My heart burns with hope when I listen to Bernie Sanders speak. As each word promises change and every statement emboldens listeners to believe in an alternative to vast inequality, I feel myself transported to long days chapping doors for Yes in 2014. And then, just as quickly as I believed, I am yanked into suspicion. Surely someone who makes me feel like this cannae be trusted, cannae be believed, and definitely doesn’t stand a chance?
I was there, in Massachusetts, when Obama won on the hope ticket back in 2008, eyes stinging from tears as I hugged and cheered with friends who believed in him and his vision. That evening people paraded through the streets of Cambridge, dancing into the night to the rhythm of a new America. With expectations so high, there would always be people who circumscribed his administration to disappointment.
See I’m developing a knee-jerk reaction to hope, stamping frantically on the tiniest of embers lest I let my guard down and reveal a vulnerable position. Accepting inevitable disappointment in politicians feeds this internalisation of the establishment’s derision for anything but the status quo. This powerlessness is the antithesis of being part of a marching, protesting crowd. It comes from feeling alone; polarised individuals living polarised lives.
But from unity we find strength, and if we work together we can achieve anything—hope is the defiance to the invisible hand’s impact on our lifestyles and communities. This is the populist Bernie message, mirrored and distorted by fear in the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, whose followers are themselves often victim to the vast inequalities in the USA.
My time living in the US was often punctuated by political miscommunication, whether discussing universal health care or the minimum wage. Calling myself a socialist heralded a flicker of confusion, fear and/or humour across the faces of fellow students. Relative to American politics, the recent polling showing more and more Americans identifying with Bernie’s socialism is an unprecedented turnaround—hope is back in fashion.
Bernie’s campaign shares similarities with the Yes Campaign. Demographically, young people are more likely to feel the Bern, with 83% of 18-29 year olds voting Sanders in the New Hampshire primary. His record-breaking funding base is grassroots: small, one-off donations averaging $27 from more than a million people. He’s been the progenitor of hundreds of memes, with supporters using social media platforms to self-educate and support his policies. And perhaps most strikingly, his campaign is built upon the message of an alternative that is deemed by the ‘establishment’ to be pie-in-the-sky idealism, and thusly, unrealistic.
Go on, all ye hopeful of the land of the free, back in yer box.
Amidst the almighty rammy between the polar opposites of the potential politics of the future—the multi-billion-dollar global businessman Trump, and the activist Sanders, worth a measly $330,507 in comparison—we have Clinton. In this context, Clinton’s candidacy either reeks of ‘establishment’—script-written words learned from decades as a professional politician—or of pragmatism; the most qualified choice.
The boring refrain of ‘progressive enough’ echoes through every op-ed defense of Clinton politics. The Hillary-splaining of her past political choices, reinterpreted as well-meaning political manoeuvring, only serves to retrench my own frustrations with a politics where politicians are applauded for compromising for gain. I’m sorry to find myself being intolerant towards my friends who are Clinton supporters, against my own counsel to understand and empathise with political difference. When the stakes are so very high for so many in dire poverty in the US and around the world, it feels like abandonment at a moment of opportunity. Add to this the degrading message to the next generation of Americans who turn up in spades to support Bernie instead: “you just don’t know enough to fix it, so hush kids, and trust us – we know what’s good for you”.
This response is all too familiar to Yes activists. You’re too wee, too stupid, and too idealistic to know how to do politics, so leave it to the big boys, eh?
I do not doubt Clinton’s capabilities; I doubt her dedication to emancipating the oppressed. Someone who is worth an estimated $21,000,000 is not in touch with ‘the people’. Someone who endorses bombing the most precarious of the world’s populations as a means to an end cannot lead the new politics. And those that would decry this as harmful to the emancipation of women insult the millions of women in America who have used the right to political preference to support Sanders.
The rise in a populist politics in Europe and the wider world has been traced to many things, but none more acutely than the stranglehold grip of global capitalism on it’s last legs. With the growing popularity of extreme right movements have come inspiring bursts of left-wing populism; whether in the democratic innovation of Podemos and Syriza, or closer to home with Corbyn’s leadership win and the grassroots spontaneity of our Yes movement. Sanders is America’s part in this demand for change. You see when Sanders speaks of ‘together’, it isn’t just about Americans. For me it’s about the international movement for justice and the role we all play in enacting change. With a strong dose of defiant hope and passion, we shouldn’t be interested in simply making America great again, but in making the world great, movement by movement by movement.