Why I’m feeling the Bern

February 1st looms large on the calendar for political junkies like me. It’s the Iowa caucuses, when the first votes are finally cast in this built up, long awaited election season. There’s been tons of speculation from bloggers, pundits, and the 24 hour cable news networks about what’s coming, who’s on top in the latest polls. And being a political junkie, I’ve read way too many articles about it.

But as Monday nears, I find myself getting emotional. Yesterday morning, I was alone in my house (an infrequent and beautiful thing). Despite the long list of things to get done in the two and a half hours before I had to pick up my son at pre-school, I sat with my coffee, watching a clip of the night Barack Obama was elected. In the moments before the results on the West Coast came in, which officially put Obama over the 270 electoral college mark, the pundits were reflecting on what an Obama presidency would mean to our country, both politically and emotionally. When the results came in from the West Coast at 11 pm ET, the host’s voice broke as he called the election for Barack Obama. The TV then showed images around the nation as the news broke. The one that left me in tears, over seven years later, was the image of a young black woman at Spelman College in Atlanta, on her knees on the ground, head down, weeping. As I write about it, I am in tears again. And I think that this captures what so many of us felt in 08: this hope, this belief that we as Americans could set a new path for our nation, one where “the arc of the moral universe” would begin to “bend toward justice”, as Dr. King had called for decades ago.

In the eight years of the Obama presidency, there have been many setbacks, not the least of which include the violent and brutal deaths of children in Newtown and worshippers in Charleston. Moments like these have left me doubled over, unable to see through my tears and rage. But there have been moments that have made me feel a pride and joy that has been long awaited: the passing of the ACA, which began to right the wrongs of the American health care system, the ending of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the legalization of marriage equality for all. These are moments that I don’t believe would have happened without Obama’s fervent grassroots campaign that engaged average citizens like me.

Here in the present day of 2016, I find myself wistful, wanting to feel that “fierce urgency of now” that had me fired up in 08. And I think that’s where Bernie Sanders is igniting so many, myself included. He’s taken that sense of longing to continue and improve upon the past eight years. He is a man who despite being in Congress for many years, still seems to be an outsider. The pundits have called him unrealistic, and a long shot, much like they did with Barack Obama eight years ago. But Sanders seems to have captured that sense of longing and excitement, the desire of so many of us to fight the good fight for what so many say is impossible. I’ve had a hard time putting my feelings about this election into words, but this Sanders campaign ad captures it perfectly:

Now the cynics say that he’s a long shot, and the cynics may be right. But I remember a Thursday in January 2008, when Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus. I remember waking up on Friday morning, unable to stop smiling, because the world seemed full of possibilities that I hadn’t imagined before. That victory in Iowa galvanized me to get off the sidelines and campaign for Obama, which was the first time I’d ever had any sort of active political involvement in my life. And in listening to Sanders, I am optimistic that perhaps we as Americans can find that sense of hope and purpose in this election, and press on for a more just and equal America. So Iowa, people like me are looking to you this Monday to once again set the tone for the nation. I’m a New Yorker, but my heart is in some little gymnasium in Iowa this week, feeling the Bern.