Radio and television political talk-show host Thom Hartmann dedicated some airtime Thursday 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 current progressive landscape at the end of this tumultuous primary season is stronger than ever. Of course, over the past week there has been no shortage of encomiums to Senator Sanders. In fact, before writing this piece, I checked to see how many LNR already posted lest I wind up sounding redundant. I’ll try not to.
It’s important to acknowledge what Bernie has said time and again: it isn’t about him. Coming from any other politician’s well-oiled jaws, that statement would be hollow as Donald Drumpf’s soul. The paths of the avuncular Vermont senator’s supporters are myriad and diverse, and they have all lead to a unified core altering American politics and culture, exactly the objective Sanders hoped to achieve when he stood along the banks of Lake Champlain last May and vowed to take on the Koch brothers, Wall Street, Big Pharma, and the democratic establishment. From this paradigm, he won. He won YUUUUUGELY.
He won months ago, and as long as we do our part to carry his platform like an Olympic torch, the political revolution Bernie invoked so often will re-vivify trust and faith in the American political process. Already we are seeing about 191 congressional, senatorial, state and local municipal candidates well versed in Bernie’s playbook entering the fray, like Zephyr Teachout, whom Bernie endorsed, running for New York’s 19th congressional district. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and Nevada’s Lucy Flores are also running for congress with Bernie’s endorsement.
If it weren’t for Bernie and the enthusiasm he generated, these intrepid women might not have considered running. But Bernie demonstrated a political candidate – even one for President – can fund a formidable campaign exclusively on individual donations, not from super PACs. He proved a candidate can remain dignified in a ratings-driven, reality-show media milieu without resorting to ad hominem attacks. He connected with millions of people convinced their politicians no longer listened to or cared about them through his relentless commitment to issues affecting us, not wealthy campaign contributors. He introduced to the electoral process, scores of Americans who never imagined having a meaningful role in politics. I’m one of them.
I can’t speak for all Sanders supporters, but if it weren’t for Bernie, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. You wouldn’t be reading this article. I was never a so-called “political” person. Politics intimidated me. If I were at a social gathering and people started talking politics, I’d 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 that our politicians were corrupt either by birth or design. I assumed most politicians 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 was mine to influence.
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. Probably not. 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 or I got sick or were involved in an accident, would the medical expense impoverish us?
Then I started hearing for the first time 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 Bernie. I googled him, read his Profile on his senate homepage, listened as much as I could to his appearances on Thom Hartmann’s show. 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 like Think Progress, PoliticusUSA, Mother Jones, Truth-Out, and others, subscribed to The Progressive magazine. I had begun my awakening.
After Senator Elizabeth Warren declined pleas to run for president, naturally 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 his 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”. WOW! Here it was!
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 became a democrat, and when I learned as a Green Party member I would not be able to vote for him in New York’s primary, I became one too.
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, and when a campaign office opened this spring 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 even volunteered at the rally at Marist College a week before the primary, one of the greatest thrills of my life. If anyone had told me a year ago I’d be doing these things, I’d have thought he was nuts.
I began a couple years ago volunteering at a local food pantry on Saturday mornings, and have recently been appointed to the advisory board. Last month I stood on a picket line with Verizon CWA workers. Last week I attended my county democratic convention, and this week I am attending the Kingston, New York office opening of congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout, for whom I plan to repeat the efforts I practiced for Bernie.
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.
So, thank you, Bernie. You didn’t secure the nomination, but you secured a place in American history that will help ensure my children grow up in a country that provides them and their children with a chance at the American Dream. I’m privileged to live in a time when true statesmen are not figures from a by-gone golden era. I will do my part, and urge others, to hold Secretary Clinton accountable for the promises she makes on the campaign trail. You made her a better a candidate, and we will not relent in keeping her that way.