An open letter to Senator Bernie Sanders

October 4, 2016

Dear Senator Sanders:                                           

 

I caucused for you in Minnesota, where you won the primary with 59 percent of the vote. You should have seen the lines at the caucus site!


The United States needs a revolution, as does the world. I’m writing to you today to suggest a way you can make that happen, maybe more effectively than if you had become president.


In addition to your current office in the Senate, you’ve held Vermont’s single seat in the House of Representatives—the first socialist elected to the House—and the Burlington mayor’s office. Prior to that, you produced educational filmstrips, ran for various offices in Vermont as a member of the Liberty Union Party, and organized for the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.

 

 While you were a student at the University of Chicago, you were a member of the Young People’s Socialist League, and active in the Civil Rights Movement. You organized a protest against the university’s segregated housing policy, resulting in President George Beadle forming a commission to study discrimination.


You lost relatives in the Holocaust and once said, “A guy named Adolph Hitler won an election in 1932...and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including six million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.”


As a presidential candidate, you campaigned to reduce income inequality, quoting Pope Francis that we “have to say ‘Thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”


You recognize that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision corrupts our democracy. You advocate for a living wage, racial justice, and combating climate change.


These issues you addressed are essential to the survival of our society, if not our entire species. They need serious attention, particularly because they are contrary the interests of our economic system, which has become a runaway train barreling down the track, dumbly endangering everyone.


Your campaign appealed to people already in agreement with you, but also to many alienated from the runaway economic system. Some of your supporters came off as colossally uninformed and tactically inept after you endorsed Hillary Clinton. More long-term organization seems like a good idea.

 

I have seen two revolutions in the White House—Reagan’s and Bush II’s—and I didn’t like either one. I expect a Sanders administration would have been hamstrung by an obstructionist legislature.


As a freshman at St. Louis University, I knew an organizer like I imagine you to be. It was 1967-68, and I was one of a tiny group of anti-war students calling ourselves the St. Louis University Action Committee.


Guy was an Amherst graduate, the son of a Long Island banker, who helped us found a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).


He connected us with students at Washington University and other nearby colleges. He helped us become part of SDS and bring in outside speakers, like Catholic Worker Ammon Hennacy, Catonsville Nine draft resister David Darst, and Dr. Benjamin Spock.


In the summer of ’68, Guy shared a seedy duplex with us across the street from a big university parking lot, and padded his meager SDS stipend by posing for art classes. He introduced me to yogurt, brown rice, and Tiger’s Milk, as well as a more coherent sense of history.


Like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Guy was in the same tradition of leftist organizers as you were at the time, organizing not factory and farmworkers or disenfranchised black Americans, but naive campus radicals and potheads like me.


I would like to see what amounts to a continuation of your presidential campaign. A real revolution won’t happen in the White House. It will happen in American hearts and minds and actions. Alienated Americans would come to understand the reasons for their alienation. Your goofier supporters would grow more coherent understandings, and your presence might attract folks who fell for Donald Trump’s belligerent rhetoric.


As of June 20, you had raised $229.1 million for your presidential campaign. Surely some of the people who gave you that money had more in mind than getting one democratic socialist into the White House. You could be the best-financed, largest-scale organizer in history. And you’d have a shot at stopping that runaway train.

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