I was a strong and early supporter of Bernie Sanders, especially the Bernie Sanders of the early campaign: the guy who took the high road, who spoke truth to power, who organized at the grassroots and refused to engage in negative campaigning. The guy who said on her worst day Hillary Clinton would be a better President than any of the Republicans.
But I have a confession to make: I never thought he’d win.
It wasn’t lack of faith in the message or devotion to the agenda he espoused. That faith and devotion is what drove my support. To me Bernie Sanders was only a vehicle for getting the word out and starting to organize. It was clear the man himself was an imperfect vessel (he is, after all, a career politician). It was also based on a cold, hard political calculation. Remember the incident in Seattle about a year ago, when two #blacklivesmatter activists stormed a stage he was set to speak on? The way Bernie and, more importantly, his most ardent supporters handled that told me all I needed to know. However you stand on the incident, nobody gets the Democratic nomination without support from African-Americans. And while Bernie has done a great job of mobilizing younger African-Americans, they were outnumbered by their elders, who were less willing to take a chance.
Still, I advocated, and donated, and when the time came I caucused. All along I tried my best to keep to the high road the Bernie Sanders of the early campaign laid out.
Sadly, my candidate chose not to. Somewhere along the way, some subtle threshold got crossed. It was about Bernie now. Bernie the man, the visionary, the leader of a revolution, though what the revolution meant or would look like was never made clear. He started throwing punches, insisted he was going to win despite the fact that the path to victory only got narrower and less likely with every primary and caucus, even the ones that he won.
And where were the donations? The endorsements? Bernie amassed a record amount of money, and kept it all to himself. To date he’s only endorsed a handful of down-ticket candidates. Look, President’s a big deal, but as Obama has shown us, the President on his (or her!) own can only do so much. If we want a more progressive country, we need a more liberal Congress. Period. This notion that we’ll elect Bernie to POTUS and he’ll barnstorm the country holding rallies every time he wants to do something is Underpants Gnome thinking. That’s not how things work, whether anyone thinks it should be or not. I don’t like it anymore than anyone else, but you play things as they lie in this world.
And don’t get me started on some of his supporters. I know it’s not everybody, that most Sanders supporters, like me, want what’s best for everyone and think he was saying what needs to be said, so we can address the problems he’s diagnosed. But there’s been some inexcusable fuckery on the part of some particularly rabid quarters of the Sanders camp, who’ve done serious damage to the progressive agenda thanks to a campaign of online harassment. Remember the Superdelegate Hit List? People’s personal contact info was published, so they could be anonymously harassed. That’s beyond the pale, end of fucking sentence. You don’t get to do shit like that and claim to be on the side of the angels. That superdelegates currently waver between The Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope in the current fever-dream speculations about how Bernie can still pull it out would make me laugh if it didn’t also make me want to bang my head against the wall til it bleeds.
As for presumptive nominee and historic glass ceiling breaker Hillary Clinton, well, yeah, I don’t love everything she stands for, I don’t expect to like every choice she makes as President, and I wish beyond wishing that she’d voted against the Iraq War. But you know what? She’s fucking earned this. She’s suffered reverses and defeats that would crush most people, been a target of the worst kind of ratfucking for my whole adult life, and, more than all that, she’s done. the. work. She is far and away the most qualified candidate for the Presidency in a long time. She knows policy inside and out, has concrete plans to make positive change that are so detailed they make most people’s eyes roll up in their heads, and she’s painstakingly built the relationships necessary to shepherd it into law over the course of decades.
And can we all just take a fucking minute to shout huzzah about the first woman nominated by a major party to run for President? Hillary’s baggage notwithstanding, that’s a giant fucking step forward for progressive values, however you slice it.
You know, maybe it’s because I never thought Bernie would win, but I think progressives everywhere ought to be celebrating right now. Yes, Bernie’s more or less imploded. But he’s done the work we needed from him. He’s rallied millions of progressives, brought new people into political activism, and laid a foundation for future action we can build something meaningful on. Seriously, never in my lifetime has the progressive agenda been more widely-shared and publicly discussed. Think back to the Bush years, and compare it to now. We’ve got more signal boost and bandwidth than ever. More people awakening to the ills and imbalances of our present system, and engaged in making them better. The Democrats, feckless though they are sometimes, have been put on notice: there’s a wellspring of potential voters, volunteers, and contributions if they can find the courage to meet us halfway. The Sanders campaign has defined the conversation, at least on the left, and in mostly positive ways.
I know it sounds strange to hear it, but there’s seriously never been a better time to be a progressive. The only thing that’ll fuck it up is if we pass up this chance to be part of the process. Is Clinton perfect? Hell no, but with her we can build on the progress of the last eight years. It won’t be as sexy as a revolution, but it’ll get us further down the road to where we want to be.
Look, I want a progressive utopia yesterday, too. But the cold truth is: we don’t have the numbers. Yes, a sizable contingent of the US population is progressive. It’s bigger than it was a year ago, and we’re getting more connected than we were. But let’s not fool ourselves that we’ve got the kind of majority that can dictate policy over the objections of our fellow citizens who feel differently about the best way forward. We don’t, and neither do they, and when everybody gets up from the negotiating table, no one gets everything they want.
Born of revolution, in a revolutionary moment in history, the United States is built to resist revolutions. Inertia and disagreement are built in to the system. Frustrating as it is, that’s a good thing (I will again suggest you remember the Bush years).
Getting where we want to go from where we are is going to take a long time and a fuck-ton of thankless and painstaking work. It’s going to take more than one election cycle. Telling truth we’re likely fucked til the next Census, when Congressional districts are redrawn. But we can move forward, one step at a time, if we can all find a way to work together. It may not be sexy, but it can work.
Like the old saying goes. Don’t mourn, organize.