To my dear friends who are “Bernie or Bust…”
To my dear friends who are “Bernie or Bust,” plan to vote third party, or plan to abstain:
I know many of you spend your life working for the betterment of our world. I know you care deeply about social justice and are not callous or careless toward the suffering Trump’s presidency would inflict. I know you are proud of your convictions and believe in the world our ideals can create. I know our ideals are largely the same.
And yet I also know we are young.
Our perspective is grounded in a limited set of years, and the rhythmic movement of politics that has been occurring for centuries is past what our peripheral vision can see. Perhaps, like me, you began engaging in the political sphere sometime in adolescence. Eight years of Bush took us through high school and college, and with Obama’s victory we felt that our country was finally moving in the direction we craved.
Yet what we saw as a linear direction was actually the pendulum swinging, a movement that has been repeated time and time again throughout history. Democrat — Republican — Democrat — Republican — Republican — Democrat — Republican — Republican — Democrat — Republican — Democrat.
Like a heartbeat, a steady back and forth. Of course it isn’t always regular — sometimes there is a double beat — but there has only been one time in the last 150 years that a Democrat followed a Democrat in the White House.
In our traditional two-party system, the Democratic party has been the party of change. It has been the party of progress. After eight years of Bush, we got a taste of progress in Obama and we loved it. Of course we wanted more.
And yet perhaps there is a reason why a Democrat is (almost) always followed by a Republican. Not everyone in our country wants change, and I don’t mean that to demonize the people who don’t. For some it is grounded in a fear of change and being left behind. For others it is a desire to protect what they have, to maintain systems that have rewarded their hard work (even when that reward has been aided by their Whiteness, their maleness, their straightness, etc.) Whatever the reason, for some, change tends to breed fear of more change. It tends to breed a desire to put on the breaks. The pendulum tends to swing back again, not always undoing the change that was made, but at least pausing long enough so others can catch their breath.
But we weren’t ready for the pendulum to swing back again. Perhaps we weren’t aware that, historically, it likely would. After eight years of Obama, we wanted more. We wanted another revolutionary, and we found it in Bernie. We loved his energy, his righteous anger. We loved how far he wanted to go. We loved the idea of scoring more progressive victories, of building on the momentum we felt. But after scoring a touchdown, the other team wants the ball — they’re on fire for it — and the goal becomes to hold onto the progress you’ve made. You run your defense, not your offense. And yes, the defense is less sexy. It’s more conservative. It’s doesn’t excite the crowd to campaign on defending your lead, but that doesn’t change what needs to be done.
There’s one more thing I need to say to you, and this is perhaps the hardest to say to my fellow, proud progressives. I know you may not think that Hillary’s gender plays a role in all of this — after all, Bernie is an advocate for women’s rights and Jill Stein is a woman, too. But please, I beg you, consider the systemic sexism that may be at play. Hillary has achieved what no woman has in the history of our country — she has been viewed by approximately half of the electorate as a viable candidate for the most powerful position in the world. Jill Stein — saying nothing bad about her — has not, and Bernie has achieved the same feat with the help of centuries of male privilege. What has it taken for a woman to be viewed as viable by the general public? It has taken working within a deeply sexist system, stepping around the subtle prejudices and stereotypes that could have disqualified Hillary in the unconscious minds of many. Too emotional? Too bleeding heart? Too liberal? How about too loud, too angry?
If we are uninspired by Hillary as compared with Bernie or Jill Stein, could it be because of the system she has been forced to play within in order to truly compete?
Please know I respect you and I respect your vote. I respect your right to use your vote in whatever way you choose. But please also know that I am scared. I am writing because I am deeply, deeply scared. My mind races at night after reading the news, plagued by the latest hateful thing that is slowly becoming allowable (again) in our country. I think about the Holocaust, the “other-ness,” the humanity that was slowly striped away from masses of people. I think about the decades leading up to the Holocaust, where subtle prejudices were carefully stoked and minorities were blamed for the struggle of the masses. I am terrified that this is happening again — that people of color, women, the LGBT community, immigrants — that the same prejudices rooted in “other-ness” are being stoked again.
If you believe that the show of dissatisfaction and protest signified by abstaining or casting a third party vote is the most important thing in this election, I respect that. But please consider the future of a Donald Trump presidency if liberals split their vote among candidates or stay home on election day, and please make sure that the protest still feels worth it.
With love and respect,