The Bernie Campaign's First 150 Days
Poet/publisher Judith Kerman used to run a writers' workshop in Michigan called Rustbelt Roethke, acknowledging the mid-century Saginaw-born poet Theodore Roethke. This report is about Rustbelt Bernie, the Presidential campaign of the distinguished progressive Vermont Senator (and avowed democratic socialist) Bernie Sanders, for the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States, as seen from the Saginaw river watershed and its small post-industrial cities in mid-Michigan.
I. Inspiring Kickoff:
I was late arriving to the gathering in Bay City, MI to watch Senator Sanders' July 29th, 2015 televised speech, so i got the last seat, way near the front and side of the hostess' big TV. The house seated the nearly three dozen people who had gathered to watch, and show their support for a local campaign. Moments after I arrived at 7:30, the speech began.
A black woman, whom I later learned was named Sanders, introduced the Senator. In his strong Brooklyn accent, he stated "I've had enough...!" about numerous political and structural abuses of working- and middle-class Americans by the extremely wealthy ruling elite. After a comfortably short speech, a young white women came on to call for a grass-roots effort to organize and fundraise for the candidate. Charts have been distributed via Facebook, showing his biggest donors to be unions, while Hilary Clinton's are banks, each bank giving at least ten times as much as Sanders' biggest donors.
There were young three people in the room, the rest fifty or older. Two of the three younger ones set up a facebook page Bay County for Bernie, and the one who's a professional web coder suggested posting anonymous QC codes on walls and utility poles, so anyone who snapped it would be taken to Bernie Sanders information. Ideas were tossed around, including ones that would recognize Bay City's heavily Polish population, like a Polka for Bernie fundraising event.
"Enough is Enough!" punctuated Senator Sanders' speeches throughout August, including to a crowd of twenty-eight thousand in Los Angeles. The tag line was reminiscent of the character Howard Beal, a television newsman played by Peter Finch in "Network" 1975, "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!"
II. History Lessons:
Isn't politics the art of reconciling hopes and dreams with realistic conditions? Twelve years ago I had high hopes for Bernie's fellow Vermonter Howard Dean, whose inspiring antiwar candidacy ended in tatters and the sticky meme of a scream. A couple years later, I lauded Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, the only member of the Senate to vote against the hastily-written "Patriot Act" that expanded police powers. If I had my druthers, Bernie would become our second Jewish President, not the first.
One recalls the third party oddities of centrists John Anderson (1980) and Ross Perot (1992). I was so incensed how Al Gore, running as Bill Clinton's Vice President, had misused his Senatorial powers to call hearings on rude rock and rap music in the 1980s that I voted for Perot in 1992. And Ralph Nader's 2000 run is still condemned as siphoning votes away from Al Gore, resulting in the dubious victory of George W. Bush and the Iraq invasion's great criminality (while our nation's attacker Osama bin Laden escaped to safety) that followed. In the midst of the first election of the post-9/11 security state's endless War on Terrorism, someone pointed out in 2004 that the platform of Democrat John Kerry was essentially more conservative than Republican Richard Nixon's had been in 1968.
I fear another 1968 election, when too many of the activists who supported the antiwar candidacies of Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy then didn't actively support the Democratic candidate--respectable liberal Hubert H. Humphrey--because Humphrey hadn't sufficiently renounced Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam war. The resulting winner in that election was Republican Richard Nixon, who proved smart enough to wind down the war, and initiate affirmative action hiring policies that lasted three productive decades (abandoned too quickly, in this century), though he ultimately resigned for his Watergate crimes and misdemeanors. He capitalized on southern white resentment about LBJ's civil rights advocacy, a "southern strategy" that has kept the cotton belt Republican ever since. Another of Nixon's lasting negative policies was his Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz's subsidy of corn production, resulting in High Fructose Corn Syrup--"diabetes juice"--in everything. There is too much diabetes and obesity in populations, white and black and Mexican-American, around us.
In 2015, Bay County for Bernie has activists in their seventies whose first political involvements were the McCarthy and Kennedy campaigns, and one (remembering Bobby Kennedy's killing, George Wallace's shooting during presidential campaigns) warned of the very real possibility that Bernie could be assassinated. Should one of the menacing Republican candidates like Trump win, I wouldn't be surprised if he'd institute political persecutions, where we who work on the Bernie Sanders campaign would become like those who worked on the Henry Wallace campaign of 1948, the Presidential run by Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture largely driven by Communist Party members, which fed Senator Joe McCarthy's, and McCarthyite, hysteria in the 1950s.
