On a cold rainy September night almost eight years ago, I walked in to one of the conference rooms underneath the Oregon Convention Center along with a group of a couple of thousand people to hear the then-junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, give his presidential stump speech. At that early point in the campaign, I was a supporter of John Edwards, a man who, as I hope I recall, was talking about income inequality, health care for everyone, and ending the war. But I also wanted to hear what this other guy had to say.
What I remember of the speech then-Senator Obama gave was a charming, personable message about connecting to people and working to make a real change in people’s lives. I don’t remember any policy specifics. And when I look back at what I wrote that night afterward, I was not impressed:
Barrack Obama gives a good speech. He spoke passionately about all the good things he’d do once he’s President.
But not one word about the most important issue in America right now.
Not one word about what he can do, right now, to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Not one word about accountability for the men who lied us into a war.
Not one word from a leading voice of the majority party in both houses of the People’s Congress.
(Side note: I’m embarrassed for misspelling the President’s first name, but I’m loathe to change it now. I regret the error.)
I bring this all up because last night, I was one of 28,000 cheering, ecstatic supporters who filled the Moda Center in Portland to hear the junior Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, give a stump speech that was practically a bullet point list of every policy and promise I could have hoped to hear from a major Presidential candidate:
- Comprehensive police reform in the name of racial justice (introduced last night, actually)
- Jobs programs paying good wages, to eliminate unemployment and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure
- Raising the Federal minimum wage to $15/hour
- Eliminating the pay gap between men and women
- Breaking up the big banks and reinstating Glass-Steagall (separating the investment and savings functions of banks)
- Reversing the wealth inequality and calling out the wealthiest Americans
- Expanding Social Security
- Health care for all Americans
- Full access to women’s health care
- Providing a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers
- 12 weeks of paid family leave
- 2 weeks of paid vacation for every working American
- Fighting against global climate change and protecting the environment
- Publicly funded campaigns for elected office
I’m listing those from memory but they’re all spelled out on the Sanders 2016 issues page.
We’ve come a long way from that small, underground conference room in 2007, to a major sports arena filled to overflowing. Look, I knew, before I voted for him, that Mr. Obama was a moderate on the issues. Even back then, I was on the political left, the far left, of Americans. But I can’t help but think that if there had been a candidate, any candidate, saying the same things Bernie Sanders is saying today, they would have enjoyed the same amount of support we’re seeing today.
I do want to note, for the record and for my own sense of intellectual honesty, some of the issues that I care about and Candidate Sanders is either silent about or not progressive enough for me (keeping in mind that I’m way out in left field).
Nowhere on the issues page I linked above does Sen. Sanders talk about the continued surveillance of the American people by our military and civil intelligence agencies. I find it sad that even someone as liberal as he is, won’t speak out against the growing surveillance state now that he’s talking to a national audience. He did vote No on extending the PATRIOT Act’s roving wiretaps in 2011, and as near as I can tell, he was against bulk collection of data and other PATRIOT Act provisions. It’s just not part of his Presidential campaign platform.
There are still 116 prisoners held at Guantánamo, including 51 who were “cleared for release” and 34 against whom no evidence to prosecute exists. This is also not mentioned on the campaign issues page.
Senator Sanders did say last night that war should be a last resort, not a first resort, which got a huge cheer from the crowd. He’s in favor of President Obama’s peaceful anti-nuclear weapon deal with Iran, as he mentioned last night, which is great, really. But we’re still at war in all but name in Afghanistan and Iraq, with troops on the ground. It’d be awesome if we could bring them all home, and stop creating anti-American sentiment abroad with our stupid displays of military power. I suspect Senator Sanders would be in favor of that. I don’t see him talking about it, though, now that he’s running for President.
See, I told you I’m to the left of Bernie Sanders. Just a big ol’ tree-hugging peacenik love-everybody hippy.
And lastly, I like the campaign’s response to the activist actions from members of Black Lives Matter: first, appointing Symone D. Sanders, a BLM activist herself, to the role of press secretary, and finally, announcing a comprehensive police reform package. Hearing Ms. Sanders speak before the Senator took the stage was, to me, a positive. She specifically called out white liberals to stand together with activists for racial justice.
But even saying that, I have to admit that I’m not the one who requires convincing. I really don’t like seeing other Sanders supporters arguing, harassing, or insulting Black Lives Matter supporters. I fully understand why BLM is upset and trying to get attention.
After I left the Moda Center last night, I pulled up Twitter to find out that there was another black man shot in Ferguson, MO that same night, during a protest that marked the anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. I don’t really care if the victim, Tyone Harris, had a gun or not, although the police department in Ferguson doesn’t exactly have the best record when it comes to telling the truth about officer-involved shootings. I’m just sick of cops shooting people, and in higher percentages shooting blacks. That’s the reality if you’re black in America, and anyone who was forced to live with that daily reality would eventually break. If you can’t admit that, don’t bother responding, because your brain is far outside of my experience.
I’m heartsick seeing my white friends and other comments on Facebook and social media who talk about how “angry” and “disappointed” they are by the BLM action in Seattle. I, for one, am not going to be the white guy telling black people to shut up. I respect Senator Sanders on many points but I don’t really comprehend the misplaced anger about whether or not a protest was “appropriate” or “respectful”. It’s a protest. It’s supposed to get attention. And, look, it did, in fact, force a change in the Sanders for President campaign. Good, and let’s see more of that, please. But we won’t get more of it if supporters don’t just fucking listen rather than get defensive and angry.
Fuck, “just fucking listen” is going to be my catchphrase for this silly season, isn’t it? I guess it could be worse.
Bernie Sanders is a good man but he’s still a public servant, meaning his job is to listen to the American people, and represent them as best he can. As many of them as possible, to the best of his ability. I think he’s doing a good job so far, but there are still people whose votes need to be earned. The junior Senator from Vermont won’t get those votes if voters are turned off by his most strident, defensive supporters.
Let’s stand together.