It was early in 2016 when I first heard the name Bernie Sanders. I was 14 years old and wasn’t super into politics. But when you’re a marginalized teen growing up in America, you’re bound to come in contact with them in some way. Because when it pertains to you, it’s a matter of survival.
At that point, all I knew about the presidential race was that between the Democratic candidates there was Hiliary Clinton, a name I had heard before, and Sanders, one I had not. Through screenshots of Twitter threads and half-hearted conversations between class, I gathered what he stood for — progressive policies surrounding healthcare and free tuition for college students.
Even though I couldn’t vote, I still rooted for him because he seemed like someone who would do good for the country as president. When he lost the nomination that year, I was, of course, disappointed but I hadn’t lost all hope because, surely, in the end, things wouldn’t be too bad, would they?
On Wednesday, four years later, sitting in my room alone 30 minutes before my now-virtual Spanish class, in the middle of a global pandemic, hearing that Bernie Sanders dropped out of the 2020 presidential race feels a lot like that morning of November 9, 2016 after Donald Trump got elected. My mom drove me to school that day and the world felt like it was going in slow motion. Trying to encourage me, my mom shared with me how she managed to survive the eight-year Ronald Reagan presidency in the 1980s and to just take it day by day, “because for now, that’s all we really can do.”
Well it’s now been 1,247 days since the night of the 2016 election and I can honestly tell you, I can’t do this mess again.
Sanders Showed Us His Receipts
Last November, Sen. Sanders came to the Atlanta University Center and despite the unfortunate level of caucasity in the audience, those of us who were able to make it through, made it loud and clear that we were in support of his policies. From my own personal dig through Sanders’ political history, he stands out because he is someone who has literally been on the front lines of social movements throughout history.
There are pictures of him on the streets protesting during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. I’m not saying that he was a perfect candidate. But when you have someone who dedicated an entire speaking event like he did at AUC, focusing on getting black students to see that you’re the candidate who really cares about them and their voice, it helps to have the receipts to back you up.
First-Time Voters Face Obstacles
One of the points that I’ve seen brought up constantly about Bernie Sanders is that in the 2020 race, he failed to capture the same momentum of youth activism that his campaign had in 2016. Speaking as a first time voter, that’s a generalization that ignores a lot of key factors:
1. Voter registration is not an easy process. You would think that since voting is a civic duty, the process would be a bit easier. I can only speak for my experience voting in Georgia, but the website is extremely outdated, and isn’t very accessible on a phone or tablet. When the alternative is to register by mail, a process that adds a lot worry about whether your registration will arrive on time, that’s not a good look.
2. You have to take into account what might be going on in a person’s life. For most low income or working class people, leaving their job to stand in line to vote might not be feasible for them. Even if they want to go out and do it, people might not be able to afford a ride to the polls. The election process is not something accessible and equal for all.
Voter Suppression is Still a Problem
3. Voter suppression, especially in communities of color is running rampant. Certain areas only have one or two polling locations open, which means what should be a quick 20-minute process can easily turn into a seven-hour procedure. When voters are “purged” from the system, leaving people to have to triple check their status, there’s a problem. When the Mayor of Kansas City is literally turned away from the polls because he wasn’t in the system, there is a problem.
The 4th factor is the newest one — there is a global pandemic going on that requires people to be six feet apart from each other. Or better yet, stay home. So when you have states like Wisconsin, a state that, after a Supreme Court ruling, still held a primary on Tuesday, voters who are immunocompromised, working essential jobs or low income voters who cannot afford it, are all cut off from voting. One of the main things I’ve admired about Bernie Sanders was that he’s been taking the time, as this pandemic situation has worsened, to actually go out and help people who are at risk. Even though he was trying to campaign, he’s still a human being. Meanwhile, his opponent Joe Biden, has, well, I can’t even say with 100% confidence that he’s alive at the moment.
I’m devastated that this is what it’s come to — my first time voting and it comes down to two old white men — Donald Trump and Joe Biden — who have multiple accusations of sexual assault against them. This is the part where I know i’m supposed to regroup and figure out how to recoup from the punches, but God, am I tired.
Bernie wasn’t gonna be the answer to all of this. If he got elected, the world wasn’t magically going to turn around and become a perfect utopia. There is so much work to be done and especially after the COVID-19 virus is gone, the world is never going be how it once was.
But Bernie was someone I trusted to at least to start the process to create change. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Or what will happen when I go to vote. Or even what the world will look like on Election Day 2020.
But things feel a lot less optimistic now than before I went to bed last night.
Above photo: Via his Facebook page Wednesday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he was dropping out of the 2020 and thanked supporters.