On 9th April 2020, Senator Bernie Sanders announced that he would be suspending his 2020 campaign for the US presidency
I feel a strong need to talk about this. To be upset about it. And to understand it
Sanders’ father – Elias – was a Jewish immigrant, who had come to New York from Germany in 1921. He was a paint salesman. His mother, Dorothy – had lived in New York City her whole life.
Sanders has lost what will most likely be his last run for the presidency. But before he knew he’d ever run – before he knew he’d ever be ‘Senator Sanders’ – Bernie lost his first election while running to be president of the student body in James Madison High School. He came in third there, too.
He’s always cared about elections. About the sanctity of voting. About the privilege that comes with it. About the power that it has. The destruction it can cause in the wrong hands.
“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including six million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”
He also cared a lot about people. About the rights that people had. About the rights that they deserved. And making sure that those two things were always the same.
In 1963, as a young college student – he was arrested by authorities at a civil rights protest in Chicago. When he was asked about this much, much later – during his campaign – he pulled out his college ID card from his wallet, and like any old grandpa would say “Yes, that indeed is me.“
This was as a part of CORE – The Congress of Racial Equality – a group that Bernie was president of – that looked to fight against civil inequalities and measures being taken for segregation. In 1962, CORE became one of the first few bodies to organize what would later become a national trend – a college ‘sit-in’ – to protest against the stripping of civil rights of African American students. Here he is addressing a group at the sit-in.
Much later, in 1971, Sanders began his electoral political career, as a member of the Liberty Union party – which had a strong antiwar stance in a then very pro-war America. After running several failed races with the Union, Sanders retired from the party and later became the Mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
It wasn’t until 1981 that Sanders began his term as a congressman. First, for the House of Representatives – where he was often criticized for alienating his colleagues (from both parties) for accusing them of working only for the wealthy. He was right.
Later, he became the Senator for Vermont – in 2007
I was working on a college project a couple of months ago – something that required me to go through the archives of the US Congress and look at records of Senators – and data about their work in the Senate. There was a particular ratio that caught my eye – bills passed: bills introduced – and Bernie was dead last in the list. He had introduced, in that one term – hundreds of bills – hundreds of potentially important pieces of legislation – and only a handful, about a dozen or so – had passed. He’s still fighting. He’s still upset. He’s been upset
for decades now. He’s accused Senators on the floor of working for the one percent. He’s accused the one percent of dictating American law and policy – of dictating the lives of the other ninety-nine. For decades.
I don’t feel the need to talk about the actual politics that Bernie involved himself in – for better or worse – his record speaks for itself – he is a self-described democratic socialist – since the seventies – and that is a polarising stance, to say the least. I feel a much stronger need to talk instead about the principle of the thing. To bring forward his determination. His undying love for his community – the American people.
Whether you agree with his policies or not – Bernie Sanders is undeniably somebody who cares
He is undeniably somebody who was a part of a bigger community than America’s wealthiest – and undeniably someone who saw the problems of his community as problems that he needed to solve. He was undeniably a citizen before he was a Congressman.
The American Dream is dead – that’s something I hear often from friends when we talk about immigration, or about dreams in general – the statistical likelihood that somebody could ‘make it big’ in America decreases every day. The sole reason for this decline lies in the unfortunate truth that the wealthiest of Americans are getting wealthier every day, and they are allowed to decide the fate of the country at large.
Bernie fought for that dream. He fought for hope. He fought for the ability to make progress and live a life with dignity. To have minimum wage means that you don’t need two jobs to support your family. To have the liberty to grant yourself a college education without debt. To fall sick without being afraid of the medical fees you’d have to pay at the end of your hospital visit.
When I read the news flash across my phone that he suspended his campaign – for a few minutes – it felt like that meant he stopped fighting. And then, as I scrolled through Twitter to find more information, I saw another tweet from Senator Sanders – about an hour before his resignation – completely unrelated to his campaign – that spoke about the importance of Medicare For All. It said nothing about his campaign, nothing about his policies – it just said that healthcare is a right that everybody should have.
He hasn’t stopped fighting.
Bernie Sanders is the untiring, annoying child from school who would answer too many questions in class. He is the impossible person in your group project who constantly looks ahead and thinks about the next step. He doesn’t wallow in the policies and bills of yesterday, and he doesn’t believe in tradition in the traditional sense of the word. He changes sides on issues if he needs to, and he sticks to his side with a ferocity that is otherwise unheard of if he’s confident it’s the right thing to do.
He remains unweathered by the thing that politicians fear the most – the one percent. This is because Sanders relies on the only unchanging factor of American democracy – the people.
In 2020, the Sanders campaign received donations of tens of millions of dollars each month – from 2.2 million donors. Most of the money for the campaign came from people who donated $20 or whatever they had to spare – something that must have left Koch brothers a little intimidated.
Before he became Mayor and worked as a politician or activist – Bernie was a teacher, a carpenter, and a psychiatric aide – amongst other things.
That is to say before he became Mayor – Bernie was like me. And you. He faced the problems we do. And that’s probably why he understands the problems we face today. As employees, as American citizens, and most importantly – as people.
And now, just like in high school – he has lost another race.
However, he has taught me enough to understand that this is not over. He has taught me to hope. To fight with vigor.
And to always look forward – to the next opportunity to make positive change.
It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he was writing his next bill as I write this.
Because Bernie Sanders is not finished speaking. And I am not finished listening