Like many others, I am saddened by the news that Bernie Sanders is ending his 2020 campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. I am heartbroken for what this may mean for the U S. general election and millions of Americans and people around the world. But more than anything, I am inspired, grounded, and hopeful for the future of the movement that Bernie helped build.
Bernie played a pivotal role in shaping the way I approach electoral politics and grassroots mobilization. Four years ago, when he made his first run for president, I was an undergraduate student and a fledgling activist and organizer. I had just experienced my first significant campaign loss (fossil fuel divestment at the University of Toronto), and I was utterly overwhelmed and dejected. Bernie’s vision for a people-powered movement for progressive change reignited my passion for activism, and set aflame a new interest in electoral organizing as one of many tools we employ as organizers in our broader struggle for justice.
When people are struggling to meet basic needs like medication, childcare, and housing, they need more than incremental change; they need a political revolution. The 2016 and 2020 Bernie campaigns were monumental because they affirmed this call for action and helped it to reach new heights.
People joined the campaign because they believe that healthcare for all should be a right, not a privilege. They joined because they believe that parents should not be pushed into poverty because of the cost of childcare. They joined because they believe that higher education should be tuition and debt free. They joined because they believe that housing is a human right and that in a country as rich as the United States, nobody should live on the streets. People joined the Bernie campaign because they believe that action on climate change requires rapid decarbonization of the economy and justice for frontline communities and workers, and that we can achieve this by ushering in the era of the Green New Deal.
Millions of Americans also joined the Bernie campaign because they understand that vast inequality does not result by happenstance but by design. American capitalism has allowed for such extreme hoarding of capital that the share of wealth owned by the top 0.1 per cent is almost equal to that of the bottom 90 per cent. Decades of establishment politicians, bought out by big corporate donors, have allowed this hoarding to continue through the policies they inaugurate (or fail to inaugurate). People know that by redistributing that wealth, we can pay for the social programs that will ensure a safe and dignified life for everyone.
With COVID-19 exposing the impacts of pre-existing inequality, a transformation of the economy and society is needed now more than ever. For instance, in Chicago, a city where Black people make up less than 30 per cent of the population, Black residents account for 70 per cent of COVID deaths, a result of disparities in access to healthcare as well as factors such as environmental pollution, housing, and poverty. Policies like Medicare for All and long-term plans like the Green New Deal are needed to address such disparities.
The slogan of the 2020 Bernie campaign was “Not me, Us,” and it is that sentiment that will carry us forward. The struggle for economic, social, racial, and environmental justice is not something that will be “won” in any single campaign, but rather a life-long endeavour that we work towards across movements and generations. We learn from each campaign (win or lose), and most importantly, we grow our movements at every step along the way.
As millions are struggling to cope with the economic fallout of the current global pandemic, people in the U.S. and around the world are taking up the task of organizing for change.
From national movements like Sunrise hosting online trainings for youth organizing for the Green New Deal, to local-level mutual aid and “caremongering” groups providing resources to those in need, people are coming together to fight for a better world.
Today, we can all say thank you to Bernie Sanders for the role he played in shaping the political and ideological landscape into something that much more amenable to progressive change. The struggle continues, and we move forward together in organizing for a world that promotes justice for all.
Amanda Harvey-Sánchez is a Toronto-based organizer, researcher, and educator. She is an incoming PhD student in Political Anthropology at the University of Toronto.