The mother with stage four pancreatic cancer who is slowly dying because she can’t afford healthcare. The teacher of 20 years who, no matter how hard she tries, has been unable to save anything for her own son’s college. The undocumented family living in fear of being crammed into an immigration official’s car, never to see their home again. These are the people we have come to know.
For the past few months, we’ve been organizing for Bernie Sanders, both on campus and in New Haven as well as early primary states such as New Hampshire and Massachusetts. We’ve knocked on hundreds of doors, talking to members of the working-class, in all its diversity. Their stories are the same. But these conversations never get any easier.
Bernie Sanders is the front-runner in the 2020 presidential election. He leads the most diverse coalition and speaks to the anxieties of working Americans unlike any other candidate. And yet, he remains at the center of scathing criticisms from self-identified progressives.
The distasteful sentiment Bernie receives at Yale is no different. At best, it amounts to a clear disconnect between many Yale students’ lived experiences and the people to whom Bernie’s policies most deeply appeal. At worst, it’s a conscious, technocratic decision on the part of these students to concentrate and protect political power from Bernie’s sweeping reforms.
A common sentiment we hear when canvassing in working-class communities is a complete apathy toward politics. No matter who is in office, their lives don’t get any better. Politicians make big promises but sell them out to their corporate donors the second they get in office.
It’s easy to sit in our ivory tower at Yale and complain about voter apathy. But in reality, the vast majority of working people have never been given the option to vote for themselves. When elections are presented as consumption choices or reality television instead of as a fundamental material conflict, it’s no wonder that people begin to tune out politics completely.
Why would anyone participate in something that is incredibly alienating and clearly not designed for them? How do we expect people to vote when they have far more pressing things to deal with like paying their rent and providing the best future possible for their kids?
It’s difficult asking working-class people to invest their last sliver of faith in the political process in a 78-year old, white senator from Vermont. But as Aria Falcone ’22, co-president of Yale Students for Bernie puts it, “I grew up in a working-class family with a single mother who struggled financially… Organizing for Bernie isn’t just something I do for experience, it’s a necessity, for me, for my family, and for millions of Americans.”
Yalies often dismiss Bernie’s visions as too radical, self-centered and exactly what the country doesn’t need. Former — yes, former — presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg self-indulgently voiced this sentiment recently when rejecting Bernie’s “nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s.” If our nation’s history tells us anything, it’s that it has only been within these political revolutions, when millions of working people stand up and demand justice, that we have ever been able to create real change.
Others claim that Bernie’s rhetoric is inflammatory and generates a toxic cult — the infamous “Bernie Bros.” But this simply ignores his intersectional messages resonating with Americans from all walks of life. It’s why he has an overwhelmingly diverse base — leading with Latinos, Muslims and increasingly black voters. It’s why young women make up more of his base than men. Is it fair to erase these voices by characterizing them as “Bernie Bros?”
At the beginning of the school year, the News polled Yale students about their presidential primary preferences. In the midst of Elizabeth Warren’s short-lived surge, the poll found Warren to be the first choice of respondents at 33 percent with Buttigieg and Sanders far behind in second and third place with 13.2 and 12.9 percent, respectively.
Put bluntly, current polling suggests that Warren won’t win a single state, including her home of Massachusetts where Bernie is polling ahead of her. She likely has no path to the nomination except through denying Bernie a majority of delegates going into the convention and winning through a brokered process that includes 771 unelected superdelegates.
Not only is this deeply undemocratic, but it is naive to think that in a brokered convention, party elites would choose Warren over a more moderate option. Further, winning the nomination by getting party elites to subvert the plurality of Democratic primary voters who voted for Bernie, many of whom felt politically empowered for the first time in their lives by the Sanders campaign, is a surefire way to depress general election turnout significantly and deliver Trump a second term. Warren is simply no longer viable. This is a race between Bernie and whichever moderate wins the most delegates tomorrow.
In many ways, Yale is a Tale of Two Cities. We are surrounded by omnipresent conflict and contradiction: a parasitic relationship between Yale and New Haven which unions and community organizations fight on a daily basis to win some semblance of dignity and economic stability. Meanwhile, the university sits on a $30 billion endowment as its sheltered students go off into consulting and finance to continue extracting from a beaten-down working-class.
At the same time, there is an unspoken inequality on campus between students who have never experienced real struggle and those whose lives are defined by it: students whose parents continue to work far past their limits just for health insurance, students who take out loans when their two jobs can’t cover the student income contribution, students who feel the weight of their entire family’s well-being resting on their Yale education.
As Falcone puts it, “refusing to stand in solidarity with those you don’t know sends a message that others’ needs don’t matter.” In this case, it isn’t just people we don’t know but fellow classmates, friends and their families, our Teaching Fellows. whose union is still unrecognized, and New Haven residents, many of whom work for Yale, who fail to see the wealth they generate for the school.
And if you do support Bernie, there is much work to be done to ensure he wins. That next step from supporter to organizer is daunting but incredibly fulfilling. It’s this visceral sentiment of translating the anxieties that we feel into concerted action for a better world that drives us. We fight for somebody we don’t know.