Words by Aspasia Celia Tsampas
Illustration by Katie Herchenroeder
On February 19, 2019, Bernie Sanders officially threw his hat into the ring of Democratic hopefuls for the 2020 presidential election. After losing in the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton in 2016, this is Sanders’ second bid for the nomination, and this time he is anything but the underdog.
One thing that hasn’t changed since 2016 is Bernie Sanders’ policies. Consistent and clear, supporters of Sanders’ applaud his strong beliefs and commitment to his base. Since his election to the Senate in 2006, Sanders’ progressive views on health care, labor laws, and education have only grown. He introduced Medicare for All in 2017, a system that would grant free health care to all Americans, as well as pushing for a $15 per hour minimum wage. More pertinent to City College students, Sanders also advocates for tuition-free public universities. This plan would make community colleges completely tuition-free and four-year universities tuition-free for students with a household income of $125,000 or less.
In just one day after the announcement, the Bernie Sanders Campaign was able to raise 6 million dollars. With over 1 million signed supporters, records show about 40% of those are people who did not support him in 2016. This ability to raise lots of money proves that Sanders’ strong activist base has only grown since 2016 and making him a front runner by the numbers; but will this be enough to take the nomination?
Since 2016, Sanders’ radical views have now opened the door for more progressive candidates to take the stage. What was once too radical in 2016, seems to be political mainstream today. Candidates like Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts and, possibly, Sherrod Brown from Ohio have embraced the progressive label, as well as the Democratic National Committee (DNC), something Bernie Sanders’ has not and refuses to do. Bernie Sanders is independent of any political party and is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist. This has often hurt Sanders in the past, with radical misconception surrounding “socialism,” a word President Donald Trump uses negatively, as well as hesitation from the DNC to fully embrace a nominee that does not affirm himself as their own.
In fact, this past summer, the DNC passed a new rule that would require a written “affirmation form” for all candidates to declare that they would join the democratic party, accept their party’s nomination, and “run and serve” as a Democrat if elected. Sanders has not signed anything yet and there is no word on how this will affect his campaign this election season, however, establishing himself without party affiliation has previously been a huge component to his appeal to some. Sebastián Uchida Chávez, former chair of City College’s Young Democratic Socialist America (YDSA) club, member of The National Coordinator Committee of National YDSA, and Chair of The National College for All committee, does not think the Senator’s refusal to align with the party will hurt him and that he has a good chance at nomination regardless. “He has a way better chance than he did in 2016…The DNC is a different organization now than it was then. Also, on the other side, we have much different contenders now. There is more to choose from and Bernie really can come out ahead because of that,” he says.
This issue has left Sanders vulnerable to critics who call out his progressive claims as not so genuine. Criticizers have recalled a lack of transparency when it comes to issues of race and gender. Most recently, there was controversy with former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who gave the official Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union Address. Since Trump’s inauguration, Bernie Sander’s has also given his own address on the matter. This year critics are accusing him of undermining Stacey Abram’s authority as a professional black woman. These allegations were immediately shut down by Sanders’ campaign but brought to the surface a bigger issue. Above all, this concern exposes the deep divide existing within the Democratic party, specifically with Bernie Sander’s unwillingness to conform to their leadership. Sebastián states, “Bernie praised Stacey Abrams’ statement and referred to it constantly, but he also had to make his own because his people are independent, his base is politically unaffiliated.” This is just a reminder that while he caucuses with the Democrats, he is an independent democratic socialist.
That is not all critics have to say about Bernie Sanders. Ever since Kamala Harris, former Attorney General of California and the second black woman to ever hold office in the Senate, has been under fire for her voting record and background as a prosecutor, critics have begun to question Sanders’ accountability on similar matters. Specifically, on issues of gun reform, where Sanders’ record shows that he only backs additional regulation some of the time, most notably in 1993 when he voted against The Brady Handgun Bill, which requires a waiting period for firearm purchasers in order to conduct background checks in the United States. This slightly problematic aspect of Sanders’ apparent ultra-progressive views is rarely talked about and often pushed under the rug, while Kamala Harris’ integrity and competency as a Democrat is put on the line more often. Sebastián concurs that no candidate is perfect, but upholds that Sanders takes his fair share of unnecessary criticism, “There is merit to the criticisms against Kamala Harris, whereas the ones against Bernie, while some are valid, take a much more personal nature [rather than political].”
Nonetheless, the YDSA at City College has already announced their full support for Bernie Sanders via Twitter. Esperanza Rosenbaum, the co-chair at The City College YDSA, says the vote was unanimous, “His policies, they are not policies for rich white people, they are not policies for people that look like Bernie, they are policies for us, people who go to City College, young people, women, marginalized people, people of color, etc.. There is not some billionaire guy who is going to benefit from Medicare for All, but we as the working class will benefit from it, so it’s important for us to back him.” Throughout the election period, YDSA at CCNY will be tabling during club hours to answer any questions about Bernie Sanders as well as registering voters.
YDSA at City College will also be mobilizing for events of Bernie Sanders, the first of which is this Saturday – March 2 – where the politician will be returning to his Alma Matter, Brooklyn College, for his first rally to kick off the campaign. Esperanza and the rest of YDSA at City College will be at the event, where anyone is welcome to join, at 9 am for a Student Contingent Meeting.