I'm a White, working-class millennial. Bernie Sanders does not speak for me
I should support Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
His message is tailor-made for me. As a White, working-class male millennial, I can honestly say that there is an appeal to his platform. After all, who amongst my peers wouldn't benefit from universal healthcare, free public education, and an increased minimum wage? My generation is currently at a point in time where we have been in the workforce for nearly a decade with stagnant wages that have not kept up with the cost of living. We struggle to pay off our student loans. We delay purchasing a home and opt instead to rent for as long as possible. We often return home to live with our parents when we are between jobs or career changes. We jump through hoops to find affordable childcare, often times moving closer to family to aid us in this endeavor. For those of us in the lower middle-class, it often feels as if we are running on a hamster wheel, working as hard as we can but never actually moving forward.
But those among the White working-class aren't the only ones who are struggling. This seems to be a concept lost on Bernie Sanders, or, at the very least one that he doesn't want to acknowledge. It makes sense when you think about it: Sanders left his diverse Brooklyn community to head for the hills of homogenous Vermont where he could seek out other like-minded socialist thinkers. Sanders' political philosophy has always been one of a class-based struggle where all the ills of society would be cured by simply establishing economic equality. In Sanders' mind, economics trump all. Therefore, if we are able to create a system where everyone has the same financial situation then there would be nothing left to cause distress.
Because of this worldview, Sanders cannot see how and why non-economic issues negatively impact our communities. He cannot see how the wealthy African-American attorney still will be ignored by a cab driver due solely to the color of his skin. He cannot see how the Muslim doctor still has patients who are hesitant to see her because of her hijab. He cannot see how the gay software engineer still worries that he could be fired from his job simply for loving whom he chooses. He cannot see how the Latino businessman still worries that one of his loved ones could be deported. And he cannot see the young college student who relies on Planned Parenthood for her affordable healthcare needs.
These successful individuals have all achieved a level of financial security. Yet, they are not at ease. The reason is that there are greater societal issues unrelated to their financial security that take priority in their lives. This is why Bernie Sanders' economic populism message fails to resonate with people of color. Yes, there are those who are struggling financially. But they are also dealing with numerous issues that cannot simply be solved simply by having a few extra bucks in their pocket. More money won't end systemic injustices in our schools, courts, and prisons. More money won't end racist policing practices. More money won't end the threat of deportation. More money won't end a professional business culture that refuses to provide an opportunity for advancement. More money won't end more and more voting restrictions placed upon these communities. It is these concerns that go beyond simple matters of economics and touch the very fabric of our society.
Bernie Sanders doesn't see this because he has chosen not to see it. Because acknowledging the intersectionality of all these issues means that there is not a simple solution that can be placed on a bumper sticker. A "political revolution" that overthrows the millionaire and billionaire class still has to deal with all these issues for people of color. That, in itself, completely undermines Sanders' message that economic equality is the only needed ingredient for a successful society. To acknowledge all these issues would mean that Sanders would have to expand upon his knowledge and understanding of class-based political systems and that is something he simply has no interest in doing. He has made his career, and more importantly his success, by waging class warfare against the wealthiest of the wealthy. This is the political hill that Bernie Sanders has placed himself on and it will ultimately be the hill that he dies on.
Yet until that day comes, Sanders will continue to address crowds and will proceed to spout off his economic populist message to adoring audiences. But these audiences do not represent the future of the Democratic Party. The future of the Democratic Party is not as lily-white as Bernie Sanders perceives it to be, but rather is a rich mosaic of cultures, religions, genders, and ideas. To ignore this is to ignore the massive coalition that elected Barack Obama twice and got Hillary Clinton more popular votes than any White man in history. The White working-class is not the entire Democratic base but instead is merely a small segment that makes up the big tent that has become the modern-day Democratic Party. To sacrifice the rest of the base for the sole reason of appealing to the only segment that Bernie Sanders can successfully communicate with is both dangerous and disingenuous. It would be the political equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bathwater and would set the party back at a time when it needs unity now more than ever. The Democratic Party currently has a base in place that could remain a force in politics for generations to come and it is a base that simply can't connect with Bernie Sanders' economics-only brand of populism.
And Sanders himself knows he can't make that connection. It is why he will campaign for Democratic congressional candidates in Kansas and Montana but not in a suburb north of Atlanta. Sanders' refusal to campaign for Jon Ossoff in Georgia's runoff for the sixth district was not because Ossoff wasn't "progressive" enough but instead was because Sanders didn't want to return to a state that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton due to a Sanders economic message that didn't resonate with the state's diverse communities of color. It is the exact same reason why Sanders is comfortable doing MSNBC specials in West Virginia, where diversity is at a minimum. Despite there being an overwhelming Republican population there, Sanders still feels he can connect with the White working-class population and simply solve all their problems by addressing their economic anxiety. He views these people as being representative of all working class people while conveniently ignoring the fact that African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians also make up a large percentage of America's working class.
As Bernie Sanders continues to be given a seat at the Democratic Party table, DNC Chairman Tom Perez and others would be wise to take note of his shortcomings. For every adoring Sanders fan that cheers and chants his name, there arises a stout Democratic Party voter who begins to question the DNC's judgment in continuing to provide Sanders with a public platform. We White, working-class millennials might be a vocal group, but we are green when it comes to the history of the Democratic Party. As a whole, we are unaware of the slow, hard progress the party has made for women and people of color. A progress that was made possible by a broad coalition working together toward a common goal and not a single subset of one social class. Moving forward, the DNC cannot afford to turn its back on this diverse base simply to cater to a small but vocal subset of the party. No matter how important Bernie Sanders claims them to be, the White, working-class is not the future of the Democratic Party.
And I, for one, am perfectly fine with that.
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