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The Inherent Whiteness of “Our Revolution”

Photo by Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0

I decided to run for State House in Minnesota, district 19A. At first I wanted to run as a Green party candidate. But I talked myself out of it. I told myself that the only way to win the election was to win it as a Democrat. This was probably the right assessment, but at what cost?

Despite my disgust with all things Bernie Sanders I decided to seek an endorsement from his organization Our Revolution. While I had little sympathy for the man, I felt like there was little choice but to turn to the movement. Finding Green support in the area was depressingly futile.

To gain the endorsement of this organization I had to fill out their questionnaire. Based on my answers I would get an Our Revolution score. People across the country feel the need to take this test because an endorsement from Our Revolution matters to the Bernie wing of the Democrat party. Bernie remains the most popular politician in America. Somehow I made it through the entire test without once being asked war and peace. The questions were themed: “Health Care, Wealth Inequality, Environment, Big Money Corrupting Politics, Democracy, Immigration, Racial Justice, Gender Equality, LGBT Equality, Empowering Tribal Nations, The Disabled, Seniors, Education, College Tuition/Student Debt, Net Neutrality and get this, Veterans.”

Now this is quite an extensive list, and while Bernie is no socialist, he at least is naive enough to believe that capitalism can and should be fixed. It is quaint how Bernie tells his story about rising from poverty to become the most popular leader of the world’s greatest (military) power. All capitalism needs is a little tweaking and we could all end up like Bernie! Remember those days when a decent men could make a decent living off of capitalism? Bernie and Donald Trump both seek a return to those good old days. It goes without saying that Bernie failed to connect class analysis to race, gender and sexual orientation. While Bernie may have been refreshing in his acknowledgement of class, he nonetheless reinforced the neoliberal myth that class is somehow separate from other forms of oppression.

Despite all of this Bernie wants health care for Americans. He wants a clean environment. He wants a living wage. He wants Wall St. to pay it’s fair share. He is not a revolutionary, but his reforms domestically could be worse.

Yet somehow all of these rights that Bernie holds so dear do not apply to the rest of the world. I wearily checked off the seven requirements Our Revolution has for Veterans (yes Bernie, I want our Vets to be able to smoke weed too). But there were zero questions about the people we were at war with. Do they deserve health care? A clean environment? Democracy? Freedom? Bernie’s silence says a lot.

Perhaps it is this glaring inconsistency between Bernie’s policies at home and policies abroad that make him the most frustrating figure in American politics. Donald Trump and Barack Obama may see other countries as shitholes or shitshows but at least they are more committed to taking a shit on their own people.

Bernie has been a devastating force for the left in today’s America. Anyone who wishes to run on the left wing of the Democratic party is now held to the gold standard of Our Revolution. You must focus on the “core issues” of “economic justice” while completely ignoring that America is pillaging the rest of the world. And not just for pleasure, but for profit. The fact that America’s military spending makes Bernie’s programs unrealistic is not really the point here. Nor is the fact that the military does the majority of the world’s polluting. What should concern all of us is that all figures in American politics, those on the “left”, center, and right wish to continue to violate international law, control poorer countries through force, and undermine democracy around the world.

Underneath all of these dynamics is race. Bernie may be pretty popular in Vermont but everyone there is white. There was such disdain for black people when they (gasp) supported Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders. Hmm..who should I choose the racist with enough money to beat KKK sympathizer Donald Trump or the racist without a chance to beat him? Hillary lost to Trump in large part because not as many black people came out to vote for her in the general election. The narrative of “Bernie would have won” is still being kicked around. This is not very well thought out because Bernie lost to the corporate candidate in the primary, so naturally he would lose to the corporate candidate in the general. The answer is not more Bernie. The answer is campaign finance reform at a minimum. And Berners may do well to ditch their President and abandon capitalism as a whole.

How can Bernie claim to be for racial justice when he continues to assume that black and brown people must be civilized through bombs? And if not bombs, sanctions. And if neither of these things work, we always have nuclear weapons. What really is the rationale for undermining socialist countries abroad? Why is Bernie, the supposed socialist, silent?

It is worth noting that Our Revolution’s “racial justice” category did not mention reparations. It wanted to end for-profit prisons, but there was no mention of the rest of our prisons. Prosecuting police officers was not discussed either. Neighborhoods in America can mirror neighborhoods abroad. They are occupied by police, not soldiers. The local thugs (black and brown of course) need to be civilized. Proof of this is given by the violence in these neighborhoods. Yet these neighborhoods remain drastically underfunded, abandoned by the government. Police arrest, incarcerate, bully and kill the population. Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis are described as messes. So are Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Liberals don’t want to say this is about race, while conservatives may be more open about their own racism. These neighborhoods and countries are seen with pity. On the one hand liberals see these people are victims of racism. On the other hand we are told these people are not responding as their best selves and that all they need is a little bit of civilizing.

Nevertheless, Our Revolution is a sign of hope. Individuals within the organization are bold, eager, and dynamic. In my experience they do not share Bernie’s paternal attitude towards other countries. It may be telling that half the staff quit just as Bernie’s organization was getting rolling. Bernie may not run the day-to-day there but the place still reeks of Bomber Bernie. The sooner the people kick Bernie to the curb the better.

As it stands Bernie has successfully monopolized the conversation in electoral politics. Voices who question war are cast off as crazy and fringe. What would have happened if Bernie Sanders had never run? Would we have created our own left groups that value the lives of all people, regardless of race or nationality? Could we have formed a movement that not only rejected American economic trends of the past 30 years but also the very system that values profit over people? Could we have finally had the courage to leave a broken duopoly electoral system? Bernie is continuing to make a lot of white noise. But what may be more telling is his white silence.

The prospect of running as a Green Party candidate was pretty grim. At best, I could flip the seat to a Republican. Yet the despair I had after my meeting with chipper Our Revolution folks was unparalleled. I wondered if there was anyone in this country who cared about the people outside our borders. As Trump tries to build his physical wall, Bernie perfects his ideological one. And both, in their own way, will be more costly than we can afford.

 

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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