At the end of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where I was a pledged delegate for Bernie Sanders, I realized that everything I had done for the campaign was in vain. Not just at the convention, but the entire past ten months of my life. Five of them volunteering full-time in a campaign office, not to mention the $6,000 I spent on donations, travel, and supplies.
Not one thing I did helped Bernie Sanders get the nomination, because there was no way the Democratic Party was ever going to let him have it. I believe he knew this, which is why he kept saying (to paraphrase):
This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It has never been about Bernie Sanders. This is about a political revolution, when millions of people stand up and get involved in the political process. This campaign is about taking back our government, making it into one that works for all people, and not just the rich (wealthy campaign contributors).
This is not to say that he didn’t fight for the nomination. He did. We all did. And if it were a fair fight, he may very well have won. But for so many reasons, it was not a fair fight.
Although he didn’t win, Bernie Sanders gave us something invaluable: A thorough education on the depth of corruption in American politics, and an exciting visualization of what our government can and should be. It’s exactly why his stump speeches were so repetitive. To teach us.
Bernie Sanders also exposed the myth that we’ve all grown up with, that politics is somehow this complicated and opaque process only for the privileged, as complete nonsense. Being a politician is simple:
- Tell the truth,
- Learn the truth, and
- Avoid anyone who tells you otherwise.
But most of all, beyond education, Bernie Sanders revealed to each of us a hidden community of millions, who desperately want these things. People who care about truth more than (pretend) unity. About (actual) happiness more than money or power. Millions of people who have been marginalized, minimized, and bullied. Told what they feel is not important, what they believe is not important, what they want is not important, what they are is not important.
Bernie Sanders, the father we wish we had and the person we wish to become, taught us that what we want “is not a radical idea,” it’s what should be.
I have met such beautiful people during this campaign. People whose lives were permanently changed because of it. One who kicked a powerful addiction. Another who says they now “feel valid and un-alone.” And a third who tells me:
Before going to Philly [to the DNC as a Bernie delegate], I hadn’t felt confident and strong in a long time. Maybe since the last time there was a Clinton in office, ironically! I was kind of amazed that [other delegates and our supporters protesting across the street at FDR Park] would want to hear what I had to say about anything… Any successes I’ve had in my life have always been taken away or co-opted. Philly was new to me because I was experiencing the opposite. I had a sense of importance and value to Bernie and all of his team… I belong with him on this journey. I finally found my people and there are SO many of us! It gives me real hope. We’re going to be alright.
(And, saying this publicly for the first time, I was able to wean off of anxiety medication that I had been taking for a decade.)
We are square pegs who have been spending much of our lives trying to mash and contort ourselves into the round holes that everyone says we’re supposed to fit into. But for the first time, we realize it’s time to start building some square holes to fit around us.
Our idealism and “gorgeous unhappiness” matters to a lot of people. This campaign is about embracing and celebrating the truths and messy emotions that we share, and standing together to make this terrible government into the one that we all–all of us–deserve.
Bernie Sanders may not be president, but what he gave us is something infinitely more important. Actually, he returned something that was taken from us many years ago.