This election year changed my life. I realized that millions of people think as I do and are willing to fight for positions portrayed earlier as unrealistic.
It created in me a powerful bond with fellow Sanders’ supporters, mostly women: solidarity.
Throughout the primary I was awed by his young supporters. Through their art and activism, they promoted him and issues of justice with more drive, energy and courage than I had at that age, and arguably have now. Uninformed they were not, committed they were.
So too was I impressed with the activism of older women (and men) with a history of work against unjust and unproductive wars, for women’s rights, for the environment, for affordable health care, and for human rights.
But the primary was trying. The media was heavily biased towards Clinton, providing extensive coverage of superficial announcements, even as it gave unwarranted time to Trump. The Democratic National Committee, under Clinton’s 2008 campaign co-chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, supported the recycling of big donor funds and pushed her nomination. Massive electoral irregularities quite possibly changed the outcome of the election. Sanders’ supporters were silenced at the Convention. This is not “Russian meddling.” It’s proven fact.
The energy of these supporters will be critical to transforming America. The left recognizes this: Bernie has started “Our Revolution” and various movements have gained momentum, among them the fight for the human rights and dignity of black people, against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and against the TPP. In DC and around the world, people are standing up for economic, social, racial and environmental justice.
The energy of many Americans who did not support Clinton is sought in the general election. In fact, immediately after the primary, Sanders’ supporters were told to vote for Clinton. The rationale offered was party unity and the platform. While that statement of policy positions was more progressive than anticipated, it still did not aggressively fight corporate power or support numerous positions of Sanders. In place of listening-heavy communication – with Sanders’ supporters and others – came reprimands.
Personally, though I have a great deal of admiration for Dr. Jill Stein, I plan to vote for Clinton in my maybe, maybe-not swing state. It will hopefully be a quick exercise. I was a solid Sanders’ supporter (although I’m to the left of him on international and some other issues, on which he would be center-right in many developed countries.)
I believe the work just to maintain the status quo will be challenging in the face of expanding and endless war, mass privatization and incarceration, increasing automation in a nation of weak social protections, growing inequality, and democracy-killing trade deals. The effort needed to reverse this situation – the only sane thing to strive for – is daunting. That’s my primary concern.
Yet in a tightening presidential race, many Hillary supporters trying to reach out to Sanders’ voters have virtually ignored our major concerns. Absolutely, she faces a xenophobic, misogynistic businessman with a history of losses and exploitation in business who supports brutal policies. But the vast majority of messages from Hillary supporters, on the media, and from many progressive groups has struck me as ineffective: lecturing has supplanted listening, and condescension communication. I really like many Clinton supporters and want to support her while amping up our arduous work for sustainability, justice and peace. But much of what I hear, and have heard has antagonized me and for long increased the odds I’d vote for Stein. (Thank you to my Facebook friends who may not have been in total agreement with me but provided the space for discussions on the subject.)
Here are seven popular themes I’ve found annoying:
- “Do you really want a President Trump?” The question, when posed to Sanders’ supporters, is simply ludicrous. Sanders has been a more effective counterpoint to Trump. The Vermont Senator’s messages of love and inclusion and ambition translated into policy, while Clinton’s positions have arguably been closer to Trump’s.
It has been insulting to imply those who advocate for affordable and universal health care to prevent suffering, for non-predatory college debt, for questioning our failed strategies of intervention, etc. – for a political (and by extension economic, social and cultural) revolution – are working for a Trump presidency. Insulting someone repeatedly wronged by a system that favored your candidate is a poor tactic, at best.
- “You’re throwing your vote away if you vote for Jill Stein/It’s your responsibility to vote.” No I’m not and no it’s not. I am exhibiting my free will. Also implying it is Sanders’ responsibility to deliver those who voted for him during the primary – as if we’re a package of bricks – is inaccurate and unfair.
- “You’re so privileged; you’re not thinking about anyone else. Things are going to be disastrous under President Trump.” I’d argue the only way we have ended up with a system of extensive injustice – and by implication, privilege – is by many of the people who make such statements exercising their privilege and accepting a structurally biased and unjust system.
The reality is that for many people things are already disastrous, which has opened up the space for Trump’s candidacy. The #blacklivesmatter movement and guiding principles; the uprising against the #DAPL and in other places of systemically oppressed native Americans; the numerous Trump supporters, many who don’t believe their children will have the same opportunities they do and worry about their health care; and the millions of college kids living at home should have provided pretty clear evidence of the struggles of a majority of Americans right now.
