I grew up in a household of politically active people. Both of my parents were involved in politics and cared about politics. Local and national politics were dinner table conversation. It still is when see each other. As I was growing up, politics was seen as a reasonable avenue to real change, and in fact, certainly in the 60s, for African Americans, it was. But the game is, and, in a sense, has always been, rigged. There have been moments when the control of the government wasn’t quite fully in the hands of the elite, but largely, it has been, since our founding, and is increasingly so. The Citizens United decision made much more real and open what had been going on for many years more in the background.
When the health care bill passed, even though I was thankful it gave me health insurance I’d not been able to get, it was utterly clear that it was designed as a boon for health insurers and big pharma. It was not the single-payer system many of us had hoped and fought for. For a while now, I have been disillusioned that national politics is any force for real change that will actually help non-rich Americans.
In my life, I’ve done my share of volunteering for presidential candidates. In the fall of 1972, at the tender age of 13, I sold buttons for McGovern. I volunteered for the Mondale/Ferraro campaign in the 80s, volunteered for Al Gore in 2000, and Obama in 2008. I sat out 2012, and I assumed I was going to sit 2016, and every election afterwards. Hillary Clinton, fed and watered by Wall Street, might be mouthing populist rhetoric, but she was likely going to be even less able and willing to change anything for the better than Obama is. Elizabeth Warren intelligently decided to sit this out, and no other Democrats seemed to be much different than Hillary. Let’s not even talk about the Republican field, there is no point, except to make fun of them.
But then along comes Bernie. I’ve followed him ever since he was the first socialist U.S. Representative from Vermont, my second favorite state (after California, of course.) I’ve followed him because I’m basically a socialist, too (well on the borderline of democratic socialist and social libertarian, for what it’s worth.) He’s one of the very few politicians I actually respect. You always know where he stands, and he never dissembles. Rambles, OK, yeah, but he’s a truth-teller. And his very, very long history speaks for itself in it’s consistency.
I’ve been helping to facilitate national conference calls for the nascent “African Americans for Bernie Sanders” group. The goal of this group is to educate African Americans about him and his positions (most African Americans are supporting Hillary,) as well as show that there are people in our community supporting him because of those positions.
There is a lot going on now around his campaign and issues of race. He’s gotten into tough spots with #Blacklivesmatter protesters. I have to admit that I have been feeling torn because of my wholehearted support for his candidacy. #Blacklivesmatter is a movement I care about, and a movement I respect. And it’s been a little strange to see Bernie, who is really the candidate who is most likely to actually do something about the extreme over-use of deadly force by police than any other candidate, be the first target of the #Blacklivesmatter movement. My colleague in the African Americans for Bernie group wrote a strongly worded blog post about the whole issue. I don’t agree with all of it, and it comes from a particular perspective, but it’s worth reading. I’m glad to see #Blacklivesmatter move on to targets I think are a lot more appropriate.
And of course, Bernie is not perfect. He has an unfortunate record on gun control. (Although, honestly, I have yet to figure out a way to square my own anti-authoritarian, libertarian notions with my abhorrence for the manufacture of weapons.) And he’s a long shot. Long shot to win the primaries, and a long shot to win the election. And, finally, of course, he is not going to bring our patriarchal, white supremacist, voracious, earth-consuming capitalist system down. That’s going to happen anyway – it will fall under it’s own weight–it’s already falling. But at least in the meantime, we can support someone who isn’t beholden to the oligarchs, and has a real record about doing things for people who aren’t rich, and easing the lives of those who’s lives are most difficult.