliberalism of the last forty years that Clinton represents has failed my generation. It has failed people of color, it has failed the poor, it has failed the working class, and, through imperialism and a failure to meaningfully address climate change, it has harmed — and continues to harm — countless communities around the world.
I’m sick of hearing what we as a country can’t do, more so from Democrats than Republicans because Republicans don’t ask for my vote. Every election, the party muckety-mucks give us the okie-doke, saying that they’re on the side of progress and to fear the damage the Republicans will do, and then repeat the same corrupt conversation they’ve been having for as long as I can remember. If now is not the time to change the conversation, then when?
I doubt that there are any Sanders supporters out there who genuinely believe that he will be able to accomplish all the goals that he outlines in his campaign. We are under no illusions that change is not, at some level, incremental. We know our Max Weber. So, when the New York Times columnists say that we are “naive,” or when Clinton infers that Sanders is unrealistic it can be read as nothing but condescension. It is easy to forget that that august presence in our history, Ronald Reagan, was himself, at one time, considered something of a “radical”. Yet he, somehow, was able to radically change our national conversation. What the young people are responding to in Sanders is that he speaks to a Democratic Party (narrowly) and government (broadly) that are responsive to their constituents. Is that so radical?
Sanders argues that: We can have an economy that works for all people, not just the wealthiest. So while inequality may well always be with us, it doesn’t mean those at the bottom and in the middle should be subject to the violence of the profit incentive and a militarized bureaucracy. We can live in a society that aspires to egalitarianism, rather than one that falls back on the moralizing myth of a meritocracy. We can reject the notion that our prejudices are insurmountable. We can read “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” not as a right of an individual, but as a mandate from all people to all people.
There is no doubt in my mind that as president, Sanders would fall short of what we ask of him. But it is for each of us, not just the powerful, to hold him accountable. The road he wants to put this country on will be a difficult one. It will be one that demands an active electorate. But, as a nation, we are at a crossroads. As Abraham Lincoln said in his second annual address to Congress:
The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
It is up to everyone to ask themselves: What side of history will I be on? Will I be on the side of inertia, complacency, and demagogic fear mongering? Or, will I believe that, with great struggle and many pitfalls, we can by some measure, from fragile hands, with disparate voices, and a belief in “the better angels of our nature” drive towards a more just future?