Hey, Bernie, Stop Assuming You Get My Vote Because I’m Poor

I thought we covered this.

Just two months ago when I saw the tendency — first by supporters and then increasingly by candidates — to assume votes based on demographic or category of marginalization, I wrote about it in my piece, “Stop Telling Marginalized People Who They Must Vote For.”

Let’s make sure we’re all starting from the same page re: my criticism of both democratic candidates and their super fans on this:

“You don’t get to assume I’m voting for Bernie because I talk about having lived most of my adult life in poverty. Or because he’s advocating for ‘single payer’ and I talk about my health issues. Or because I’ve criticized Hillary for some of her foreign policy positions and moves as Secretary of State.
Similarly, you don’t get to assume I’m voting for Hillary because I’m a woman. And if I do vote for her, you don’t get to assume my vagina made me do it.”

Now, Bernie, we need to have a talk, just you and me, about yesterday’s “Meet the Press” appearance.

When Chuck Todd asked you how Hillary Clinton has managed to win in 16 of the 17 states with high rates of poverty that have weighed in so far, you responded:

“Well, because poor people don’t vote. I mean, that’s just a fact. That’s a sad reality of American society.”

I’ve been listening to your commentary for years, Bernie. Most of that thanks to your regular Friday appearances on the “Thom Hartmann Program” while I was a dog-walking bartender working on my feet 60+ hours a week with my hands busy, but my ears free. I considered Hartmann’s show to be the part of the day where I learned about American politics and history and issues from some of the smartest, best informed people — you among them. I even said a few years ago repeatedly to friends as well as on air that “I’d quit my life and work on the campaign if Bernie Sanders ever runs.” Suffice it to say, I have long been a fan of your career and your dedication to being accessible to your constituents and all of us you have served by being our voice in Congress for more than a decade.

So I understand — because I know you — that you are not exactly chastising people for not voting. You have long railed against voter restrictions and introduced legislation to make election day a national holiday. But many of those millions of people who haven’t been able to or aren’t motivated to turn out to support you don’t know that. They hear you blaming them for your primary losses; tone matters, sir.

Your opponent called for universal, automatic voter registration almost a year ago and doesn’t tsk-tsk people who can’t or don’t get to the polls — in a primary election. And an increasingly extended primary at that, the schedule for which has been rearranged multiple times over the past few election cycles. Even political writers aren’t sure what to call primary voting days any more; have you seen how many Super/Pseudo-Super/Super #3 Tuesdays we’ve had so far?

Todd asked you if you thought you’d be winning if your campaign could somehow get people just below, at, or just above the poverty line to vote. Your response:

“If we can significantly increase voter turnout so that low-income people and working people and young people participated in the political process, if we got a voter turnout of 75%, this country would be radically transformed.”


Sir, I have been poor my entire adult life — though the past three years have been especially hard. And yet, I am politically engaged; I’ve been engaged. For the other poor people I know, their turnout issue is largely because they don’t think change is possible or because they feel democratic candidates assume their vote. Which is exactly what you’re doing right now and have been your entire campaign. You’ve pivoted every debate question to an attack on Wall Street when we need to hear how you’re going to reform the bankruptcy process, forgive student loan debt, and provide a universal basic income so we can get well, get on our feet, and become the engaged citizens you idealize. Fetishizing the fabled “middle class” does nothing for those of us with annual incomes under $15,000. We could triple our income and still not be in the middle class. We’re asking for help — immediate help in the form of increased public assistance and canceled debt.

We’re drowning right now and you’re on national television upset that you’re losing because enough of us didn’t vote. Because of course if we did vote we’d vote for you.

Assumptions like that are costing you actual votes. Your assumptions that young people, poor people, and “newly engaged” people (whoever you’re assuming they are) will show up magically en masse to sweep you into the nomination on a wave of anti-establishment energy isn’t just hubris-inflated privilege, it’s the worst strategic approach. Obama won the nomination because of a ground game that door-knocked for primaries and the general. I even personally swallowed my not-yet-diagnosed anxiety disorder to do the activity that causes me the most anxiety: canvassing in my Indiana home town where a KKK rally had marched downtown just a handful of years earlier. Obama’s campaign didn’t take any votes for granted — and it worked. Indiana went blue in 2008.

You’re taking far too many votes for granted.

Bernie, your campaign assumed you’d take New York. Did you somehow miss that your competitor was a senator from that state for eight years? It was only not twelve years because she accepted a position as Secretary of State — for her former competitor who had never taken her or her supporters for granted. Or finger-pointedly shouted her down in a debate. Just my anecdotal experience having a few hundred friends and followers and people I follow/read in New York said that the state was up for grabs. How did you not have people out making sure the base you brag is so independent knew the rules? You had almost SIX MONTHS from your announcement in April last year to the party registration deadline in October to get people geared up. Hell, there were already debates on the schedule by then; you should have been all over this.

The information on voting is available for anyone who knew to look for it — but you have to know to look. A quick search reveals the best, easily scanned info on primary voting and registration deadlines is VoteForBernie.org — and it isn’t even officially affiliated with your campaign. It does, however, have all the relevant information on New York’s closed primary with its requirement that you register a party affiliation by October 9, 2015 clearly visible.

So why were your fans so shocked when they couldn’t vote last week? Probably because you didn’t get them organized. And that’s your job as the candidate. Your non-existent ground game led to an avalanche of white people on Twitter screaming at — among others — Imani Gandy, a lawyer, writer, and radio host who regularly covers constitutional issues like actual voter suppression. Which was not what was happening when people didn’t vote for you. On Tuesday, she dared ask how it was that people were making this leap of conflating closed primary rules with the history of purposeful disenfranchising of people of color:

This turned into quite a thing, as expected, with people of course refusing to read her full thread — which I highly recommend via her “Everyone Yell At @AngryBlackLady About Defending Voter Suppression… OR….” Storify. She points out your campaign’s major fail with succinct flare:

And now you’re on national television blaming your loss on poor people not showing up when you should have had people leading us to the polls by the damn hand.

I shouldn’t have to do this, but I’m going to because I don’t want the entire point of my criticism of your campaign to be misinterpreted as a love letter to Hillary. I definitely don’t love everything about Hillary — in fact, I’ve made it clear over the years I loathed the possibility of her being our first female candidate for president. However. No one can call her approach or rhetoric simple or assumptive; even her stumbles and outright problematic shit has the taste of trying too hard to court every base without assumptions.

I’d rather be pandered to than have my support assumed.

My state of California has yet to weigh in; you should still be courting my vote, sir. Show me you understand more about systemic poverty than “big banks are bad.” That’s not the only contributing factor to our political climate and the kind of simplicity with which your rhetoric is repeatedly relayed is nauseating. Show me that you care about earning my vote.


Lead image: flickr/Phil Roeder