Bernie vs. the 1 percent

Many of us would agree that the last thing we need is another white man in power in this country, but I am not ready for Hilary. Although over 20 countries in the world are currently led by women, and we need to dismantle misogyny and patriarchy in the U.S., Hillary Clinton represents a continuation of the corporate-run, two-party political system in America, and the people deserve a progressive president who will not sell out to private interests. 

Bernie Sanders is not perfect. He is another white male in a predominantly white male federal government of a diverse nation, he’s 74 years old, and he often stumbles over issues of race and gender. At a rally at the St. Paul River Centre on January 26, Bernie staffers refused to allow a group of black youth on stage stating they wanted to make sure they “didn’t allow any disrupters through.” The same night Bernie’s campaign held a private meeting with local leaders in the black community to discuss progressive politics in Minnesota. So what does this say about him? Bernie may be afraid to be put on the spot about racial equity in front of thousands of supporters, but he is willing to listen and he may be able to be moved on these issues.

A big difference between Sanders and Clinton is that he is not owned by billionaire capitalists of the DFL. Hillary’s top contributors include Wall Street giants Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase.  It’s scary to consider the implications of big banks influence on the future of our children and families when they have gained this much leverage over a presidential candidate. 

Bernie’s top contributors are primarily labor unions. His weaknesses should be viewed as a politician who hasn’t been molded into a methodical Washington robot; a political pawn programmed to adhere to the empire.

President Obama’s final State of the Union address was heartfelt, confident, and gave closure to the end of a beginning of change in the face of the most powerful leader in the world.  But his support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the international trade deal with the potential to kill more American jobs than NAFTA, demonstrated his underlying commitment to neoliberal economic policies and the Democratic Party’s inability to detach themselves from perpetuating corporate globalization that benefits only the 1 percent while continuing to hurt people of color and working class people.  It is trade deals like NAFTA and TPP that create poverty and immigration of undocumented families leaving their home for a better life.

Lucina Kayee was one of the youth turned away by Bernie staffers at his rally in St. Paul. Before she escaped the civil war in Liberia in 2002, she and her family were in a rebel camp where the president at the time, Charles Taylor, trained child soldiers for his army. Witnessing her friends and family experience violence from police brutality and ICE raids, she demands a clear position from her president that will protect black and brown families and immigrants from future brutalization.

When I asked the Hamline University law student what issues were important to her in this election she spoke passionately stating, “Police were formed in this country as slave patrol, and I see the same thing with police brutality today. Nothing has changed. There is no difference from slave patrols in the 1800s with police killing black people today.  This system was not set up for black and brown people to survive. It was set up for us to go extinct.  If they can’t kill us they’ll send us back to countries that were trying to kill us before. “

Like many young people of color Lucina is not yet convinced that Bernie will get her vote. “If he really wants to gain the support of the immigrant voters, he has to think about how he words things. He needs to sit back and look at what’s going on, stop looking at the media, stop using the hashtags and start talking to the people and protecting the people.” 

After months of being quiet on the issue Bernie recently shared a clear and progressive immigration plan stating: “Establishing an immigration policy that stops the criminalization of communities of color and keeps families together will be a top priority of my Administration. Our immigration policy will put the sanctity of families at the forefront and will be grounded in civil, human, and labor rights.” 

Because of the on-the-ground work from passionate people like Lucina, politicians are held accountable and pushed to do better. Bernie’s strong immigration plan was released around the same time he has been having conversations with leaders in the black community about progressive change. In the next few weeks he will be in North Minneapolis to discuss divestment from systems of oppression and reinvestment in communities of color. Bernie is building a movement in collaboration with those directly affected by issues.

Congressman Keith Ellison, the co-chair of the progressive caucus, endorsed Bernie and shared why he supports his presidency. “I endorsed Bernie because he focuses on the issues most important to working Americans.  Also, he has a consistent history of working for working Americans. Therefore his rhetoric is believable and credible.”

Bernie’s commitment to progressive values have been consistent for the most part and demonstrates a new political system of the left in which politicians don’t have to hide their true values out of fear of losing votes.  “Bernie’s campaign success means that Americans are responding to creeping oligarchy with their own progressivism. Enthusiasm for Bernie’s progressive economic and social policy is impart a response to the stagnating fortunes of most hard working people,” Ellison shared about the state of progressivism in America.

We are in the midst of historic progressive change in this country, and a time in which individuals are able to speak truth directly to power.  We must continue to speak unapologetic truth, hold our elected leaders accountable, and break the status quo of corporate run politics by not only speaking truth to those in power but making sure that we the people have the power to move policies forward through our elected leaders.  We elect them and they work for us.  We must continue to ensure communities of color and working class communities are at the table creating real progressive change in this country.  Let’s keep moving onward and make Bernie the president of the people.

Ryan Stopera is a social worker and community organizer in Minneapolis. He is on the board of directors of MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.