Bernie Sanders changed my life.
Before his campaign, I was politically adrift. I was a politically engaged but very disappointed Democrat who didn’t know where to turn to address the political issues I cared about. I hated the Democrats for selling out the working class to corporate interests every chance they had, but I didn’t know that there was another option.
Bernie’s two campaigns for president completely altered my worldview. The things he talked about were different than the usual tired talking points I had heard from the Democrats my entire life.
That excitement kept up — even when older women in my life told me that I was foolish for supporting Bernie over Hillary in 2016. I remember a former boss telling me that I was too young to grasp how important a woman president would be for “us.” Why were so many women, including some I respected, telling me that my support of Bernie wasn’t good for women?
So I examined Clinton’s and Sanders’s platforms closely. It was clear to me in 2016 that Bernie, not Hillary, was the feminist candidate. His policies were far better for women than Hillary’s, despite what the finger-wagging women in my life claimed.
The pushback compelled me to dig deeper into why exactly I supported Bernie — including how his policies would impact the “us” that my boss mentioned, women. When Hillary said she thought universal health care was a pipe dream, that meant giving health care to the thousands of uninsured, poor women in our country wasn’t a priority to her. I realized that the similarities I shared with Bernie’s policies were more important to me than the similarities I shared with Hillary’s.
The 2016 election forced me to pick a side, and I was on the side that wanted to get uninsured, poor women health care. In the short time between Bernie’s 2016 run and his 2020 run, I became a socialist.
I continued to fight for the values that Bernie’s 2016 campaign helped me find. I spent much of my time between Bernie’s campaigns organizing around immigration justice, something completely new to me that taught me the status quo the Democrats kept upholding was nowhere near enough.
Bernie highlighted for me, and many thousands of Americans, the misery that we live in. In our country, the poor are treated as subhuman. The oppressed are told they deserve their circumstances. Billionaires are allowed to run amok while enormous numbers of people unnecessarily die of hunger, homelessness, and easily curable diseases.
Before Bernie, I had empathy for others’ struggles, but I didn’t understand my struggles as connected to the world around me. I never saw myself as a part of the working class. Once I came to this realization, everything made much more sense. So when Bernie decided to run for president again, I was ecstatic and knew I had to leave everything on the mat to get him elected.
Bernie upended American politics. He has energized the working class in a way no politician in my lifetime has. He used his platform to stand with striking teachers all over the country, to travel to Canada to purchase insulin and highlight its crippling costs in the United States, and to bring people together to organize aid during the unprecedented global pandemic we are currently facing. Through organizing for Bernie, I began to see that the injustices in my life were replicated elsewhere. Bernie inspired me to demand a more just world for working people like me, for people who have far less than I do, and for people around the world suffering under US foreign policy.
Bernie is just one man. But through his campaign, I connected with so many other people who were willing to drop whatever they were doing in their lives to get Bernie elected. People from across the world came together to fight for a Bernie presidency. I, with my comrades in the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), spent countless hours in Illinois and traveled to Iowa to canvass for Bernie. It was a small part to play, but the entire campaign was made up of normal people like me playing small parts that added up to a massive movement.
Before his campaign, I would never have spent my own time and money traveling to another state to knock on strangers’ doors in 10-degree weather for a candidate. Honestly, even though I’ve lived through nine Chicago winters, I don’t do much of anything in 10-degree weather besides watch Vanderpump Rules and eat soup.
I’m still trying to figure out what exactly possessed me to spend my own money to go to Iowa alone to canvass for Bernie. It was probably the fact that I began to see my $900 wisdom teeth removal surgery, my $300 per month student loan payment, and my $200 per month health insurance bill as unnecessary and immoral charges instead of as facts of life I had to accept.
I saw the constant economic extractions from my life by entities so much richer and more powerful than me for exactly what they were: exploitative. I understood that my life would change massively, even if just a portion of Bernie’s platform passed. I thought to myself, “If my life could be that much better with such changes, imagine how much better the lives of those who suffer more than me would be?”
Imagining a Bernie presidency had become a sort of treat I would allow myself to think about every now and then, like the occasional McChicken I sometimes treat myself to after a work-induced migraine. It seemed too good to be true to imagine a world with no student loan payments and no medical bills. I only let myself think about life after a Bernie win sometimes, because I knew it would be that much more heartbreaking if I got used to these ideas and then he lost.
After a while, I realized this was stupid — I told myself, “you are allowed to dream of a better life!” This daydreaming ultimately motivated me to overcome my usual laziness to volunteer every free moment of my time for Bernie. I even text-banked for Bernie during hours-long episodes of The Bachelor. (Let’s be honest: Peter’s season was pretty boring.)
I am heartbroken that Bernie’s campaign is over. Justice didn’t prevail, and many people will suffer and even die as a result, whether Joe Biden wins or loses the presidency. The future we deserve is portrayed as “unattainable” or “unrealistic” by those in power. But Bernie showed us that this was wrong.
I hope that despite the end of the campaign, Bernie supporters understand that together, we can be a powerful movement — especially if we come together in a political home like the Democratic Socialists of America, which I and tens of thousands of others joined the day Trump was elected in 2016.
While we don’t have an electoral win to celebrate, we have gained something invaluable from Bernie’s campaign. Personally, I gained the ability to not black out every time I speak in front of a crowd. But collectively, we have millions of working-class people who understand what solidarity means and are ready to fight for one another. We will have many losses in the future. But this solidarity can be the glue that holds us together in the future fights that Bernie helped inspire.