Bay County for Bernie's office has been donated by a engineer especially drawn by Sanders' commitment to addressing climate change, part of a building the man owns where his own company resides. It's downtown, a bit off the beaten path but with a Bernie banner inviting street traffic in, and a retiree staffs the Bay County for Bernie office several weekday afternoons. The Facebook page's followers include an organizer of teaching assistants, and a t-shirt designing anarchist who periodically books rock concerts in a local club (I know, I played in one), but they're not the group's movers and shakers, nor am I.
The big question is, can Bernie Sanders can build momentum to encourage blue-collar Bay County to come out to vote in the March Democratic Primary? Will he win over the church-going people who've seen industry and jobs in the region dry up (most recently in the yet-unhealed 2008 Recession), the comfortable life of their parents now unattainable? Maybe not the ones who've displayed IMPEACH OBAMA signs on their lawns in my neighborhood, but perhaps their neighbors up and down the block.
III. Fourth Quarter 2015:
Unfortunately, two of the three young activists present at the gathering watching the July campaign kickoff speech--the guys who deserve credit for setting up our Facebook group--left town to attend college out of state. The QR code idea never got tried, a pity. A picnic in the downtown park in August preceded an Eagles concert, indicative of the white boomer demographic now primarily involved. A pizza party in September drew a handful of the over-50s, plus a half-dozen high school students who wanted to get involved. There were smiles, but little conversation between the two groups.
Autumn 2015 saw a core group of Bay County for Bernie stalwarts make and carry sequential Burma Shave-type signs that climaxed in pro-Sanders exhortations, and they chalked campaign slogans during events that drew crowds downtown or to the river front.
The Saginaw Valley State University Valley Vanguard student paper ran a supportive story about Bernie in November...except it spoke of his days as mayor of "Burlington, New Hampshire." When I razzed the paper's photo editor in my afternoon class about it, he laffed no one else had complained, and promptly text'd the editor, who said it would promptly be corrected in the online version.
Bernie represented himself well in the first two Democratic Party debates this Fall (immediate polls said he won, while the usual suspects awarded both to Hillary), and the more intimate one-on-one Forum hosted by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. A cheerful group of Bay County for Bernie folks gathered in an Irish pub to watch the five-candidate first debate. We watched the Forum in the cramped upstairs of the office, which felt inspiringly conspiratorial! Come December, Sanders supposedly won the most readers' votes for TIME Person of the Year, yet Anglea Merkel was anointed instead. Perhaps TIME, a corporate donor to the Clinton campaign, feared the cover would look like an endorsement. By December, over 2 million individual donors had contributed to Bernie's campaign, with the average contribution about thirty dollars.
The day of the third Democratic debate, December 19, 2015, skies were ablaze (OK, Facebook postings fulminated) with the scandal of Clinton campaign files in the possession of the Sanders campaign, which was then summarily cut off from access to all voter lists by the Democratic Party. A petition to the Democratic National Committee grant the Sanders campaign immediate access got over 250,000 signatures in 24 hours caused a probably amazed DNC director Debbie Wasserman Schultz to reverse her decision. Yet it had been fixed, solved or put on the back burner by the time the debate began a half-hour late (were the two camps horsetrading?). Asked about it by a debate moderator, Bernie became socialist grandpa, indignantly and accurately man-splaining the situation, but he could have graciously and quickly apologized and moved on to issues. He did apologize when goosed into it, Hillary accepted, and—in contrast to the blustering Republican debate two nights before—for the following two hours three intelligent candidates, Clinton, O'Malley and Sanders, passionately explained their virtues and differences, to the credit of all three.
While I think there's a lot of support for Bernie from young adults, the students and recent graduates saddled with college debt, the hard part will be getting them to register to vote and to show up to do so. What, you mean everybody clicking Like doesn't make him the President? But on "American Idol",...
Though area polka musicians proved too conservative to endorse Sanders, Bay County for Bernie is at work developing events in Bay City and Saginaw featuring musicians, to bring out crowds for voter registration. A protest against the campaign's dismal television coverage is planned. Even as we do are darnedest stumping for Bernie to win the March 8th Michigan Primary, I'm pretty confident nearly every one of the politically-seasoned people who watched the July 29th speech is ready to vote for Hillary Clinton if, for some peculiar reason, she, and not Bernie, gets the Democratic Party nomination for President next summer.
But the prospect of clear-spoken Senator Bernie Sanders as President of the United States, and the groundswell of democratic citizen activism that will take him there, gives a lot of us much, much greater hopes.
—December 28, 2015
Artist Mike Mosher teaches art and media when he's not drawing or writing something, probably political. Graphics © Mike Mosher 2015; Sanders/Clinton ticket entirely my idea, not endorsed by Bay County for Bernie, or any organization at this time.