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It’s Bernie or Bust for the Busted Masses

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By Ian Firstenberg 

Sanders offers the only jolt to our collective body politic that will save us from extinction. 

The Bay Area has served as a petri dish for technocratic liberalism over the past two decades. What started with a tech buzz eventually became a bubble that burst a few years later, only to morph and take shape again. Liberalism, the kind San Francisco is colloquially famous for, has brought intense levels of income inequality and housing insecurity. The state of California is nationally known for its liberal agenda and yet we have catastrophic utility failure and a perpetual deadly fire season. 

Liberalism has failed us. 

The answer is not a reactionary swing back to some kind of ‘Great’ America that really sucked anyway (yes, gas was a nickel and you could support a family off a grocer’s salary, but you didn’t have NBA Youngblood so whatever, grandpa). 

The answer is Democratic Socialism.

Despite America’s instilled horror at the “S” word we’ve actually implemented a bunch of socialist policies that have been really successful. The New Deal produced things like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Veteran’s Administration — all socialist programs out of New Deal era reforms.  

Locally, New Deal projects are still with us today. The Alameda County Courthouse in downtown Oakland and many of our extensive freeway networks are two good examples. 

Democratic Socialism is different than New Deal Era reforms but the spirit is similar. The idea at the time was that the country was enduring a hardship unfamiliar and frightening to its restive population and something was needed to assuage it, mainly money, but also food and employment. Democratic Socialism serves to do what in the modern millenia what the New Deal did in the previous, save a country from destruction and a population from violent revolution born of desperation and frustration. 

It’s first important to note that Senator Bernie Sanders has a tremendous amount of flaws as a candidate and there are large swathes of organizers, writers and political thinkers who have made valid left-wing criticisms of him. 

With that said…

Sanders becoming president is a crucial first step to get to a future not shaped by the specter of fear but by a light of hope. His campaign serves to activate and engage thousands, if not millions, of people who (rightfully so) have felt alienated and unserved by today’s lobby-driven political structure. 

Senator Bernie Sanders. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr.

He highlights the split between the youthful body politic of registered Democrats and the political brain comprised of wealthy donors and centrist politicians. Sanders stands with the body politic and has done so throughout his entire career. 

To be sure, he has grown more moderate in old age. As a young mayor of Burlington, he threw support behind the communist Sandinistas and revolutionary Zapatistas.

Senator Sanders offers voters a dependability so foreign it seems disingenuous at first. His record speaks to that continuity. Senator Sanders has spent his career standing up for disenfranchised people across the country and around the world, by standing with workers in wildcat strikes and union negotiations, by standing against the military industrial complex and standing for criminal justice reform. 

Senator Sanders’ leftism is rooted to angsty 20s at a liberal institution. He was a part of 1962 University of Chicago sit-ins where students protested segregated off-campus housing. In the summer of 1963 the university officially ended segregation in private housing. Sanders attended the 1963 march on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Like many young people in Berkeley and the greater Bay Area in the mid ’60s, Sanders saw Vietnam for what it was, a grave mistake, and has reiterated it time and time again. 

After graduating college and working briefly in New York, he moved to upstate Vermont after being drawn to the rural life. He spent early time there writing in local papers or producing educational videos for schools. Sanders’ electoral engagement began in 1971 when he joined the Liberty Union Party, an extension of the anti-war People’s Party. He finished third in a 1974 state Senate race. 

As the Bay Area’s free love era shifted gears to a flowy, acid-laced activism, Sanders continued to harden in the frustration that is America’s northeast, thousands of miles from the Summer of Love overflow that captured the Bay Area. Locally, this was a time when the Bay began to shift from a culture of resistance, or least obstinance, to one of technocratic liberalism. 

The sit-ins and demonstrations weren’t going to save us, tech would save us. Man’s adventure into automation didn’t begin in the Bay Area but it’s first steroid cycle was here. Apple and Microsoft were some of the first wave, then Google and Facebook, then Uber and Theranos (lol, jk), then Salesforce and WeWork. The Bay Area’s beautiful fervent political activism gave way to a behemoth of technocratic liberalism that has only exasperated and accentuated wealth inequality and housing insecurity. As the Bay Area sold its soul, relinquishing the political fury of youth, Sanders solidified his politics. 

His time as mayor came between 1981 and 1989, an era in America that stands out for it’s bright neon clothes, powerful cocaine and repeated overthrow of democratically elected leaders. In an era of destructive, high-speed capitalism, the last person of political relevance was a socialist mayor from Vermont, and strangely that allowed a somewhat obscure political ideology to lay roots into our political landscape. 

