Yesterday in Prospect Park among a multiracial gathering of 28,000 was the first time in a rather long life that I stood with people for something, not against an illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, not against the murderous slaughter of black young people on their city streets, but for a litany of possibilities that will make our lives together so much better.
Yesterday in Prospect Park listening to Bernie Sanders was the first time in my life I actually believed the vote I will cast in New York’s Democratic primary tomorrow would be for the purpose of making my life and the lives of those who pressed around me better, happier, more fulfilled.
Yesterday in Prospect Park I thought an end to fracking, the imposition of a tax on carbon, no more being beholden to the fossil fuel interests, a massive jobs program centered around renewable energy and energy efficiency have a slim but real chance of actually slowing down the climate change that threatens, according to our best scientists, to leave New York City mainly under water by 2100, if we do nothing now.
Yesterday I felt for the first time that the vote I cast on Tuesday, if Bernie Sanders were to take New York, or even come in a close second, and so continue toward the Presidency, would be a vote for the collective good—that my work, my values, the entire trajectory of my life from the time when he and I as college students protested the Vietnam War and first worked for racial justice, me at the University of Wisconsin, he at the University of Chicago, would suddenly have prominence in the country where I live.
It was an astonishingly unfamiliar sensation, this, that what I care about might matter to a critical majority, a general fairness, a sense that everyone deserves a meaningful, healthy, productive life, that our lives together are connected and we cannot walk all over one another on the way to a mirage success, that recognizing the crimes of the past will help us rectify our actions today and in the future, that we can no longer pretend the U.S. empire has not trampled upon the weakest, poorest, the most vulnerable here and abroad, that we have not destroyed through imperialist invasions the lives and lands of millions—cannot pretend our wars and coups in Iraq, Afghanistan, Honduras, and Libya, to name a few, are not morally reprehensible.
There was a long list Bernie gave: drug, mental health, criminal justice, and police reform. He called for raising the minimum wage immediately nationwide to $15, and thanked the fast food workers who began this movement. He called for immediate pay equity for women, for taking marijuana off the federally criminalized drug list (especially, though he did not say it, we all know the weed was put there originally by the Nixon administration in order to criminalize blacks and hippies). He called for fair and honorable treatment of the Native American population, for an honoring of treaties made by the U.S. government with our continent’s original inhabitants. And he went on for a long time listing wrongs that might be righted if we cared to do so.
It was the cumulative effect of this inclusive vision I found so deeply moving and that made me suddenly wonder what a nation based on these values would actually be like to in live in. I thought that people would be happier in general, that I would be happier in particular. That a sense of purpose might suddenly be shared and that sense of purpose would be especially meaningful because it would be about valuing each life and also the life of the earth. We would be freed, as Bernie always says, from the tyranny of special interests, from the corruption of a rigged economy—as we would have to be freed, have to have freed ourselves, if any of these changes are to be accomplished. For it is clearer and clearer to me as I struggle as everyone does with rising rents and lowering incomes and with a kind of mental malaise I see around me on my long subway commutes to John Jay College where my students’ struggles are similar, that we citizens of the United States are not a happy people. We do not live in a nation that allows us to have our most basic welfare at heart. We are expendable to the powers that be, if not out-right detestable. Our only real use is to spend our money on stuff. Our physical or mental health is not a priority, nor is the water that we drink, the schools where we teach and educate our children, the very earth on which we live is here to be exploited, fracked and forcefully entered much as a rape so that precious resources might be extracted and burnt, creating an ever-warming planet whose impacts are felt first among the poor in the Southern hemisphere and the poorest in our country.
In person, away from the hectoring of news casters and commentators, away from the contentious quality of a “debate”, Bernie Sanders feels even more genuine and honest, qualities he exudes also in the harshest exchange; but he is also more humble and grateful, awed by and thankful for the unexpected movement for real political change whose voice he has become. He never thought, as he always says, that this would happen. Yet it has. He’s awoken feelings we had let go dormant, so used had we come to feeling nothing could or would change, even as we stood with the Occupiers and the Black Lives Matters young, even as we spoke and taught and wrote about our history and shared visions of others ways of being.
I am a white feminist of Hilary Clinton’s generation. If she is elected, I believe she will appoint reasonable people to the Supreme Court and protect the reproductive, sexual freedoms and some of the voting rights we have fought so hard to win. But I fear her foreign policy, which has proven itself to be interventionist and dangerous, and her climate policy, which is not nearly strong enough. I dislike her refusal to try to move toward single payer health care and toward free college education. I wonder that her years in government service have served to make her very, very rich, while the economic policies she has backed have taken such a toll on most of us. I believe that under her administration economic inequality will continue to grow. It will not be a total disaster if she were to be elected, except perhaps for people who are being bombed outside our borders, but it will be continuation of the sort of grinding life we now know.
For a moment in Prospect Park yesterday listening to the guy from Brooklyn, I was happy, not in a private, personal way, but deeply, expansively, compellingly, communally happy. I believed that I and those around me were mobilized to work for and to accomplish the common good.
If Bernie takes New York tomorrow, I’ll be happier still.
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