reflections on bernie

by liamcreaser

On Wednesday, Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign. A lot of people around the country felt angry, cheated, or hopeless. There was a palpable feeling of apathy or frustration in online discourse (which has become the primary sphere of social relations) about the state of the 2020 election and the US electoral system as a whole.

Bernie left the arena with a message of hope, and his campaign’s slogan, Not Me, Us, tells us that there is so much more to be won outside of electoral politics; that the real movement is beyond his campaign and is only just beginning. In the end, the largest grassroots movement in American history was failed by the leadership of the DNC, and in all likelihood, they blew their best chance at beating Trump. 

I can only hope that history will remember this moment, as Bernie’s agenda and call to urgency are constantly being verified in today’s political-economic situation. “Reality endorses Bernie Sanders,” one headline read after it became clear that the Senator was shifting his campaign to focus on immediate COVID relief.

Like so much of the left in the US and the real left around the globe, however, losing is something Bernie Sanders got used to early on in his political career. In the 1970s, he ran for House, Senate, and Governor through Vermont’s Liberty Union party, a left-wing party that was at one point the largest third party in Vermont. Despite his losses to major party candidates, he remained committed to his ideals and emphasized pushing the conversation outside of the rigid window of Cold War bipartisanship. He left the party in the late ‘70s as it began to lose momentum, but through a narrow victory in 1980, he became Our Mayor as an independent. Here, he established himself as a political outsider, committed to economic and social justice through explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric. From there, the rest is history.

I think when reflecting on his 2016 and 2020 presidential bids, we should look to the environment that created him and its parallels with the youth of today, who make up the bulk of his base despite his old age. When Bernie’s name first came into the political world in the mid-’70s, it was not through internships or connections, it was through independent newsletters; publications distributed by those keeping the New Left alive. Throughout the Vietnam War and the countercultural explosion of the late ‘60s, a leftist tide swept America in a way that we haven’t seen since. For many dissatisfied with the two-party system, Vermont became a microcosm of that spirit well beyond the rest of the movement’s coalescence into mainstream liberalism. Radicalism was on the table thanks to independent publications like the Vanguard Press and the Liberty Union party’s newsletter Movement, which Sanders was the editor of. It’s entirely possible that, without this independent press movement coming out of the New Left, nobody would have ever heard of Bernie.

Does the world of social media today provide the same potential for this spread of ideas? I could certainly see it happening–one only needs to take two minutes scrolling through Twitter to see how disaffected our generation is. There is a certain energy at work here: an anger bubbling into formation due to the awareness of what’s really at stake. In order to keep the movement alive, we must look to this untapped tradition of American radicalism that crops up every so often in the independent press and insurgent campaigns. History is on our side–we can take it from here.

Categories: liam creaser, news, reflections

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