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.

1 comment:

John de Clef Pineiro said...

What we’ve been seeing unfold is on a political scale that both of us probably wanted to see happen 45 years ago, but it never quite got there -- probably because it was too tied to an atrocious war and folks being conscripted. Today, economic inequality and the dearth of good jobs and opportunities are such pervasive, diffuse and insidious demographic realities that a greater number of folks are being affected, and THAT is making THIS political revolution a far larger grassroots movement than we have ever witnessed or believed would come about. I’ve even heard it referred to as the “American Spring.”

Of course, there’s no roadmap here, and this is uncharted ground for most. Fortunately, however, there’s a huge millennial population whose energy, enthusiasm, idealism, and distrust of the establishment echoes what we had a taste of in our day.

I’m deeply gratified to have lived to see this resurgence of populist revulsion toward an oppressive status quo, and its agents and handmaidens.

But, by contrast, what I find mystifying is how Obama’s approval rating has risen above 50% for the first time in a while. WHAT HAS HE DONE TO DESERVE IT, when he’s still the arch proponent of corporate supremacy in the forms of TPP and TTIP, and is still pushing for offshore drilling, is still the Drone serial-killing President, has proposed a SCOTUS nominee who has already upheld and expanded on Citizens United [by joining the D.C. Circuit's opinion in v. FEC, which invalidated limits on campaign contributions], has proposed nothing to reform the tax code that actually functions as a de facto “wealthcare plan” for the super-wealthy and the corporations , . . . (shall I continue?)?

But I certainly agree with you that Bernie has single-handedly dispelled the bugbear about “soshulizm” (that’s the Tea Party spelling); yet, has accomplished even more by offering a credible populist narrative about wealth redistribution through taxes being the means to have government work FOR the people. In fact, he has literally spelled out for the vast majority of the body politic what its ensemble of “best interests” are, and he has demonstrated traction on that agenda like we’ve “never, ever” seen before.

These are very very interesting times, and it is a most heartening and validating experience for those of us who are still very much progressive radicals at heart and mind from the 60s and 70s.