A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
I didn’t want to get involved. Not ever again. I came up, politically, in the age of anti-Vietnam war protests and going door-to-door to end the proliferation of nuclear power plants. Later I campaigned for President Obama, but grateful as I am for his accomplishments, the continued imperialistic and interventionistic actions of my country made me want to curl up in a ball and close my eyes. I was suffering from a stress fracture in that deep down soul-place that wants a kinder world to seem possible. So I just wanted to sit this one out. After all, I’m 66. Isn’t it somebody else’s world now?
But every day — the headlines. The photos of broken bodies, broken water systems, broken hearts, broken mothers whose hungry children stumble through rubble that should be homes and schools. I could feel that call again. The unglamorous Call-of-Duty that says we have to do better. We have to care enough to try again. I could have ignored it. Lord knows I’ve done that before. But Bernie Sanders’ message was on the airwaves. It cut through my resistance. His words were a clear articulation of things I know are true. He said “the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer” is not an unavoidable situation. It’s something we have allowed to happen.
Five months ago I assumed Hillary Clinton would get my vote. I knew I’d vote the Democratic ticket and her candidacy had the smell of an inner-party-done-deal, something that might even have been brokered when she was up against Obama for the presidential nomination. There was a sense that it was “her turn” and I heard phrases that seem manufactured to justify the career-Dems choice: “best-qualified,” “willing-to-compromise,” and “established in Washington.”
But Bernie Sanders and his ever-growing band of activists made me think I should become better informed. I took a hard look at voting records and campaign donations. In the end, I realized that a vote for Clinton meant a vote for someone who is more than comfortable with American aggression as a fix for trouble anywhere on the globe. It’s a vote for more, not less, military spending. It’s a vote for someone who is extremely tied into the power structure, both financial and social, which is sucking the life-blood from our social support systems. And I could see that a vote for Bernie Sanders would not be that. He is not that.
So what is he?
If you ask the Millennials, they’ll say he’s “genuine and committed.” I think that’s true, and more worthy of weight than most politicians will credit, but Bernie Sanders is also the true realist among those who claim they want social change. He sees clearly that we can’t put all our financial, intellectual and creative resources into shoring up enormous financial institutions and funding military “solutions,” and still take care of the basic needs and rights of our fellows. Our fellow-Americans. Our fellows-in-need. He’s the one candidate who’s willing to call out the root problem, which is – to be blunt – unconstrained greed. What Bernie Sanders helped me see was that if we want to remain even the shadow of a truly civilized nation, we–the-citizens must take a good look at that greed. And we must vote to constrain it.
Even a glance at Wall Street politics and attitudes, and at the growing gap between the truly rich and the truly poor, makes this clear. Greed is unfettered, even applauded, in America. If you want to see where that is getting most Americans check out your local community. In Pittsburgh our food banks must work harder and harder to provide more meals for the growing numbers of families whose cupboards are bare. Our teachers must pay for some of the supplies they need to teach our children. We have yet to house all our homeless.
And we are not alone in having these problems. So I began to think about how much harder it is to fund schools, maintain roads and bridges, and provide housing and health care when our nation’s military spending accounts for about 54% of all federal discretionary spending. Last year the military budget was over $601,000,000,000 (that’s billions.) Then there’s this: when we send young people to war in places where we do not even belong, they return so mentally, spiritually and physically damaged that they swell the ranks of the homeless and those in need of major medical care.
Our current system of banking and investment, our unrealistic “minimum wage” and our failure to assist and educate our veterans and our poor are all major contributors to the economic inequality that is pulling America apart. We need to rethink the structure of public services and citizens’ rights. Everyone should be able to live in an environment that doesn’t poison them and have access to a real education. This inequality is sometimes justified by the myth of “the level playing field,” where everyone can compete. But there is no level playing field. The system is rigged in favor of those who already have a lot. And this basic inequity underwrites the problems tearing families and communities apart.
I wish I was over-stating this, but our situation is actually quite desperate. “Ladders of opportunity” are not enough to create significant change in the wealth distribution in America. In medical terms, we’re a body in the grip of sepsis. Unless serious measures are employed, we will die.
The list of problems in America that Bernie Sanders articulates is daunting. But it’s real. Solutions will require deep innovation, courage, sacrifice and work. As a voter, I don’t expect every part of every program to be worked out in detail right now. I don’t even expect every program to succeed right out of the gate. What I do expect is for all of us to be grown-ups, and admit that the system as it stands is not only morally bankrupt, it’s actually unworkable. We have not been “the first and best nation in the world” for a long time and our abandonment of the largest part of our population has brought us to the edge of true social breakdown.
So here’s why I’m voting for Bernie Sanders. He’s right. We need to break up the banks, provide better educational opportunities, and stop sending our young people to die in conflicts that are not even ours. We need to stop thinking we are the fixers the world, and begin to address our own broken society. We have to stop feeding the bank accounts of independent military contractors and Wall Street brokers, and start feeding the five-year-olds whose parents are working two jobs that even together cannot buy dinner. I invite you to investigate Sanders’ decades of visionary work and dedicated service. He can do this job. Bernie Sanders can lead this effort, and it’s exciting to see the number of local and national politicians, scholars, newspapers and unions who have left the herd behind, in order to stand with him to create real change. Even more exciting is the number of independent voters and young people voting for the first time who are willing to enter the fray and march for, caucus for, and man-the-phone-banks for Bernie Sanders. They’re working to protect their fellows, and rebuild their country and their future. I hope they won’t mind a grandmother in the ranks. The time has come, my friends. The time has come today.
Copyright 2016 Deborah Bogen.