It looks like the race to become the Democratic nominee is coming to a close. Whatever happens next, I want to thank you– both for the incredible presidential campaign you have run, and for the prior 30+ years you spent in public service. As I have educated myself about your political career, I have been profoundly inspired by your empathy, foresight, integrity, and drive.
I watched with awe and admiration how you passionately argued for military spending cuts before the House of Representatives in 1992:
We are spending $270 billion a year on the military, but we don’t have a major enemy! I know it hurts your feelings, I know you’re upset about it, I know you’re hoping and praying that maybe we’ll have another war, maybe somebody will rise up. But it ain’t happening! … Let’s have the guts to give leadership to this country. The Cold War’s over. Let’s reinvest in America.
Perhaps a dozen times I watched the clip of you rising in opposition to the 1991 crime bill to declare:
This is not a crime prevention bill. This is a punishment bill, a retribution bill, a vengeance bill… If you wanna get tough on crime, let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s demand that every man, woman, and child in this country have a decent opportunity and a decent standard of living, let’s not keep putting poor people in jail and disproportionately punishing blacks.”
And I wept as I watched you, realizing how uncommon this view was at the time, and knowing that those crime bills of the early 1990s did not make crime drop but instead helped construct today’s system of racially-biased mass incarceration.
You were right right about the crime bill, Bernie– they were wrong. Just as you were right to oppose war in Iraq. Just as you were right to repeatedly oppose the Patriot Act and the mass surveillance it entailed. Just as you were right to gallantly filibuster the 2010 agreement that extended Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Just as you were right to vote and speak out against ineffective “war on drugs” policies again and again and again. You have been right so many times over the years, Bernie, while the popular view has been painfully, dangerously, destructively, wrong. Why couldn’t more people see that?
Oh, Bernie. I saw the photos of you getting arrested in 1963, protesting segregation at the University of Chicago. And I saw the photos of you marching for climate action in New York in 2014. (I was there, too. I came by bus from Carleton College. Wasn’t it wonderful to see hundreds of thousands of people converging in the streets, urging U.N. leaders to take climate change seriously?)
Over the past several months, I have watched with delight as you and your platform ascended to a level of popularity that no pundits anticipated– unaided, of course, by super-pacs and major corporate donors. I watched you hug a Muslim student when she asked you about fighting Islamophobia, in a genuine expression of love and concern. And I watched you rightfully obtain the endorsement of the the animal kingdom, when a bird landed ceremoniously on your podium.
During your campaign, you reminded us all that the government’s role is to interfere with the economy when necessary, so as to improve the lives of the people— an idea that’s been largely forgotten in recent decades chock-full of privileged, neoliberal, ‘culture-of-dependency’ nonsense. You reminded us that it’s okay to admit that America isn’t perfect and look to other countries for good ideas. And you reminded us that it’s okay to dream big, and ground our own political beliefs in the optimism that the world really can be a better place.
I don’t want to be “pragmatic,” Bernie. I think sometimes that’s a code word for complacent, and I’m not ready to be complacent yet. I’m so angry at all the people that said your ideas were unrealistic, and then made them unrealistic by saying so. I feel angry and terribly, terribly sad.
But I’m also hopeful– hopeful because of the incredibly strong support your campaign garnered from young people like myself. We are the future of American politics, and we are demonstrably more interested in reducing inequality than accruing personal wealth. We understand that climate change presents a humanitarian crisis and a genuine threat to national security. We don’t want wars. We don’t want walls. We want to get money out of politics, and non-violent drug offenders out of prison.
You have educated and energized a generation, Mr. Sanders. And your vision of what America can be will prevail long after this campaign comes to a close. Moving forward, I know that I’ll be looking for down-ticket candidates as bold and progressive as yourself to throw my support behind. And I’ll be looking for ways to chip away at the “two-party tyranny,” which is so remarkably restrictive to our democracy.
I thank you for all the wisdom and compassion you have exhibited throughout your entire political life. I thank you for always having the strength to stand up for what you believe in. I thank you for all you have accomplished, and for all the positive changes still to come from your truly historic campaign. I’ll do my best to support you in whatever you do next, and to stay true to that urgent, inner desire to see the world radically transformed into a more equitable and empathetic place– that desire so many of us have come to refer to as “feeling the bern.”
Dear Bernie by Dustin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.