Who is Bernie Sanders you ask?
For those unacquainted with American politics, he is a Vermont Senator that is challenging Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 Presidential Election. The longest serving independent senator in the U.S. congress and he is a man I have admired for many years on account of his passionate stances on a range of issues - climate change, income inequality, financial reform and foreign policy being some key areas. His near 9 hour filibuster of Obama's continuation of Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthy being but one example of his passion to support the working class. Along with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders has been one of the few consistent voices of reason within a political system that appears out of touch with the daily struggles of the lower and middle class, one utterly compromised by the greed of corporations and high net worth individuals like the Koch brothers. I have long felt that for better or worse (more of the latter), American politics has a huge bearing on the rest of the world. It is with this in mind that I am watching this presidential campaign with great interest and I daresay ...hope!
A self labelled "Democratic Socialist", Bernie is calling for a "political revolution" and often looks towards Scandinavia for inspiration (e.g. taxation, education, healthcare). While "socialism" seems to be a dirty word in American politics, the Republican candidates thus far (all 12 of them) appear to be so entrenched in far-right politics (billionaire financiers, climate change denial and trickle down economics in tow) to have a serious chance of defeating a Democratic candidate next year. So while it is early days it does indeed appear to be a battle between Bernie and Hilary Clinton for the U.S. presidency. The Daily Dot has a great summary of some of the key policy differences between Sanders and Clinton. For progressives, it ought to be abundantly clear that it is Sanders who has the authentic track record. Be it his stance on big banks, electoral reform, same-sex marriage, climate change, Keystone XL, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, healthcare, mass surveillance or the 'war on terror', it is all remarkably clear and consistent. The same cannot be said about Hilary Clinton. Or the vast majority of politicians across the world for that matter. The regressive, wildly inconsistent Abbott Government here in Australia being a case in point.
But let's face it, there is a much greater battle playing out here...and this is what moves me the most.
It is a battle against a powerful, maniacal, greedy elite who have hijacked governments and hence the system of rules (or lack thereof) that determine how we function as a global society. An oligarchy. Before you conjure images of me being a conspiracy theorist, I invite you to reflect on the extent to which big business and wealthy elites hold the reigns when it comes to political decision making. Whether it is media control, flagrant campaign financing, lobby groups or intense business-government collusion in policy development. A paradigm that has unsurprisingly resulted in inaction when it comes to climate change, growing income inequality and of course the denigration of all social services to the majority while insisting on tax breaks, loopholes and subsidies for big business. Thus a context in which we talk about about 'democracy and freedom' without having clear insight into who the levers of power are controlled by. A reality that is by no means relegated to the U.S.
It is against this rather Orwellian backdrop that Bernie Sanders has launched his bid for the Presidency.
I'll tell you this, I get emotional watching Bernie speak. There is something about the optics of a scruffy 73 year old man fearlessly voicing the truth about the "crooks on Wall Street", undeterred by the overwhelming odds against him. There is something about a man who is genuinely immersed in the substance of his message and not his appearance. There is something about a man that oozes authenticity and cogently outlines a rational, humane vision for America and by extension, the world. There is no slick marketing or tailored speeches driving this bid thus far. Bernie's words are measured, they are direct. The foundation of his campaign in his own words is what he sarcastically calls "a radical concept, the truth". It is this directness, in stark contrast to the willful ambiguity that defines mainstream politics, this clear identification of the roots of injustice and the concise path to address it... that is capturing hearts and minds. He certainly has my attention and above that, my respect.
In Bernie's speeches in packed halls thus far, there is the distinct impression that he is a man who is determined to be a champion for the underdog. It has been his legacy for decades. An authenticity that sees him swearing not to touch billionaire money and Super PACs (Political Action Committees). Bernie is a fierce opponent of the Citizen's United decision that lead to the supreme court ruling in favour of "independent" political spending by corporations and unions. Instead, he is relying on donations from citizens. He has started raising millions through a grassroot campaign which currently has over 200,000 supporters with an average donation of USD $42. Still, an observer might call this chump change in light of the staggering $ 2.5 billion that the Clinton campaign aims to bring in through donations.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media is still largely cynical about Sanders' campaign and are largely framing it as a bid that at best, may shift Clinton's campaign further to the left. Ironically, as he points out, the fact that he is deemed to have a snowballs chance in hell is largely because he is unwilling to cave in to corporate interests that allow such 'obscene' campaign funds like other candidates on both sides. On the ground, Bernie is filling venues and gaining momentum and as he keeps saying in each interview, he should not be underestimated. Even the previously non-aligned ,Occupy Wall Street movement is endorsing him.
It seems to me that at the very heart of his campaign is a desire to mobilise the grassroots, the working class, to rally against a system controlled by corporations and the 'billionaire class'. A call to action in the midst of a sense of futility and apathy among the struggling majority. A 'political revolution' to drive money out of politics in order to amplify the voice of the people and place quality of life and environmental sustainability at the center. It is very much an attempt to reclaim democracy in the United Sates. While the odds may seem stacked against him, while the road will be grueling and implementation of his ideas may be gridlocked in congress ...what better choice do the majority of American people have than Bernie Sanders? What if ...what if even a fraction of what he outlines is possible?
It would seem that Sanders is the only man with the gumption and integrity to lead a movement to redefine the values and political direction of the United States. Inherent in his vision is a re-imagining of American society that seems to resonate with a growing number of working class voters. Should he secure the Democratic nomination, it would seem that the likelihood of him winning the election would be very strong. If he does succeed it would be a David vs. Goliath tale for the ages. Above all, it would be an inspiring testament to the power of a people powered movement. We could have a world leader the world needs, one who is genuinely committed to addressing systemic injustice and climate change.
You have a fan in me Bernie. If I were American, there would be no doubt that you would have my vote. I'm captivated and I am inspired by your leadership. I'll be watching this race very closely and willing you to win.