I try to make a point not to idolise politicians, but I think it is hard not to look at Bernie Sanders and find characteristics worthy of adulation. Whether or not you agree with his policies and proposals, you cannot claim that he is not a man of conviction, of worthy intentions, who gave all he had and more to the cause he believed in. Whether on the right or left side of the aisle, few can see he was not the most honest man in politics, for better or for worse. Whilst Sanders has failed in his presidential campaigns, he has accomplished something far greater. He has spearheaded a strong progressive movement for social and economic reform within the democratic party and beyond. It is for that movement he entered the race both times. ‘Not me. Us.’
For 40 years, Sanders has spearheaded the fight against countless issues in society, long before many in government even knew there was a fight to be had. From civil rights, to workers’ rights, Bernie Sanders has always been ahead of the times and for that he has always been disliked. One of the truest things that Hillary Clinton has ever said is that “nobody likes him; nobody wants to work with him”, and whilst she meant this as a slight on Mr. Sanders, rather it is an indictment of the Democratic party.
Sanders was fighting for gay rights in early 1980s when it was still unpopular to do so, whereas many politicians like Biden and Clinton did not support it fully until 2013 when the rest of society decided it was finally acceptable. The job of the country's leaders is not to follow society like sheep, finally conceding to their demands when they’ve run out of excuses not to. It is to lead them on the issues of import and to throw all their energy behind their cause and fight for it until the fight is over – not to join the fight late and duck out early whilst there is still work to be done. Sanders does not need to lie about his civil rights record like Joe Biden, he marched with Dr King for civil rights and even chained himself to an African American woman to prevent her arrest.
His fight did not stop at civil rights, he has fought against climate change, he has fought for higher wages for Amazon workers and won and he has almost single handedly sustained the fight for Medicare for all, catapulting it into the national conversation. Nancy Pelosi has said she has a poster of single payer health care in her basement from 30 years ago. Great. But Bernie Sanders didn’t leave it in the basement, he fought for it when everyone was against it and did not bend.
Revolution not reform, in the beginning, was the biggest distinguisher between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The reformist approach misunderstands what they all actually care about, which is the donor money. Bernie Sanders has consistently said he will take this on, which is why he has earned the disdain and hatred of the mainstream media, instinctually they had a sense that he was the one guy that could not be bought off. Whilst I’m sure Bernie Sanders will continue to fight until his dying day, it is clear that the progressive movement needs new leadership.
Wherever the progressive movement now goes, it will not be led by Elizabeth Warren. Who for all intents and purposes, in her rhetoric near the end of her campaign and her failure to endorse Bernie Sanders, has betrayed it. It now seems our hope lies in the young women of colour across the world. Like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar in America, and closer to home, new fighting MPs like Zarah Sultana (MP for Coventry South). We can only hope they have the strength and resolve to continue the long uphill struggle for a better world. “Crazy Bernie” has been mocked, betrayed, scorned and belittled for years upon years, he has fought the seemingly hopeless battles alone. Fortunately, whilst still few in number, these new leaders will not have to act alone, they will have an ever-swelling number of progressive representatives behind them.
Sanders will continue to be scorned and attacked by some still, in the likely event of a democratic 2020 failure, he will undoubtedly be blamed again. As in 2016, they will claim he didn’t do enough’, despite the fact he was a relentless campaigner for Clinton in the last two months of the 2016 campaign, appearing at 39 rallies in 13 states on her behalf, at times facing sustained boos from his own supporters for throwing his support behind Clinton. For them he can never do enough, but for those in the progressive movement we recognise all he has done for the working people and can only ensure we carry on his work.
You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their heroes, and this speech by Eugene Debs, read aloud by Sanders in a 1979 documentary on the legendary trade union leader, I think perfectly encapsulates the legacy of Bernie Sanders, ““every man, every woman who toils, who renders useful service, every member of the working class without exception, is my comrade, my brother and sister, and that to serve them and their cause is the highest duty of my life”.
Image: Flickr / Shelly Prevost