Why Senator Bernie Sanders Lost My Support
By ISABELLA GOMEZ SARMIENTO
When Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) entered the presidential race in the spring of 2015, I became a fervent supporter of his campaign almost immediately. I’d never heard of the Vermont senator before, but when I learned of his stance on health care, education, and the minimum wage, I was hooked.
I wasn’t alone: Sanders’s alignment with socialist values, his refusal to accept corporate funding for his campaign, and his anti-establishment rhetoric struck a chord with me and thousands of people across the U.S., quickly turning him into a household name for the radicalization of America’s political left.
Despite the fact that he was 73 years old at the time, Sanders mobilized young people like me by the masses. His promise to hold government accountable, protect the environment, and champion the rights of women, LGBTQ communities, and people of color became a much-needed foil to the rising popularity of now president Donald Trump and his hateful platform. Throughout the election season, I volunteered to register voters through my university’s pro-Bernie group, canvassed for the senator at my local farmers market, and waited in line for hours to see Sanders and Killer Mike speak at a rally at Morehouse College.
But a lot has changed since 2016, much of which has made me grow increasingly remorseful of my active participation in his campaign.
In the past four years, Sanders’s words and actions have shown me time and time again that he is more concerned with boosting his image as a white savior figure of social justice than actually uplifting the voices of the communities he so direly pretends to represent. In fact, a New York Times article recently described how his campaign — the one I volunteered to support — initially focused on predominantly white states and failed to gain momentum with black voters in southern states, while black staff members told the Times they faced a plethora of microaggressions from white campaign leaders.
And the announcement that Sanders will be running for president again in 2020 is just another reminder of how the independent senator is dead set on taking up spaces that simply do not belong to him.
“We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age,” the senator told Vermont Public Radio in a February 19 interview following his presidential bid announcement. “I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”
I found this troubling. Sanders implied that he has faced discrimination as a white man in the U.S. while suggesting we shouldn’t consider a candidate’s identity when choosing who to vote for. This, to me, feels like the equivalent of him telling everyone who is not a straight, white, cisgender male that we shouldn’t care about seeing ourselves represented in our government.
And despite his “progressive” statements on everything from bodily autonomy to a history of imperialist U.S. intervention abroad, Sanders has not always followed through on actions that actually align with those values, which is why my diminishing support for the senator has been a long time coming. He was among the 100 senators who signed a letter to the United Nations asking to improve its treatment of Israel in 2017, which I disagree with. The following year, he voted in favor of a package of legislation known as FOSTA-SESTA, which makes sex work considerably more difficult and dangerous. And when it comes to gender and race, his lack of solidarity speaks volumes.
From failing to denounce some of his supporters’ racist and sexist language to saying that white people who “felt uncomfortable” voting for black candidates Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum in the 2018 midterms are not “necessarily racist,” Sanders has continually flexed his privilege as a white man in politics — oftentimes, directly at the expense of people of color, especially women. In 2016 he refused to outwardly address allegations of gendered pay disparities and sexual harassment within his campaign. As someone who poured much of my energy and money into Sanders’s election bid, not to mention trusted a male candidate when he spoke of gender equality, I couldn’t believe how easily he downplayed the serious claims from his female staffers. He apologized to those women this year as he geared up to relaunch his election bid, but I see the damage as done.
This behavior extends to his colleagues in politics, too. Earlier this month, he also delivered his own response to President Trump’s State of the Union address despite the fact that the Democratic Party asked Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, to officially fill that role. Having canvassed and voted for Abrams as the governor of my state last fall, and seeing how she received national attention for her education- and health care–driven platform, I could not look past Sanders’s blatant dismissal of a black woman by giving his own speech anyway. In my eyes, Sanders’s deliberate decision to make his voice heard rather than fully support and listen to one of the most prominent emerging politicians of 2018 reinforced his need to take the spotlight away from someone who might ultimately be more qualified to represent today’s America.