Since the moment that President Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, a large number of Americans have been primarily concerned with removing him from office. In 2020, we have the chance to evict Trump from the White House, but in order to ensure long lasting change in American society, we need a candidate that can begin reversing the last 40 years of neoliberalism, not just the damaging effects of Trump’s presidency. Despite a field of 24 candidates, there is only one presidential candidate prepared to do that — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
One of the most pressing issues in the United States in recent years is not rump, but the rapidly diverging income of people. The erosion of unions, combined with Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, has allowed the power of millionaires and billionaires to grow to the point where in the same country Jeff Bezos can amass over 100 billion dollars while 500,000 people will be homeless on any given night. Everything from the assault on voting rights, to the degradation of unions, to the restriction of abortion rights did not magically appear because Trump was elected. Instead, they continue because the ultra-wealthy have spent decades building the institutions and base to reap massive profits at the expense of the average American.
The task of turning the tide on 40 years of reactionary policy requires a movement of working class people capable of striking both for immediate gains and against broader corporate power. Perhaps the most contemporary example of this occurring has been in the last two years of teacher strikes around the country. Like a missing verse from “This Land is Your Land,” teachers from West Virginia to Oakland have gone on strike for both themselves and their communities, sometimes winning as much as 20 percent raises or a moratorium on charter schools.
Only Sanders is running a campaign with the explicit goal of creating a movement that can last far beyond him. Sanders has dedicated resources to drive out support for strikes around the country, making it a centerpiece of his campaign. Making working-class people the center of his campaign has meant a focus on racial injustice as well. When Bernie Sanders gave over his Instagram account to Walmart workers, he gave a platform to the largest employer of Black workers in the country. Twice in the last month, the Sanders campaign has used email lists to warn about impending ICE raids, and recently he rallied support to save Philadelphia's Hahnemann Hospital, which serves thousands of working-class and people of color every year.
Encapsulated in this view is Sanders’ own words, “The truth is that the powers that be, they are so powerful, they have so much money, that no one person, not the best president in the world, can take them on alone. The only way we transform America is when millions of people together stand up and fight back.”
This departs from other candidates. Kamala Harris’ “For the People” sounds good, but in reality, her record hardly holds up as someone fighting for working-class people. This becomes clearer when you see that Harris refuses to apologize for her role in locking up parents of kids who missed school or pursuing wrongful convictions. It’s also worth noting that she still relies on the power-fundraising efforts of wealthy people. Even when criticizing former Vice President Joe Biden for supporting segregationist busing policies, she admitted that the doesn't believe in federally mandated busing to help solve school segregation. In fact, Bernie is the most supportive of this type of federal mandate.
Biden’s brand of politics relies on courting the same people that fund Republicans, and taking the same positions as Republicans. In fact his view of what would happen once Trump leaves office the GOP would change their mind. At the center of his views are that elites are the ones who change things. It’s why he will always be closer to compromising with Republicans than fighting for important social programs.
Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), well to the right of Bernie but still in the left-wing of the Democratic Party, places “plans” at the center of her campaign, a notable distinction from emphasizing the power of working people.
“Having a plan” is not about leveraging working people to force progressive policy — it’s about articulating ideas. In her own words, she admits that the plans are the plan: “I think this is one of the reasons to run on plans because if I get elected on those plans, it gives me the capacity to turn around and say to my colleagues, ‘Hey that’s what I ran on, that’s what the majority of the American people voted for, that’s what they got out and fought for. So as the Democratic Party, that’s what we got to do.’”
It’s a mistake to think that just ideas are what forced progressive policy to come about in the past. The Voting Rights Act was the culmination of mass action for years, the New Deal occurred after years of massive labor unrest, and in both cases it was movements of millions of people which created change, not simply someone having a good idea.
What makes Sanders unique among the other Democratic forerunners is that he believes that there is no plan, no matter how brilliant, that will make powerful groups like the pharmaceutical or fossil fuel industries willingly concede. The world could literally end in 12 years because of climate change and companies would not change anything until they had to.
In this sense, a bust does not mean merely losing to Trump but rather failing to organize millions of people to fight for years to come. Perhaps candidates like Warren, Harris, Biden or Mayor Pete Buttegieg can defeat Trump, pass some important policies and materially change the lives of millions. However, only Sanders will attempt to create a movement capable of transforming the country. 2020 is about far more than the presidential election — it’s about a crucial choice between lasting institutional change and short-term harm reduction. This reality is why me, and thousands of people like me, will not settle for simply defeating Trump, we need to transform the face of America forever, and Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who can do it.
Jake Wartel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.