Many Bates students I speak with are at least passively supporting Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President. Unfortunately, most of those students barely seem to know the names of the other candidates running. At the same time, my peers try to argue for Sanders’ campaign as if they are experts on his every policy and past position–they’re usually not. When did collegiate political discourse become an exercise in reciting lines from a viral video on Imgur? Batesies–especially white, male Batesies–are supporting Bernie without actually comparing his positions to those of other candidates or thinking critically about why they’re supporting him.
My personal philosophy when it comes to politics usually amounts to “follow the lead of women of color.” The voter turnout of women of color, and especially of black women, has been responsible for recent Democratic electoral successes from AOC to Stacey Abrams’ near win to Doug Jones’ Alabama Senate victory. Further, while the voices of women of color are often the most marginalized, they often have intense resilience and strength, and engage in grassroots activism and organizing at every level, despite challenges. I am certainly more inspired by anti-racist leaders like Alicia Garza and Tarana Burke than by the rhetoric employed by Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and others.So when AOC and Ilhan Omar endorsed Bernie this week, I reflected on the Vermont Senator’s candidacy with deep respect. I do not question that Bernie has inspired countless voters and brought attention to issues that are vital to public discourse. I consider his 2016 candidacy groundbreaking and successful in how it affected the Democratic party and youth around the country.
However. This election is in 2020–there are a lot more candidates than in 2016. Things have changed, and the way you think about politics needs to have changed too. I urge students to look beyond social media sites and news headlines and read the candidates’ positions for themselves.
For example–we have had years of gun violence that the sitting President only emboldens. And as college students, many of us feel immediately threatened by this epidemic: police, strangers, and even our peers are untrustworthy and potentially dangerous when guns are on hand. This is an issue that I know many of my Bernie-loving friends care deeply about, and they sure love to talk about how Bernie has been saying the same things since the ’60s, but Bernie voted against universal background checks in 1993 and for a bill that exonerates gun manufacturers from lawsuits in 2003 and 2005. Even today, the so-called “details” of Bernie’s gun policy plan consist of six bullet points, none of which are substantive. When compared to Beto or Julián Castro, who have extensive and detailed gun control strategies, Bernie looks like he doesn’t consider gun violence a real issue.
Oh, and here’s the full text of Bernie Sanders’ plan to address police violence: “Bring about major police department reform.” Look, I’m no expert, but I don’t think that qualifies as a plan. And Bernie couldn’t be bothered to show up to either forum on LGBTQ+ issues hosted this fall (his plans for queer equality are similarly limited to a few bullet points). Bernie might have shown up to march in the ’60s, but is he showing up for queer folks and folks of color today?
I’m looking beyond the lines I’ve heard a thousand times, and the ranting against the capitalist machine that was so appealing a few years ago. It’s not novel to like Bernie anymore–sticking with him without carefully considering your reasons shows a lack of critical thinking and present-day engagement.
For me, I’m paying attention to leaders like Blair Imani, Ashlee Marie Preston, Angelica Ross, and Alma Adams. I’m watching to see what Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley have to say about the endorsements of their squad-mates. I’m listening for the voices of Maxine Waters, Stacey Abrams, Deb Halaand, and Tammy Duckworth. I’m excited about the candidates of color who are bringing attention to things Bernie and Hillary never thought of in 2016. And I’m asking my peers (especially those who aren’t white boys) who’s inspiring them today.
Batesies, take your opinions, your support, and your vote seriously. Make sure you’re supporting something of substance, beyond angry rhetoric. Do your research. If Bernie’s still your guy, come convince me. Maybe we can engage a few more potential voters together.