Saturday, April 2, 2016

Why I support Bernie for President

Recently, the New York Times asked readers why they supported or opposed a particular candidate for POTUS. My answer exceeded the character limit, so I'm printing it here, re-opening my blog after a five-year hiatus.--NW

I grew up in Brooklyn’s Borough Park during the 1950s. My family—two adults and four children—could best be described lower working class. My father, who supported us all, worked variously as crate packer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, hardware store salesperson, and telephone caller for a furniture retailer hounding vulnerable consumers, mostly African-American and Hispanic, who had been lured into putting down payments on lousy furniture, only to quickly find they couldn’t afford it.

And then—Paradise!—Dad, with his high school diploma, landed a civil service job with the US Bureau of Customs. We moved up to the moderate working class.

My parents’ political orientation, to the extent they had any, was vaguely moderate/liberal: better deals for workers, support of unions, thank goodness for strict rent control (otherwise we would have been evicted when my father found himself out of work for months on end), and of course adulation of FDR. Pretty much like the rest of Borough Park in those days.

Then came the civil rights movement. My parents were vaguely in support, although only intellectually, not through any actions. But the atmosphere in the all white Borough Park neighborhood changed drastically, turning ugly, an atmosphere best reflected by the venom expressed in the broadly asked challenge: “Would you want your sister to marry one of them?”

“Them,” of course, being you know who.

But by then I was in college—tuition free, unlike today, at Baruch (at the time the business school of CCNY). On the uptown campus, I came across a group called the Congress on Racial Equality. I joined, and soon found myself in Harlem, organizing tenants, joining sit-ins to demand such radical initiatives as a traffic light on a heavily trafficked intersection, encouraging people to vote, and the like.

That experience, far more than my family’s early relative poverty, turned my political and social views upside down. Until then, I had accepted, without much question, that the US was generally a pluralistic society, which—notwithstanding some slight class divisions, and some “prejudice” among white southerners—was essentially open and fair to all, thanks to our type of economy.

The intervening years, which entailed meeting my future wife (still together after 43 years), raising two children, and rising way on up to the middle-middle class, have only solidified my leftist views, as reflected in some of my actions: among other things, leading two successful rent strikes, squatting in formerly affordable buildings to prevent gentrification (no success there, alas), and demonstrating against all our wars, from Vietnam to Iraq.

I could go on, but you get the picture. So when I listen to Bernie Sanders, I hear a kindred spirit. That’s (one of the reasons) I support him for President.