Feeling the Bern in Binghamton

I wrote about experiencing a few bubbles of near-normalcy after Grandma’s death almost three weeks ago.

This morning was another bubble, but “normal” is not the proper adjective to describe it.

Today, I attended a Bernie Sanders rally at Binghamton’s Veterans Memorial Arena. After arriving before 7 AM in a cold drizzle and snaking through a line with thousands of people – a few of whom I knew from my social justice and environmental work – I went through a metal detector and found a seat in the stands where I could see a profile view of whoever was at the podium. There was a HUGE American flag taking up most of the curtain at the end of the hall. While we were filling the seats in the stands, hundreds of people were gathering on the floor in front of the podium. I could have joined them but I didn’t think I would have the stamina to stand for a couple more hours on the very cold floor. The home ice of the Binghamton Senators is under those 4x8s.

The crowd was predominantly millennials with a good representation of us older adults and a smattering of children. I happened to be sitting with some students from my town’s high school, who said that attendance at school is low because everybody is at the rally!

There were lots of creative signs and apparel. A woman wearing an entire outfit made with cloth printed with Bernie’s face. A “Feel the Bern” sign with Bernie as an adorable-yet-terrifying, fire-breathing dragon. A large cloth sign with a very good, larger-than-life portrait of Bernie painted on it. Lots of Bernie 2016. A future to believe in. Feel the Bern.

Because of the security, it took a long time to assemble the crowd, but the Arena was filled to capacity. I heard later that more people wanted to attend but were turned away. The press area across the hall from me had over a dozen cameras on tripods and a couple dozen more journalists with laptops. About 5,000 of us were waiting for Bernie to arrive.

As I have posted about before, I am a supporter of Bernie Sanders because he comes closest of any candidate to my own views. On April 19, New York State will have its primary, but I won’t be able to vote for him. Like Bernie, I am an independent, which makes me ineligible to vote in the New York primary. I do support the campaign financially, though.

There were several introductory speakers. First, there was a woman representing the CWA, followed by one from the IBEW, who highlighted Bernie’s experience and support for labor unions and against unfair trade practices.

Next was Conrad Taylor, 20-year-old Binghamton University sophomore and Binghamton City Council member. Remember his name. Maybe in 24 or 28 or 32 years, he will be running for president. Conrad spoke about Bernie being the first presidential candidate in sixteen years to come to our area because he cares about us. He also represented Bernie’s appeal to young people because Bernie is forward-thinking, as young people need to be. The reaction to his mention of climate change was the biggest thus far.

Next up was Jim Hightower, who reminded us that agitators are”what gets the dirt out!”

The final introductory speaker was Gasland director Josh Fox, who got the crowd even more fired up, reminding us all of the grassroots strength that powered the movement to ban fracking in New York. When he introduced Senator Sanders, the crowd jumped up and made so much noise that I’m not sure what song they were using to introduce him.

Bernie told us that he was there to tell us the truth.

While some people complain that Senator Sanders is a one-issue candidate, although they don’t seem to agree on whether the one issue is campaign finance reform or income inequality, they are just wrong.

Topics that Bernie addressed included: campaign finance, oligarchy, Citizens United, income inequality, living wage, the challenges facing the young generation, the broken criminal justice system, youth unemployment, education, community policing reform, removing marijuana as a federal Schedule 1 drug, special interests and PACs, TPP and other trade issues, foreign policy, expanding Social Security, pay equity for women, student loan debt, comprehensive immigration reform, taxing Wall Street speculation, changing the government’s relationship with the First Nations, rebuilding inner cities and infrastructure, and health care as a right.

Two issues received special attention from Bernie. The first was climate change, which involved a long discussion of the dangers of fracking and methane emissions. This led to a second theme, the strength of grassroots organizing. It was especially powerful for those of us in the audience who are fractivists. Bernie’s message was that that kind of grassroots action has led to other needed changes throughout US history and that it can lead to more needed changes.

Together, we can make it happen.

Feel the Bern!