Senator Bernie Sanders campaigning in Vallejo, Calif. in 2016. Photo by Shelly Prevost/Flickr.

What took root in the early ’80s in Vermont was a reaction to what America has been stoking for three decades now. A raging all consuming flame of unhinged greed. There is no levity or breaks on this train, and it wasn’t designed to be stopped.

The modern right-wing movement embodied by the Republican party knows this and has made peace with smiling through the flames. The modern Democratic party seems unwilling to create any obstacle or even mildly slow down this figurative or, in the grim case of California, literal inferno. 

Sanders and the Democratic Socialism he represents is our best chance to provide a liveable planet for our future and the future of our loved ones. Even typing that seemed dramatic and hyperbolic but, unfortunately, it is not. Our future, as it stands now, is a morbid world shaped on one end of the spectrum by the dark-gloved hand of international terrorism and on the other by the ringed fingers of global capital that aims to slowly crush the air out of our lungs. 

Sanders has made a career pushing against the U.S. imperialism beast, but he admittedly failed to take on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in 2001. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 there was such an intense lust for blood that being anti-war was a kin to being anti-American. With a fever pitch, the Bush administration passed the AUMF which, under the guise of protection from international terrorism allowed the president to take military action in a much more decisive way.

The recent assassination of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani was a direct result of the AUMF. Oakland’s Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the only representative to vote against authorization. Sanders concedes he was wrong and commended Lee for her courage. 

Sanders’ economic message, which has made him somewhat nationally famous, has been his focus since his early days on Capitol Hill. 

Sanders was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1991, serving until being elected Senator in 2007 and consistently winning with sizeable margins. In 1999, as a U.S. representative under Democratic President Bill Clinton, he voted against rolling back Glass-Steigel protections that categorized investment and commercial banks separately. In 2003, he pressed the eventual Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan for being at the behest of large corporate financial institutions. 

The pattern painted by Sanders’ career is not one dictated by large donors, or even self-aggrandising careerist goals, it is dictated by a fury to stand up for what is right. 

Senator Bernie Sanders rally at Chapel Hill. Photo by Jackson Lanier/Wikimedia Commons.

In the early 2000s, he was one of the few representatives who pushed back against the Patriot Act and the invasion of Iraq, repeatedly warning of the foolish precedent both would set for future administrations. 

Sanders was elected senator in 2007, on the cusp of the largest recession many current voters have experienced. His time in the Senate is largely characterized by his hawkish attention to financial reform and his continued fight for workers’ rights and a universal single payer program. In 2017, he sponsored legislation that would establish a national single payer healthcare system and a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

For upwards of three decades, politicians on both sides of the partisan line have turned their backs on working people, running like it was a race to the outstretched arms of wealthy corporate or individual donors. Republicans through the Neo Conservative war projects and deregulation; Democrats through privatization and corporate consolidation. Both have left workers entirely out of the political discussion, legislatively demeaning them as either helpless, ungrateful hogs or idiotic backward hicks. What we saw in 2016 was largely based on a response to this ill treatment over decades. 

Whatever lessons that could have been taken from the 2016 election of Donald Trump — about the way liberal politics isolates and alienates working people — have largely gone unnoticed. However, Sanders has become political vessel for workers tired of the collective neglect. 

Sanders has a groundswell of support from a diverse group of people, and a lot of people. His campaign’s attracted somewhere near 800,000 volunteers, with a huge concentration here in the Bay Area. He’s tapping into what’s left of the Bay Area revolutionaries with headquarters in the Mission District and a campaign office that just opened doors in Oakland.

His strategy is one decisively new in that it is not supposed to work. His campaign is running a unique grassroots ground game to engage people who have never had any interest in engaging before. What is being attempted is somewhat revolutionary in its own right, whether or not he wins.

Senator Bernie Sanders supporters. Photo by Adam Fagen/Flickr.

The idea is basically that the mass of apolitical Americans have tapped out for one reason or another but if, for some reason, they were to tap back in to this awful 2004 episode of “The Apprentice” we now call politics, it would literally cause a people’s political revolution. It would tip the scale by breaking the instrument first.  

And that is what’s really being attempted here: the breaking of a scale that refuses to balance out. Shattering the scale into millions of fragments, sweeping up the pieces of broken iron glass and neon light bulb and melting them down to make a new scale that can’t be weighted for just the wealthy.

Fuck it, let’s break the scale.

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