When I saw Bernie in 2016, the circumstances were decidedly less dire. After a nearly three-hour rally in Greenville, South Carolina, I left the event feeling feeling tickled, but otherwise largely unimpressed:
The issue in 2016, as it had been for all time, was that the kind of change Bernie offered never came to pass. Moderate Democrats of the notorious “Fiscally Conservative and Socially Liberal” variety made sure of that. Furthermore, people like Bernie Sanders did not win presidential nominations, let alone the actual presidency. Other than a few key differences on issues like abortion and gay marriage, our two beloved political parties were indistinguishable.
In that regard, a wacky Independent like Bernie was more than an outlier – he was like an elderly alien from some strange, futuristic civilization where the government spent money on public healthcare and education instead of endless wars and bank bailouts. Or in other words, science fiction, fantasy.
Plus, in 2016 we already knew that Hillary Clinton was going to win, and that was acceptable. Things would be good, but not great. Nothing would really change, but that was okay. Life wasn’t so bad under Obama, and Clinton was more of the same. In fact, most of her campaign messaging was centered around how similar she was to 44 – policies, temperament, ideology – and that was alright. She was certainly preferable to any of the Republican candidates. She would win and life would go on. End of story.
The rally is at the Belk Theater in Uptown Charlotte, or as my friend describes it as we are walking over, “The basement of Bank of America.” He is not exaggerating – the Belk Theater is attached to iconic tower that houses BofA’s headquarters. The physical specter of capitalism will literally be looming over this event.
It should be noted that both of us have left the office early – from our bank jobs – to go to this rally. Read into that however you want.
It’s not the most romantic Valentine’s date, but it’ll have to do.
Surprisingly, it seems I am overdressed for this party. Unlike my friend, who changed into a Tulsi Gabbard t-shirt before heading over, I am still in my professional attire; ensemble by J-Crew, a fitted white shirt and “tech” pants, whatever that means. I am a very progressive person, but I draw the line at wearing jeans to the office. Whichever candidate pledges to dismantle the blasphemous tradition known as “Casual Friday” will undoubtedly receive my prized support.
The crowd appears to be mostly college students – apparently the other Banker Bros were too busy on a Friday afternoon to play hooky. The timing of this event is a little strange – North Carolina doesn’t head to the polls until Super Tuesday on March 3rd – although early voting has started and UNC Charlotte has already sent multiple emails encouraging the student body to take advantage of the opportunity. I guess when your primary constituency is young people, you do an early voting event on a Friday afternoon, two weeks before the actual primary.
In 2016, I was not excited about Bernie Sanders because Bernie Sanders was an Outsider and Outsiders never win. How many times have we heard the rules? Only. Moderates. Can. Win. Over and over again, from now until the end of time. They are still saying it, on the TV and on the radio and in a never-ending series of pushy editorials in the New York Times and Washington Post. If you want to be President then you must appeal to everyone, and We would implore you not to think too hard about the futility of this condition. Be like Clinton. Be Acceptable. Be a winner.
Well, at least on paper.
Bernie has his usual celebrity surrogates on tour to support him. First up is Susan Sarandon, of Rocky Horror fame, who immediately opens with a grim description of toxic water and Monsanto and Teflon factories and desolate soil where nothing will grow. Sarandon has been Feeling the Bern for a while now, and it shows. Her intro deftly covers the Bernie Basics: We are Fucked, and all the other politicians do not care because they are owned by Corporations and Billionaires. The time for Moral Courage is now. Peace, Love and Justice.
Someone from the audience yells “NO MORE CENTRISM!” and Sarandon agrees. At least we’re all on the same page.
Up next is Danny Glover, who was at the rally I went to back in 2016. He begins his speech by telling us he is going to reiterate everything that Susan Sarandon just said and then, true to his word, that is exactly what happens, albeit with some fiery and effective references to cottonpicking that Sarandon was probably wise to avoid.
If it seems like I’m unimpressed and/or glossing over these two, it’s because I am. Sarandon and Glover have been on the trail with Bernie forever, and candidly, he could use some fresher faces. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what the pair has done for ol’ Bernard, but maybe bring someone a little more relevant on stage? Eric Andre is very vocal about his support for Sanders on Instagram – he gets my vote for the next guest opener. Ranch it up.
The third act is former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, who delivers a much more engaging performance than the two actors before her. Turner zips around the stage with vigor and fiery energy, her voice booming as she implores the crowd to fight for freedom in these dark times. She has a trademark phrase – “Hello Somebody!” – that bookends each of her passionate statements, and each instance further rallies the crowd to Get On Her Level.