Additionally, it’s unhelpful to stereotype anyone’s supporters. The alienation of Sanders’ supporters by the use of “Bernie Bros” should have proven as much. Truly all of us bring our own perspective and identity to the table. Even Malcolm Gladwell, half-black, wrote of a computer test that shows he is racist in his perceptions.
- “People won’t vote for her because she’s a woman.” This line – a long-standing, major strategic thrust of the campaign and the media – has been annoying many of us for months. There are some people who dislike her based on her gender. Yet it’s really hard to argue the vast majority of voters who are not comfortable with Clinton are objecting primarily to her sex. I’m not going to list issues with her here. (And I agree there are an equal, if not longer, list of troublesome alliances and funding partners for Trump: that’s why I supported Sanders). Yet pretending many people don’t have legitimate concerns just annoys the people whose support you seek.
- “The media is biased.” Again, maybe, but that bias strongly benefited her during the primary. In general, the mainstream media has focused on the “Russians are coming/here” narrative to discredit negative stories, and has downplayed her corporate connections.
- “What’s it going to take to get you to vote for her?” Um, a billion dollars in a Panamanian bank account? The answer is that our votes have never been for sale. Indeed, they have been a pretty harsh critique of a system where, increasingly, everything is up for sale.
- “The Russians are going to hack the election (and then set it up to blame on Clinton) or are behind any or all unfavorable coverage.” Unfortunately, this really doesn’t resonate. The reality is that #DNCLeaks – blamed on the Russians in no-time flat with no-proof – just confirmed a lot of what we knew through the exposure of real DNC e-mails. RT provided a lot of great coverage on progressive priorities and election irregularities that were virtually ignored by the American mainstream media, who clearly sought to control election outcomes. (It’s pretty tough to believe total ineptitude led them to neglect Sanders and his priorities, the latter which threatened their own and their advertisers.)
Also the United States has interfered through at least 50 covert and overt actions to overthrow governments since World War II and through foreign elections, and has planted malware in other nations’ infrastructure. Our own government is allowed to utilize psychological operations on foreign populations, has done so illegally here, and now can utilize propaganda on American populations. To hear from the mainstream media, with its extensive foreign interests, as a recurring theme, that the foreign media is controlling our election unfortunately misses the noir note in the humor it must be striving for. It’s also fundamentally unfair as a tactic to demonize non-corporate journalists who seek to coordinate globally through the exercise of their free speech rights.
So how do you reach out? Start with “What do you want in this country?” I agree with many organizations that person-to-person outreach is critical. But at the core of it must be communication, with an emphasis on listening to disenfranchised Sanders’ supporters. Nationally, we can create and work towards a shared vision that a majority supports for further evolution: from less war, to affordable health care, to quality education and food, to democratically-created GMO labeling, to jobs paying living wages, to human rights and dignity for all. From Moral Revival, to #blacklivesmatter principles to Our Revolution to so many nonprofits and movements and groups, there is a vision for systemic change.
Sanders always emphasized it would take all of us, even with a candidacy notably more progressive than the two left, so how can it not now? In a late speech of his candidacy when the crowd cried, “Bernie, Bernie,” he responded with, “Not me. Us.” Many of us cried. In fact, many Democratic presidents, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, have emphasized the importance of left-leaning social movements to their progressive achievements.
So Hillary supporters: ask about the advocacy Sanders’ supporters engage in and pledge your support to those causes. Be prepared to think of much broader activism than you originally envisioned on the TPP, climate, war, surveillance, human rights, GMOs, investment, etc., starting now. Obviously alliances and activism will depend on respective levels of comfort but, for many of us, our exposure and involvement will grow organically. Through a growing respect for others’ language, identity and political terrain, we will make progress.
Personally I will enthusiastically chant and dance to “I believe that we will win” both in terms of the election and the longer struggle – the latter which occupies the bulk of my time – even though I don’t know if it will be the case. But I do believe that we can and will fight, together, for justice and that will be the most worthwhile pursuit of our lives.
We need the spaces for discussion, online, on front porches and elsewhere, about how our people will again thrive. Many Sanders’ supporters may still not vote for Clinton but, I believe, many more may. In our joint spirit of solidarity, we will be free.