Update:  As a New York fractivist, I was honored that right after the Binghamton rally, the Sanders campaign released a new ad focused on Bernie’s opposition to fracking. I’m so happy that we were the springboard in bringing greater attention to Bernie’s stance on this important issue.  https://morningconsult.com/alert/bernie-sanders-new-ad-targets-clinton-fracking/

 

 

 

 

Advice for the Clinton campaign

I have written before about being a supporter of Bernie Sanders for president because his views align most closely with mine, especially on environmental protection, economics, health care, military spending and campaign finance reform. As a native New Englander, I have known about him and followed his career for decades and appreciate his consistent stance on equality for all without regard to gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I am not averse to Hillary Clinton; I just happen to favor Senator Sanders’ positions.

I am also an independent and would like to offer Secretary Clinton some advice to keep her campaign from alienating Senator Sanders supporters and the many independents in the country. Because neither major party commands the majority of the electorate, any candidate who aspires to the presidency must be able to draw support from independent voters.

1.)  Don’t criticize Senator Sanders for not being a Democrat. He did you an enormous favor by running for the Democratic nomination instead of mounting a campaign as an independent.  He has been able to generate huge grassroots support and funds from small donors without having any superPACs. One of the things that appeals to many of his supporters is that he is an independent who is not beholden to a party machine or to corporate campaign dollars. Which leads to the next point…

2.)  Stop pretending that you are not part of the establishment.  Seriously. You and your campaign sound totally ridiculous when you make the claim of being an outsider.  Being a woman does not disqualify you from being part of the establishment. Is former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not part of the Democratic establishment?  Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz is chair of the Democratic National Committee, which is definitely an Establishment position.  You spent eight years in the White House as part of what you and President Clinton billed as “two for the price of one” public servants.  I voted for you to be Senator of New York, but Wall Street, also your constituent, made out a lot better than my upstate town during your time as Senator.  You served in President Obama’s cabinet, which is certainly admirable service and valuable experience, but it is definitely part of the establishment.  All of the superdelegates, who are part of the establishment in their home states, are lining up for you because you are part of the Democratic establishment and Senator Sanders is not. (Point of information for my non-US readers:  While Sanders has caucused with the Democrats throughout his years in Congress, he has never been a member of the Democratic party.  He describes himself as a democratic socialist, which is a familiar term to Europeans who usually have a party with that philosophy in their countries.)

3.)  Don’t criticize women who support Senator Sanders.  I am a feminist and, like you, a proud graduate of a Seven Sisters college. I would very much like to see a woman president.  But my wish to see a woman president does not blind me to the fact that I agree with Senator Sanders’ views more than with yours. It’s insulting for your surrogates to condemn me to hell for not yet supporting your campaign; it doesn’t give me a feeling that you appreciate my intelligence and opinions.  It’s even more insulting to the  young women who are in the Sanders’ camp. My 20-something daughters and their friends have graduated from school into a horrible job market. When they can find jobs, they are often underpaid. Many of them are struggling with student debt. A federal living wage means a lot to them. Single payer health care would give tremendous peace of mind, especially for those who live in states that did not expand Medicaid, creating large groups of people without access to affordable insurance.  People who support Bernie Sanders are supporting a feminist, too, as well as a long-time champion of civil rights.

4.)  Remember that the votes of independents are crucial.  In many states, people who are not enrolled in a political party can choose to vote in either primary on election day.  Even in closed primary states, such as New York, voters are listening to how you are campaigning and will remember when the general election comes in November. Independents are turned off by overly partisan arguments and are reminded of the gridlock that has been so destructive in recent years.

5.)  Clearly lay out your position on issues and your history.  You and your campaign need to do this without mischaracterizing Senator Sanders’ positions, history, and experience. I have heard you and your campaign do this over and over. It makes you look weak.  It’s much better to draw distinctions against the Republican candidates and the actions of the Republicans in Congress when you give speeches and interviews.  That will also help all the Democrats running for office. You also need to explain which of your positions are your own and which you adopted because they were President Clinton’s positions or the Democratic party’s positions or President Obama’s positions. If your position on an issue has evolved, say so and tell us why. We need to know.

As I am finishing this, I am watching the first return for Super Tuesday primaries. Yes, Clinton will win most of the states today, but Sanders will garner hundreds of delegates as well. The campaign will be continuing. Let’s make it as positive and illuminating as possible.

another debate

Tonight, there will be a debate among the candidates for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency.

Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, has failed to gain traction with voters, so most eyes will be fixed on Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State, New York Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Sanders and Clinton are close in the public opinion polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to award delegates for the nominating convention.

There is one aspect of the race for the nomination and the general election that I feel is important but that isn’t being discussed much in the press. While Sen. Sanders is running for the Democratic nomination, he is not a Democrat himself. While in Congress, he has caucused with the Democrats, while retaining his status as an Independent.

Among the US electorate, there are more voters who are independent, that is, not registered with any political party, than there are voters who are registered Democrats or Republicans.

In some states, such as my native Massachusetts, independents can decide on the day of the primary which party ballot to vote; in others, such as my current home state New York, only registered members of the party are allowed to vote in that party’s primary.

I am an independent, so ineligible to vote in the primary, which is especially vexing this year as I am a supporter of Senator Sanders, but will not be able to vote for him in the New York primary.

The story that many in the media are missing is the possible impact of independent voters in the race.  In states with open primaries, Senator Sanders may draw significant support from progressive independents, while he may poll more poorly in states with closed primaries where only registered Democrats are allowed to vote.

The interesting thing to study is whether how well Sanders polls versus potential Republican rivals is due to his increased appeal to Independent voters. If so, it is something for the Democrats to keep in mind in choosing a candidate who can appeal to and energize the most voters in the general election.

In the United States, turnout is the most important factor in elections. A candidate who can marshal not only the party that nominated him/her but also the independents is the one who will win the election.
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Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, and I

A friend posted a link to this article:  http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/19/gloria-steinem-hillary-clinton-white-house?CMP=share_btn_fb on Facebook a few days ago. Gloria Steinem writes about her reactions to Hillary Clinton as she ran for New York Senator and for the Democratic nomination for president and about some other women’s reactions which were not as positive as hers. Her article inspired me to add my own viewpoint.

When Bill Clinton was running for the Democratic nomination for the first time, he was in trouble for reports of him having affairs.  Bill and Hillary appeared for a joint interview on 60 Minutes. I remember thinking that the wrong person was running for president. While Bill is undoubtedly the more charismatic, Hillary struck me as being the more intelligent of the two. Being first lady of Arkansas and then of the United States didn’t really give her the opportunities to reach her full capacity in service and in leadership.

I appreciated that when she ran for Senate in New York she did a lot of listening and I was proud to be able to vote for her. She did a good job as Senator and gained valuable experience. When she ran for the presidential nomination in 2008, I felt she was the stronger candidate than Barack Obama because she had more experience, as Steinem notes in her piece. Because I am an independent and New York has a closed primary system, I wasn’t allowed to vote, though.

The experience Hillary gained as Secretary of State in the Obama administration makes her even more experienced as a candidate now. I do have a problem, though. Because she had to spend so much of her time in the public eye supporting someone else’s vision and having to play the game that women often have to play to prove that they are “tough” enough to participate in predominantly male environments, it is hard to pin down what policies she believes in herself, as opposed to positions she had to take on for other reasons.

While I am excited by the prospect of a woman president and believe that Hillary will gain the Democratic nomination and the presidency, at the moment I am supporting fellow independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Bernie’s progressive views most closely match my own and he has been amazingly consistent in his vision over the decades. I believe his candidacy has been good for Hillary, helping her to articulate her own progressive views that had gotten buried in the years of having to follow the lead of her husband, her party leadership, and President Obama as a member of his Cabinet.

I do deplore the amount of snark – and worse – that women candidates have to endure. As Steinem points out, some of the disapproval comes from other women, where it is often a reflection of dissatisfaction with a woman’s own life rather than an actual disagreement with the candidate. Further, Clinton has to contend with actual hatred directed at her by some partisans. No Congressional committee would have questioned Sec. Colin Powell for eleven hours as the House Benghazi committee did this past week with Clinton. I agree with Steinem that, had I faced the choice to run for Senate that Hillary did, I would have said no. Running for president – twice – is even more punishing.

It feels odd, as a feminist, not to be on Hillary’s bandwagon yet. I am again faced with the situation that I don’t have a vote until the general election, when I fully expect that I will be casting my vote for Hillary Clinton and her running mate. Meanwhile, I will back the candidate whose positions I share most closely, Bernie Sanders.