“You do deserve nice things!” she assures the raucous crowd. “Hello Somebody!” She then pivots towards to the rising threat of Mike Bloomberg: “Billionaires are trying to buy our Democracy, and they can buy as many commercials as they want! It won’t make a difference. Hello Somebody!”
Ah yes, Bloomberg. The guy with the terminals. The billionaire and former mayor best remembered for authorizing the NYPD to terrorize any young males who dared to be black or brown in NYC. The racist oligarch who, thanks to an unprecedented advertising budget that even has Instagram shitposters shilling his desperate content, is steadily climbing in the polls. He will overtake Joe Biden any day now. It is only a matter of Time.
Remember earlier, when I talked about those “Fiscally Conservative and Socially Liberal” political types who ensure there is never any meaningful change in this country? How these spineless losers effectively rendered the two parties indistinguishable, more of the same, same old bullshit?
Michael Bloomberg is the poster-child for this politically androgynous fuckery. He was a Democrat, then changed to a Republican in 2005 when he ran for Mayor of NYC, then morphed into an Independent for a few years, and then transformed back into a Democrat when it became convenient for him to do so. Notably, Bloomberg has not needed to adjust his political views in order to facilitate this flip-flopping of party affiliation. Isn’t Centrism cool?
Most worrisome of all is that the DNC elites, themselves long since corrupted by massive streams of cash from billionaire donors like Bloomberg himself, appear more than willing to embrace a closet Republican for President if that means avoiding a horrifying future where People, and not Corporate Profits are the primary beneficiaries of congressional legislation.
Turner concludes her segment with a rousing chant about enacting change “With These Hands.” Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to Rage all week, but she kind of reminds me of Zack de la Rocha. Fuck you Ticketmaster for screwing up my verification and dumping me into the back of the queue for tickets to their Raleigh show. By the time it was our turn to buy, only a handful of scattered seats in the nosebleeds remained.
Forget the Machine and Trump and Bloomberg and Giant Corporations and all other Evil. I Know My Enemy, and right now it is Ticketmaster.
Bernard takes the stage and the crowd goes wild. I send a Snapchat of him to thirty people, but really there is only one person I care about getting a response from. The odds are probably fifty-fifty. Like Sanders, who has spent forty-something years railing against the establishment with little to show for it, I have spent almost two years trying to woo this particular girl with similarly dismal results.
Sometimes it be like that. One of these days I will learn, maybe.
“I am running because of two issues!” he shouts in that Larry David voice of his. They are as follows: We must defeat the Most Dangerous President in American history, and we have fundamental problems that cannot be ignored, including a broken system where billionaires can buy elections (fuck you Bloomberg) and unprecedented wealth inequality.
“Are you satisfied?” he asks, before leading into a series of ghastly statistics that highlight the huge wealth discrepancy between the 1% and everyone else. They are unsettling figures.
The message hasn’t changed since 2016. In fact, the only real difference between now and then is that an Outsider, an Impossible Candidate, ultimately showed us that anyone really could become President. Unfortunately, the person to break the stranglehold on the Oval Office was not Sanders, but Donald Trump.
“We must think outside the box!” Sanders is delving into his favorite proposals: $15 an hour minimum wage, subsidized childcare, and at least $60,000 a year for all teachers. Funding should be increased for low income schools so that educational quality is not dependent on zip codes, and public universities should be free.
“If we can afford to bailout the crooks on Wall Street and we can afford to give corporations billions in tax breaks then we can afford to cancel all student debt!” The crowd erupts. All of us have loans; massive, endless, $350 a month loans. An entire generation has come to be defined by the amount of insane debt we begin to accumulate the moment we graduate high school.
It does not matter what degree you get. It does not matter how much money you make. Student debt looms over all of us, imposing punitive damages for the crime of going to college. Our bad for following orders.
Oh well, too bad. Don’t be greedy. Don’t be absurd. Hands on your hips, a smirk on your face. Stupid liberals. How are you gonna pay for it?
HoW aRe YoU gOnNa PaY fOr It?
Now if you’ll excuse me, the shareholders are concerned that the last round of tax cuts was inadequate. Might I be so bold as to suggest a new corporate rate of fifteen, or maybe even ten percent? Remember, the voters aren’t the ones keeping the lights on over on Capitol Hill. Those Citizens are not United, if you catch my drift.
We’ll find that money somewhere, don’t you worry one bit.
