I was at Bernie Sanders’ comeback rally in Queens in October, a few weeks after he had a heart attack. Despite being a 78 year old democratic socialist who just suffered a major health complication and was being widely written off by the media, 26,000 people showed up to hear him talk in Queensbridge Park.
I recommend going and looking at the pictures—it’s truly a staggering amount of people to pack into a park. On that day, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez endorsed him. The Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, endorsed him. Then Bernie came on the stage. He went through his familiar stump speech, hammering the billionaire class for their greed and arguing the necessity of economic, racial and environmental justice. Then, he debuted a new line.
Bernie told us to turn to the people next to us. He told us to look around at the multi-racial, multi-generational crowd gathered around us. He looked around as well. He then turned to us once again — and I’ll never forget this moment — and asked us:
“Are you willing to fight for that person who you don’t even know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?”
“Are you willing to stand together and fight for those people who are struggling economically in this country?”
— @BernieSanders pic.twitter.com/OQoGAimDZL
— jordan (@JordanUhl) October 20, 2019
“Are you willing to fight for that person who you don’t even know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself? Are you willing to stand together and fight for those people who are struggling economically in this country? Are you willing to fight for those young people drowning in student debt even if you are not? Are you willing to fight to ensure that every American has healthcare as a human right even if you have good healthcare? Are you willing to fight for frightened immigrant neighbors even if you are native-born? Are you willing to fight for a future for generations of people who have not yet even been born but are entitled to live on a planet that is healthy and habitable?”
I will never be able to properly describe how it felt to be in the crowd. Human is the first word that comes to mind.
Bernie Sanders is not a perfect candidate. I disagree with him on many issues. I wish he would support reparations for black and indigenous Americans. I wish he would go further in condemning the military industrial complex. I wish he would reject capitalism fully rather than simply offering reforms. Hell, I wish the face of America’s multi-racial working class movement wasn’t an old white dude from Vermont.
But, despite his flaws, Bernie understands what few politicians do: Solidarity is the key to a better society. He understands that unless we fight for the most oppressed groups in our society — the homeless, the imprisoned, black Americans, women, transgender people, the disabled, undocumented immigrants — we will continue to fail to build a just society.
Bernie also understands that solidarity must be organized and harnessed to win material gains. Not only does he frequently argue he will pass his policies through organizing mass movements and pressuring conservative lawmakers — he has a record to back up that claim. Bernie was arrested for protesting racist housing segregation in Chicago in the 1960s. He marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. He stood with indigenous protesters at the Standing Rock Reservation and called for Obama to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline. As he is fond of saying, he has probably walked on more picket lines than all of his rivals combined. During this campaign, he has frequently used his platform to elevate radical working class movements like Moms 4 Housing and the striking UC Santa Cruz graduate workers.
I agree with Bernie on most issues. For the most part, I support his policy vision. But that is not why I support him. Bernie understands that at the core of all progress is organized human solidarity. When he says, “Not me, us” he truly means it. His campaign is not about pinning our hopes for a better world on a single politician — it is about a mass awakening of working class consciousness.
The socialist Eugene Debs once famously said: “While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
Bernie is the only mainstream American politician in my lifetime that embodies this idea — that is why I support him, and why you should too.
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Harry Zehner is the opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.