I’ve been following Bernie Sanders since he first stepped onto the stage of the democratic primaries. Back then, it was all about Trump. Sanders was a whisper on the edge of hearing. Maybe you caught a glimpse of his wispy white hair blowing in the wind or the sun glinting off his frames for a few seconds on television as the stories transitioned from Trump’s idiocy to Clinton’s easy walk to the democratic candidacy. Slowly, these whispers grew. They became an incessant buzz, something newscasters wanted to ignore but couldn’t. They swept and swatted at Bernie, giving him no more attention than necessary. But the buzz grew louder, and soon an entire nation was enthralled. I hear a roar now, one where you have to clamp your hands over your ears to shut out.
Bernie fascinated me. The way he spoke, the way he dressed, the fact that he let two African American women interrupt and speak at his rally. There was something different about Bernie. He walked different, he talked different. All the other candidates, with the exception of Trump, seemed like cardboard cutouts of Politician Barbie and Ken. Yes, they had different talking points and “policies,” but they all sounded the same: products of a machine meant to churn out correct sounding, crowd appeasing, platitude spouting, baby kissing, opportunistic robots. Bernie though. When he spoke, he spoke from his heart. He spoke with conviction, the weight of it behind every word.
I started watching and reading all things Bernie. I saw Bernie fight against race segregation in the 1960s. I saw him fight for gay rights in the 1970s , before it was cool, and against a homophobic slur spoken in US congress in 1995. I saw him fight for a peaceful resolution to the Iraq conflict in 1991. I saw him fight for affordable medication in 2000, warn the US congress about the Panama tax haven in 2011, for action on climate change in 2010, and for the American middle class time and again. I saw a man who had selflessly dedicated his life — his entire fucking life — to the people. I saw a man fighting for causes long before the fight became cool or comfortable, a man who fought the status quo long before that expression became hip, a man who fought for the American people long before he decided to run as their president. I saw a 74 year old man — seventy fucking four! — with so much passion and dedication to his ideals that he made me feel ashamed. I saw a man with so much fight and fire in him that he rallied an entire electorate of young, apathetic voters behind a single cause. I saw a man that inspired me.
When I was in university, I couldn’t wait to save the world. Every day held so much possibility; the possibility for change, for wonder, for learning, for inspiration, for becoming. My friends and I would talk about all kinds of problems that needed fixing, from poverty, to war, to radicalism, to climate change. Some days I knew we were just complaining, but we got our kicks by talking about things that were beyond our understanding and experience, thinking we were somehow wiser and smarter than everyone else trying to fix these problems, and that once we graduated and started working, the dominoes would fall and we’d fix it all, every thing, one after the other. After graduating, I carried my dreams and ideals with me for a while, but wherever I went, they were laughed at or dismissed as naive. Like mallet and chisel, pragmatism and status quo chipped away at my dreams and ideals till they started conforming to those of the people around me. I started worrying about things I never had any reason to worry about before: money, the future, success, a career, meeting someone who gets me. I stopped thinking of other people and I stopped thinking of what needed changing.
When I look at Bernie Sanders, I see a man who kept his ideals from college. But “kept” isn’t the right verb. He must’ve fought tooth and nail to hold onto those ideals. In a world where you’re expected to colour inside the lines, where “dreaming” is “daring,” where the status quo is a block a cement fixed to your feet, where challenging authority and age-old paradigms is considered blasphemous, impractical — plain stupid! — to hold onto ideals like fairness, equality, justice, peaceful resolution, to fight for the powerless, for those without a voice, for an entire nation, it must’ve been real tough for Bernie, real tough. But he held onto them. Fifty years later, and Bernie is still fighting for those same ideals he fought for in college.
When I look at what Bernie’s done — what he’s still trying to do — I feel ashamed. I feel petty and self absorbed. I miss the wide-eyed idealist I used to be, because Bernie makes me believe in possibility again; the possibility for change, for wonder, for learning, for inspiration, for becoming. He makes me believe that there is no “real world,” other than what we, collectively, choose to make real. He makes me believe that the status quo is set up, maintained, and enforced by us, and that if we have the power to condone a system by passively following it day in and day out, then we also have the power to oppose it by actively rejecting its norms and rules. You can’t change the machine’s function by becoming a cog in it.
I’m no politician or polisci major. Heck, I’m not even American. I’m not qualified to say whether Bernie’s policies and ideas make sense, whether they’re feasible, whether they’ll do more harm than good for the economy, whether he’ll even make a good president. But I know Bernie isn’t fighting for the presidency. He’s not fighting for himself, to slather oil on his ego, or to notch the penultimate accomplishment of his political career. He’s doing it for the people. He’s always done it for the people. Can you say that, unequivocally, unabashedly, unwaveringly, with honest-to-goodness iron conviction about any other candidate running in this election?
Bernie Sanders inspires me because, once again, he makes me want to live for something more than just myself.