We’re on to Medicare for All. “We are the only major country that does not guarantee healthcare, and our system is cruel and dysfunctional!” As he did for income inequality, Sanders has a bevy of grim statistics backing him up: 30,000 deaths a year due to lack of medical insurance, 500,000 bankruptcies a year from medical debt, and prescription drugs that cost ten times more than in other developed countries.
“I love it!” he says as the crowd voices their displeasure. “You are like a Greek chorus of boos.”
Medicare for All will either make or break Sanders. The proposal is controversial at best – even the other progressive candidate – Elizabeth Warren – has started a slow pivot towards “having options.” As someone with decent employer-sponsored coverage, I get it. No one wants to pay more than they already do in taxes. The trick will be to hammer home the reality that for the vast majority of us – normal people, not millionaires, not billionaires, just normal fucking people – the increase in our taxes will be dwarfed by the money we save on healthcare.
This important distinction has not always been conveyed well by the Sanders camp, and he is going to stand a real chance against Trump, he will have to sell the policy to far more people than are currently on board.
I get the Snapchat response I was fishing for. “I hope you’re feeling the Bern,” she says.
“I definitely am,” I reply. “My love language is old men yelling about prison reform.”
Take note, boys. That is how it’s done.
Later that night, after unsuccessfully lobbying her to hang out, she tells me that she is surprised at how hard I’m being on myself after how uplifting the Bernie event must have been.
“The problem is that Bernie made me believe that anything is possible,” I message back. “But now I’m beginning to wonder if that was just another empty campaign promise.”
Take note, boys. I am still in way too deep and have no plans for getting out.
Next up is Climate Change. Sanders rattles off a list of cities – Miami, Charleston, New Orleans and New York – that stand to be submerged. The fires in Australia get a shoutout; ditto for the inferno that ravaged California last year. Extreme weather and climate change post an “Existential Threat” that will usher is rising sea levels, drought, food shortages, and diseases that thrive in warmer weather.
His plan to tackle Climate Change is based on the Green New Deal, and he admits that it will be expensive, “…but what is the alternative?”
Clearly he has not heard about planting trees, which has become all the rage in Republican circles looking to pretend like they give a shit. Trump himself has declared his intent to plant a trillion of them, because apparently that is all we need to do in order to solve this problem. Turns out the same President who has been aggressively opening up National Parks and other protected sanctuaries to mining and industrial development is actually a serious environmentalist who really really loves trees.
That’s right baby, fucking trees. Don’t worry about fossil fuels or melting ice caps or the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather incidents. All we gotta do is plant some fucking trees and everything will just fine. According to the public relations team for Exxon-Mobil, that is more of a solution than that dumb hormonal punk Greta ever offered.
Bernie is rolling. The NRA is in his sights, as is sweeping gun reform. Roe versus Wade will be made law, and funding will be expanded for Planned Parenthood. I debate sending another Snapchat but decide against it.
“This is the most consequential election in American history!” They always say that, but it might actually be true this time around. The sentiment certainly isn’t ringing as hollow as it did in 2016. Maybe that is why I don’t feel so great sitting up on this balcony, listening to my preferred candidate passionately list off all the good he plans on doing.
Maybe that explains the current of terror running through the atmosphere here. The acid in my stomach has developed a taste for human flesh. I don’t feel happy or reassured or even optimistic.
Instead I feel anxious, dread. In retrospect, the political nihilism of 2016 seems downright uplifting. Back then, it was easy to dismiss the elections as bogus, a sideshow. Who cares? Nothing Matters. The Machine will keep chugging and nothing will change that.
There was some comfort in the sentiment. Pretending to be powerless isn’t so bad when the world isn’t ending.
Those were the good old days, and how do we pine for them. Meanwhile, the current situation has deteriorated in ways that were incomprehensible in 2016. Apathy – political or otherwise – is no longer an option. Hiding behind the flimsy shield of “Nothing Matters” is no longer an option. There is a very real Blackness vying to enshroud our future, and the battle is well underway. Fun stuff.
If we fail, it will be worse than all of the bad breakups combined. Getting left on read will be the least of our concerns.
Sanders concludes with a list of enemies he is going to defeat: Energy Companies and Fossil Fuels, Big Pharma, Insurance Companies, the Military Industrial Complex, Trump, Billionaires, the 1%, the Republicans, etc. You know, the Usual Suspects. I want to believe.
Outside, I buy an amazing t-shirt featuring the image of Bernie getting arrested in the sixties. Then I head back to the office and send a Snapchat of my purchase to thirty people, even though I really only care about getting a response from one particular person. Like Bernie always says, now is not the time to give up hope.