Beyond Sanders – Opportunity to Expand a Movement

The 2016 election year is here, although the U.S. has been gearing up for it for over a year now. On the right are Donald Trump and…….a bunch of other candidates. In the center (even though she’s running as a Democrat) is Hillary Clinton, while Bernie Sanders is representing the left. According to a Pew Research study done in September 2015, more than half of Trump-backers are female. About a third are over the age of 65. Only 2% are younger than 30. Half of his voters have a high-school diploma, but just 19% have a college degree. Just over a third earn less than $50,000, while 11% make six figures or more. And who is supporting Sanders? More than a third are under the age of 34, the split between male and female is pretty even, most are liberal and white, 80% of his contributions are from individual donors, and 50% of them earn between $100,000 – $150,000, 45% earn between $50,000 and $100,000.

And what is the press focused on? Their personalities! Who are they as people? What kind of life-style do they have? What does their hair look like? Are they good looking or not? Were they born in this country? Are they bombastic? Are they rich? This is an anti-democratic tendency of the mainstream press, that doesn’t even try to write about the reasons why the people are supporting the candidates on the far end of the spectrum. The press fundamentally thinks the people who support these candidates aren’t worth writing about.

Everywhere we look we see people identifying with and promoting the candidates because of who they are as individuals. Women should vote for Hillary because she’s a woman. People got behind Obama because he was black, and he would be our “first black president”. He promised “hope”, and “change” – something the American people wanted. And something they didn’t get. So much of U.S. politics is about personality, or race, or gender.  The truth is, no matter what the color, gender, personality or stated beliefs of whoever is running, that person has very little influence over what laws are passed or the quality of life of most people in this country.

What is hidden from the public is the sad fact that it doesn’t really matter which candidate they vote for. It doesn’t matter who wins the popular vote in the primaries in each state. It’s the “superdelegates”, party officials, whose votes are counted. The Democratic and Republican Party leaders ultimately decide who will run on their tickets. Once the anointed person is elected, he or she has very little control over what happens in Congress. The lobbyists control Congress. Whatever the capitalists want is what gets written into law.

But the American people are starting to wake up – on both sides of the political spectrum. They’re starting to understand that capitalism is not working for them. The establishment has failed them, no matter the rhetoric. On the left we are finding that someone who calls himself a socialist, is actually running neck and neck with a loyal democrat. People are using the term “socialist” in normal conversation, and not in a bad way. On the right we find a rabid reactionary who is whipping up the fear and bigotry of some portion of the American population, and they love it. Ultra conservatives are voting for Trump because he is outrageous enough to say the things they can only say to their friends.

The biggest story of the election cycle is the bankruptcy of centrist politics. The press ignores this fact. Right wing candidates are millionaires and they still can’t get people to pay any attention to them. What we’re seeing is a population that is saying that centrist politics no longer works for them. These are the people who are planning to vote for Sanders or for Trump. They’re also the people who no longer vote at all, because they figure – “what’s the point?”

Let those of us on the far left us reach out to the “Sandernistas” in order to strengthen the movement towards socialism by focusing on what we all have in common rather than focusing on Sanders, the candidate. That way we strengthen our power rather than giving it away. We have a golden opportunity now that we haven’t had in this country in decades. An opportunity to help expand a movement of disaffected citizens who know the system they are living under doesn’t work and who want a different system so badly that they’re ready to consider voting for someone who declares himself a socialist. People are using the terms “capitalists” and “socialists” in every day conversations now. These are the people who are the most exciting, the most hopeful. It’s time for real change – way beyond whatever happens in this circus of an election. Let’s expand the movements: Black Lives Matter; worker cooperatives; Labor Notes; Tenants’ Rights groups; fledgling self-organizing unions. We need to work at bringing the left together so we’re all moving in the same direction – we need to be “planning beyond capitalism”.

About Barbara MacLean

Barbara MacLean has worked as an academic and career counselor at California State University, East Bay (CSUEB), Merritt and West Valley Colleges and as a career counselor and manager of the Oakland One Stop Career Center, a public career and jobs center in partnership with EDD. She is a co-founder and editor of Planning Beyond Capitalism.

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