(A note: I went to a rally for Bernie on Saturday, and I’m going to quote a bit from him, in case you were wondering where some of the quotations/mentions were coming from. I’ll attach pictures from the rally at the bottom).
In 2016, I’d say my trajectory in life was changed. The political scene, as I’ve discussed in the past, became a part of my every day life because of Bernie Sanders. I discovered that I was a progressive, that I cared about the plight of the working class, of the underprivileged, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I’d also say that I became enamored with the man that was/is Bernie Sanders. It wasn’t a personality cult to me or anything, but his story — more importantly his story of becoming a radical — was of incredible interest to me.
Bernie started out his life in Brooklyn, not far from where I live. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who didn’t speak a lick of English, and his mother was a first generation American Jew. Bernie grew up in a small rent controlled apartment, and he often says that he “learned democracy on the streets of Brooklyn.” Playing games with his friends, learning to share, learning what fairness was — those were integral things in his political development.
However, perhaps one of the most important things in his political development (or maybe his radicalization) was the fact that a lot of his family has died in the Holocaust. He’s quoted saying “A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important.” Of course, Bernie didn’t mention himself in that quote, because he doesn’t like talking about himself (he made that a central part of his launch rally). When he spoke about his family’s murder at the rally, I could see the pain on his face.
Bernie went on to go to high school at James Madison in Brooklyn (which is also where I went to high school! And where Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Chuck Schumer did, too), spend a year at Brooklyn College, and then transfer to the University of Chicago. It was here that Bernie’s formal “radicalization” began.
Bernie was extremely active in the civil rights era. Journalist and activist Shaun King spoke at Bernie’s rally about a time where the Chicago school district was trying to install trailers for black children to learn in — in order to keep the schools segregated. Bernie, along with a multiracial group of other students, stood in front of bulldozers chained together to stop the construction. There’s an incredibly famous picture of Bernie, (which I’ll embed) of him being arrested by Chicago police while protesting. Shaun King said “Bernie wouldn’t let his feet touch the ground!”
In addition to all the other activism he did on the local level (sit ins, organizing, being the Chair of the Congress of Racial Equality at UChicago) he also took part in the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At Bernie’s rally, both Shaun King and Our Revolution President Nina Turner quoted Dr. King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I think that Bernie’s rebellion in times of challenge and controversy is a realization of his radical nature (and one of the things that I admire most about him).
Trump most recently (in a tweet) called him “Crazy Bernie.” Shaun King embraced the term. He said that Bernie had to be a little crazy to do the things he did. He had to be a little crazy to chain himself to other students in front of a bulldozer, he had to be a little crazy to be such a radical and so rebellious, and he’s got to be a little crazy, as a democratic socialist, to run for president again.
I could go on for a long time about Bernie’s further radical history, but we’d be here for a while. But, I’ll give you the short of it: He ran a handful of times as a third party candidate in Vermont, before becoming mayor of Burlington by just 10 votes. He went on to become a Congressman, a Senator, and a (now) two-time presidential candidate. He did all of these things, not as a Democrat, but as an Independent (Except maybe his presidential runs. Those are a bit more complicated).
Despite my personal love for Bernie, he represents a lot of what I’m trying to find out about myself in this paper. His radical journey is evident, and his reasonings are sound. How will I grapple with mine? We’ll see.
Here are some photos from the rally: