By Chris Horton
They’ve been given a bad name, but we keep coming back because we can’t go on without them.
Everywhere around us folks are stopped, hoping against hope that somehow the economy will finally start recovering for us, but not really believing it, not really believing there’s anything we can do.
We’re in a depression, and it’s depressing. Wages, unemployment, housing, climate disaster, food safety, student debt, police repression and human rights, corporate power, the list goes on – we win little fights, but on the big scale the odds seem hopeless and the tide’s always against us. It seems like the forces we’re up against are too big, too powerful, too far beyond our reach.
Unless … unless we can all come together to confront them. Because it’s really just the same group of a few thousand wealthy families and their corporations and minions that we’re all up against.
Hence, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders!
If you ask 100 Bernie supporters “Why are you supporting Bernie?” you’ll get 100 answers, but somehow they all fit together.
I put the question to Nate, a lanky, laconic, cheerful but usually homeless veteran.
“It’s about inequality”, he said. “It’s about – why should we be struggling so hard to find and hold onto jobs that don’t pay enough to live on, while all the billionaires keep getting richer? How come our Veterans Benefits and the VA’s funding keep getting cut? I just can’t go on supporting all those candidates who are taking the billionaire’s money and don’t come through for us. I’m sick of it!”
Yes, I ask, but why Bernie? Why now?
“Because, it’s about the revolution.” He stopped, seemed taken aback by what he’d just said, but then went on. “It’s about all of us getting together to take on the billionaires and take our country back from them.”
So, I ask, it’s not about Bernie?
“Yes and no,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I trust Bernie. I really like Bernie. He makes the most sense of any of them, but it’s really about us.”
Which is exactly what Bernie’s saying.
“I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from WPI”, explains Emily Cavanaugh, a slim outgoing young woman from Shrewsbury, “I graduated into a recession and couldn’t get a professional job, and now I’m struggling along with whatever contract work I can find. I did everything right, but I don’t think I’ll ever do as well as my parents.”
We found Emily after she created an event on her own initiative and posted it on berniesanders.com – as many Sanders volunteers are doing. When I asked what moved her to do that, she said
“Bernie’s very much concerned with the issues that actually effect people on a day-to-day basis, and his programs would create opportunities for young people. He’s been taking the same positions and saying many of the same things forever, so I know he’s not just pandering to us to get our votes.”
Rena Grasso, a retired teacher, said “Bernie’s platform is the only one capable of making significant change. He takes on the institutional issues, like breaking up the banks, single payer health care. These are not just reforms; they go to the core problems. The need for this is urgent because we’re in a state of crisis, and things will definitely get worse until we take control.” [Watch for her event at the Worcester Library.]
Bill Kilmer of Worcester, a big man with a commanding voice, makes his living raising money for other candidates, but on his own time he’s been leading teams of Bernie supporters, manning tables, holding signs, handing out flyers and signing up volunteers at events like the Sterling Fair, Worcester’s Start in the Street and the Spirit of Shrewsbury Fall Festival. When I asked him why he would spend his precious free time on Bernie he answered:
“I see other Democratic candidates who have some good ideas, but none of them shows signs of being the “transformational President” that we need now. Sanders is the only one I see who could make us see ourselves as a people in a different way.”
When I asked him if I could use his name, given what he does for a living, he said “why not? It’s no longer a secret from anyone where I stand and what I’m up to!”
Kevin Kelly, a union plumber and pipefitter from Worcester, a straight shooter with an irresistible smile and hands that could squeeze water from a rock, spoke as though he’d already thought out his answer:
“Bernie’s a fresh voice, a voice for change in a sea of mediocrity. They call him a socialist but his ideas are very concrete and pragmatic, things that will help make our lives better. If you do your research on them they make sense.”
Kevin stopped, thought for a moment, then added: “The things Pope Francis talks about, like income inequality, corporate greed and the evils of unbridled capitalism, you can draw a strong correlation between his ideas and Bernie’s.”
Elizabeth St. John, a founder of Worcester’s Bernie movement and founder and past Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, answered: “Bernie has always been about Life, Liberty and Justice. He’s level-headed, doesn’t believe in resorting to violence, and he has the values and character to stand his ground.”
She talked for a while about the ways Black people are kept out of politics and power, the programs for the working class that mostly benefit a few white men, the many times she’s been disappointed and felt betrayed. Then, coming back to my question, speaking with passion, she concluded:
“Bernie’s the real deal, and he always has been. If you’re going to be in bed with the corporations you’re not going to be on the side of the regular people. He hasn’t changed his values, his positions, his perceptions since I first heard of him in the 1970’s.”
Dennis Coughlin’s impish grin, tousled white hair and Irish complexion fits with his place as co-founder of the Bernie Bucket Brigade and Marching Band, but he describes himself as just “John Q. Public.” His answer, with no hesitation, was “Corporations are Not People, and Citizen’s United – money is not speech. Those are my big issues. We cannot give up our franchise to the billionaires. If we don’t rein them in now, it will be much worse in 2020 and by 2024 it will be too late. There will be no democracy, it will be written in stone that the wealthy rule and the people have no voice.”
“That’s what happened to ancient Rome when Caesar crossed the Rubicon,” he went on, “that’s what happened when Charlemagne made himself Emperor and crushed the ancient tribal councils, or when Napoleon made himself Emperor. Here in America we’ve never actually seen this, but it’s never very far away if we let the oligarchs have their way.”
So why Bernie?
“Bernie has the populist appeal, and it’s only through the populist appeal that we can stop this from happening here.”
Edith Morgan of Morgan’s Moves fame had this to say:
“I support Bernie because I agree with most of his issues and he has so many years of standing for the same things. He and I have fought all our lives on the same side for the same issues. That’s a rarity in American politics.
Joe Dyer, a retired bricklayer and Unemployment Group activist, has been with We Want Bernie Worcester since the beginning. When I reached him he was late for the Patriots game, but he fired off a quick answer:
“Bernie Sanders is grass roots, down to earth. He’s trying to help the little people, to get programs that the people at the bottom need and can’t afford, and trying to make the rich people pay for them which of course they don’t like very much.”
He paused a bit, then finished off with “Hillary has a lot of strength here, but if Bernie can get the people behind him then perhaps he could win Massachusetts.”
Bernie’s ahead in the polls Iowa and New Hampshire where he’s meeting folks face to face and getting local coverage. When folks meet him, hear him, see him, they fall in love. But half the folks I meet in the streets of Worcester don’t know anything about him or even know his name. The Networks have been giving him the silent treatment, so he’s going to have to win through a grass roots door to door campaign, the old fashioned way, people talking to people. And he will. We’ve been waiting for him for a long time. But it’s really not about him, and once the American people get started, there’ll be no stopping us, with or without him.
To learn more, go to BernieSanders.com or email WorcesterWantsBernie@gmail.com.