I wake up and we are in the opening act of a national public health crisis that could shutter every institution for weeks or months, that the global financial markets are tripping towards meltdown, and that a leading presidential candidate, Joe Biden thinks that he can bring us “back to normal” by appointing JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to run the treasury department. By nightfall, Biden vows to veto Medicare for All if an inspired Congress were to pass it and send it to his desk.
Our times are not normal. Our time, right now, is about rising to the scale of the problems we confront. Those problems were started by keeping things on the normal track and denying the urgency of crises: decades of blinders on climate change and rising inequality, a decade of Wall Street deregulation before the 2008 crash, tear gas and water cannons (instead of student debt relief and restructuring) to confront the challenge of Occupy, failing to achieve the moral and social transformations called for by #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.
For priceless weeks, the current government has worn blinders on the coronavirus, building on the quiet acceptance of an epidemic of drug overdose deaths fueled by opioid addiction. We live in society where massive death is a tragedy when it happens to the powerless and a crisis only when it happens to the powerful, but now confront a pathogen that hits both. On this last, we need a well-funded epidemic response effort last year, guaranteed paid sick leave and vacation time today, and universal health care this month.
More broadly, we need a 2020 campaign that is as visionary and hopeful as Obama in 2008, but more committed to fundamental change in the aftermath. Bernie Sanders, working with grassroots movements, is building that campaign.
In my estimation, what is most interesting about the Bernie Sanders campaign is the attempt to build lasting ties with external movements as well as mechanisms to activate supporters to organize one another. Long-time community and labor organizers I know have been impressed by his willingness to show up for their issues and walk their picket lines. Sanders proposed in launching his 2020 campaign that “the essence of my politics … is that we need an ongoing grassroots movement of millions of people to pressure Congress, to pressure the corporate establishment. so that we can bring about the changes that this country desperately needs. So that’s why I have said that I will not only be commander-in-chief, I’m going to be organizer-in-chief.” Like changes in other arenas, this mass activation will require a change in culture, and the Sanders campaign has projected some of its image-making efforts towards spreading the very concept of solidarity, and pushing Sanders himself to the side in favor of a ”Not Me. Us.” vision of movement-driven campaigning.
Winning transformative change will require continued grassroots pressure, but the 2020 election provides an invaluable opportunity to choose who is on the other side of the table. Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have shown they would be adversaries or obstacles to change in that role. Now is the time to stand with Bernie Sanders to make the work of changing our society that much easier.
A word to Warren supporters
Elizabeth Warren’s run for the presidency did so much to concretize progressive left policy and also to draw a lot of great movement-generated ideas into the space of the election. She was an invaluable symbol of women stepping up to the challenges leadership and a reminder of the barriers women face when daring to lead.
Especially, professional women who deeply identified with Warren’s trajectory as someone who had to project ultracompetence and endure personal sexism just to get the job. I see you. And I know something of how that feels in your professional life.
I won’t ask you to not emotionally project your experiences into political candidates. I know from experience that despite my many political differences from and skepticism of Obama, I took his 2008 run personally in the end.
I believe it’s basically a random fact of history (not to mention James Comey’s bad judgement) that a biracial Black man became president but a woman has not, but I also know that one’s identity being a treated as an electoral liability sucks.
Warren’s prolific plan production was part of a mutually beneficial period of campaigning that strengthened both Warren and Sanders’ platforms. Her wealth tax proposal raises the bar for what is possible and what could be funded. Sanders had to rush to craft his own detailed plans for things that were platform points in 2016. Running in a shared lane forced both to runner faster and further. And by not being alone they broadened the sense of what was possible. If you like Warren’s plans, go read Bernie’s platform.
Today the best chance for a progressive agenda in 2021 is Sanders in the White House and Warren leading the Senate. If Warren’s case that she could be a great author of legislation and builder of coalitions is true, then wonderful. We will need that to implement any of these visions. (Just as we would need a Senator Sanders actively working with a President Warren had she made it to the White House.)
In terms of American lives that could be saved by policy changes, the difference between Sanders or Warren and Biden is significantly greater than between Biden and Trump. So I look forward to working together. Now more than ever.
Collective Endorsements Worth Reading
100+ Black Writers and Scholars Endorse Bernie Sanders: “Bernie Sanders, the politics he advocates, the consistent track record he demonstrates, and the powerful policy changes he has outlined, if elected, would make the most far-reaching and positive impact on the lives and condition of Black people, and all people in the United States.”
Rising for a Global Feminist Future with the Movement to Elect Bernie Sanders: “All of our lives we have been creating movements and art organized around the critical basic human dignity of all people. We support the movement to elect Senator Sanders because engaging electoral politics is a part of the larger strategic democratic movement for solidarity and a feminist future to take hold. We believe an end to patriarchy demands an end to class and racial oppression.
“All across this country and globe, women and children have been working toward a shift in collective consciousness. A feminist future requires political change by men, women, and gender non-binary people not just in the structures and laws but in our collective values and behaviors. It requires an end to violence against women, girls, and all femme people. A feminist future demands the spirit of cooperation. We are inspired and motivated by the grassroots movements brewing across the globe and here in the United States of America for decency, dignity, and respect. We amplify poor, unemployed, and working people behind this political moment aching with passion and anxiety toward the uncertainty of tomorrow. We must strategically rally and rise together.”
Boots Riley, Why I am voting for Bernie Sanders: “People are looking for ways to exact power over their own lives. More and more they are realising that in order to do that we need a mass, militant, radical labour movement that can collectively withhold labour as a tool — not only for higher wages and benefits — but as a tool for larger social justice issues as well
“In order to get some of the reforms that Bernie Sanders’ campaign platform calls for — Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free university and trade school tuition, building 10 million more homes in an effort to address homelessness — it’s going to take movement tactics.
“We are going to have to have strategic, targeted and general strikes to force the hand of the folks who have some of these politicians in their pockets.”
And fellow anthropologists please consider signing this one…
Anthropologists for Bernie Sanders: “As anthropologists committed to a more equitable, sustainable, and just world, we write to express our support for Senator Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the 2020 Democratic nomination. While we believe true social transformation happens primarily through the pressure of social movements, our research also teaches us the importance of leadership that will heed the call of grassroots demands for economic and social justice. We urge people to support Bernie Sanders’ candidacy now, and work to ensure he will be our next president.
“Our discipline exposes us to multiple and varied ways of organizing society, the economy, and social relations. We know from our field experience that no form of inequality or injustice is inevitable, natural, or permanent. Human beings create and re-create their social realities by acting collectively.”