Four years ago, progressive radio and talk-show host and author Thom Hartmann dedicated airtime to accepting calls from listeners who wished to deliver brief messages of gratitude to Senator Bernie Sanders.
Some openly sobbed.
All acknowledged the impact the Sanders campaign had on their lives, and expressed that because of Bernie’s commitment, compassion, and tenacity, the progressive landscape at the end of the tumultuous 2016 primary season was stronger than ever.
Two years before, Sanders was branded “radical.”
Pundits and beltway politicians accused his agenda calling for Medicare-for-all, free public college tuition, a complete transition away from fossil fuel consumption, a $15-dollar minimum wage, and requiring the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of taxes, as “unrealistic.”
Since then these positions have become codified in the Democratic party platform, as have criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform, and other issues that previously either got passing mention or no mention at all, proving Americans overwhelmingly favor progressive positions on issues that most affect them, that those positions are not “radical,” but ones that defined the Democratic party from the 1930s to the 1990s before the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) “Third-Way” corporate takeover.
Sen. Sanders’ historic primary challenge against Hillary Clinton in 2016 proved the term “Democratic Socialism” isn’t the Boogie Man Cold War-era propaganda has always made it out to seem.
Last February, Sen. Sanders re-entered the political fray along with over a dozen other Democrats taking on the most corrupt administration in modern American history.
With his initial string of early primary successes in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, California, Washington, and his home state of Vermont, Sanders appeared to be coasting toward an inevitable nomination.
But things changed on “Super Tuesday” when former vice president Joe Biden started racking up wins across the South.
Sanders hung on.
But eventually, the delegate math combined with the coronavirus threatening the uncertainty of future primaries and the nomination process handed down an inevitable denouement.
Today I am suspending my campaign. But while the campaign ends, the struggle for justice continues on. https://t.co/MYc7kt2b16
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 8, 2020
I can’t speak for all people or even all Sanders supporters, but if it weren’t for Bernie, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
I was never a so-called “political” person.
Politics intimidated me.
If I were at a social gathering and people started talking politics, I would move to the other side of the room before anyone realized I was gone.
“Political” people always seemed a bit unhinged to me. It seemed they were all obsessed with conspiracy theories and had the scoop on what was “really going on” our government wasn’t telling us.
I agreed with most our politicians were corrupt either by birth or design. I assumed they entered politics for the right reasons, but there was something in the water that transformed them into insular, self-serving automatons.
I felt vapid, anxious, disconnected from the very democratic system I was always told belonged to all of us.
I had two small children I worried were going to inherit a steaming pile of waste for a planet and bureaucrats who ignored it.
Would I be able to afford sending them to college? I wondered.
Would Social Security still exist when I retired-–if I retired?
Would the market bottom-out again, worse than before, leaving me with a mortgage I couldn’t pay and no retirement savings?
If my wife, the kids, or I got sick or were involved in an accident, would the medical expense impoverish us?
Circa 2014, I started hearing this gravely-voiced, Brooklyn-accented senator from Vermont on a segment of the Thom Hartmann program called “Brunch with Bernie”, a weekly call-in town hall, where ordinary people with ordinary problems called in to ask ordinary questions.
What immediately struck me was Bernie’s ability to actually answer questions in ways people could understand. He had bold solutions that were actual solutions, not fantasy. He drew from a fount of professorial knowledge and experience people did not associate with garden-variety politicians.
Where was the circular, specious rhetoric?
Where was the non-answer?
I think several times I actually blurted out loud, “Who is this guy?”
Bernie responded to callers’ questions with honesty, compassion, and wisdom, not talking points anyone could have lifted from a major network news chyron.
He exuded authenticity.
I started researching him, read his profile on his senate homepage, listened as much as I could to his appearances on Thom Hartmann’s show.
Yet I never found what I was looking for: disappointment.
Waiting for the buried headline that at some point during Sanders’ career he was involved in some payola scandal, lied under oath, sired secret children with a low-level government clerk, I was pleased to find none of it. In fact, what I found was nothing but an obstinate thirty-year consistency on the same issues we grapple with today.
I was hooked, and I began paying attention to progressive politics.
I signed up for various email newsletters, read books Thom Hartmann suggested and/or discussed on air, caught up on my current events through alternative news sites, poured over history, politics, and current affairs.
After Sen. Elizabeth Warren declined pleas to run for president, progressives looked to Bernie. Hartmann’s “Brunch With Bernie” then morphed into caller after caller beseeching Bernie to run for president. He was humbled to the point of embarrassment.
However, since I was now on Sanders’ email newsletter list, I started receiving updates about a new website. There was some (not much) news about his traveling to Iowa. His declarations of opposition to running slowly became more tepid until he announced he was “seriously considering running for president.”
April 30, 2015, Bernie stood before the Capitol to deliver a stump speech on the issues he felt no presidential contender had yet come forth to defend. He was going to be that defender.
A month later, he made it official in Burlington, Vermont, his beloved home. Moreover, he refused to be a spoiler by running as the Independent he has always been. He ran as a Democrat, and when I learned as a Green Party member I would not be able to vote for him in New York’s closed primary, I switched back to Democrat.
I immediately signed up to volunteer, attended a house party that July, phone-banked from home, proudly displayed a “Bernie 2016” bumper sticker on my little Honda Civic.
I canvassed and circulated ballot petitions.
When a campaign office opened near my home a few weeks before the New York primary, I was through the door before the place even had telephone and internet access. Up to primary day, I dedicated two nights a week there calling voters and canvassing.
I volunteered at the Marist College rally a week before the primary, still one of the greatest thrills of my life.
I began volunteering at a local food pantry on Saturday mornings, and served for a few years on the advisory board.
I stood on a picket line with Verizon CWA workers.
I attended my county Democratic convention and the 2017 D.C. Women’s March.
I volunteered for congressional candidates Zephyr Teachout and my current congressman, Antonio Delgado.
I started writing for political media blogs like this one.
I joined the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and am a charter member of my local chapter. Two months ago I was appointed to the steering committee.
I joined my local and county Democratic committees.
The day Bernie re-started his campaign last year, I donated some money and signed up to re-double all my previous efforts.
If anyone had told me five years ago I’d be doing these things, I’d have moved to the other side of the room as I used to.
I no longer feel that despair that previously weighed so heavily on me.
I am more confident, knowledgeable, informed, happy, and, best of all–ACTIVE.
I owe it all to Bernie Sanders…and, of course, Thom Hartmann.
We owe it to Bernie Sanders.
I am just one example of millions Bernie has inspired and activated, many of whom now hold elected office.
So, we thank Bernie–again.
Although he didn’t secure the nomination, he secured a place in American history that will help ensure our children grow up in a country that provides them and their children with a chance at the American Dream.
We are privileged to live in a time when true statesmen are not figures from a by-gone golden era.
We must do our part, and urge others, to hold Vice President Biden accountable for the promises he makes on the campaign trail and move him in a more progressive trajectory when he gravitates toward the center.
Bernie made Biden a better a candidate, and we will not relent in keeping on Biden should he be inaugurated as president next year.
As Sanders proclaimed in his campaign suspension announcement:
“Together we have transformed the American consciousness as to what kind of nation we can become and have taken this country a major step forward in the never-ending struggle for economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice. While this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not.”
We have indeed won the ideological battle.