Seriously, I am the last person in the world to discuss politics. Not that I don’t have an opinion, because, of course, I always have one. But politics is a broad term that encompasses lifestyle, money, business, education, housing, basically infrastructures in every area of our America. I don’t have the wherewithal to blog about such a complex and tangled topic because I don’t have the background or understanding or library to support claims unequivocally, but I would love to at least discuss the politics of my little home state, and the possibility of listening to a politician who has built his career on caring about real people like me. If you go to work each weekday and at the end of the month wonder about paying bills or how your children might repay their college loans or how your grandchildren might have clean water to drink and a climate that isn’t completely compromised by our carelessness in 20 years, then you are like me. I believe we all need to begin the discourse of politics, even those of us who have degrees in literature and not law, even those of us who feel inadequate to express our views, and within that discourse begin to truly educate ourselves.
Here in Vermont we are proud of our Senators: our senior Senator Leahy has been in office since 1975 and is know for his honesty and bi-partisan committee work on a wide range of issues. Senator Sanders is serving his second term, after 16 years in Congress, and has just entered the presentational race. “The 73-year-old former Burlington mayor and independent senator is beloved here by Vermonters who have adopted his bluntness, Brooklyn accent and stubbornly progressive views as their own” (Stableford). Beloved is the right word. Not because we are all liberals dashing around trying to radicalize the world but beloved because we care about our neighbors and Sanders does too, beginning with our youngest; Vermont is ranged the fifth highest in K-12th grade education “spending per pupil: $16,039” (USA Today). While Sanders served as the mayor of Burlington he kept his eye on the city’s Lake Champlain waterfront accessibility, as well as affordable housing, promoting programs for art and raising employment rates (Vermont has the 4th lowest unemployment rate) and accomplished these by generating votes through wide public support. Bernie is likeable. Beloved enough to move from mayor to Senator.
Also beloved because Vermont supports their family farmers and Sanders has championed that population long before it was trendy or profitable: “”There are lots of people capitalizing on consumer demand for local food,” says Sam Fuller at NOFA. He sees considerable growth in farming. In 2008, he said, there were 543 certified organic producers in Vermont, a three-fold increase from 1998 when there were 179 certified organic producers” (Edelstein). Vermont politicians continue to do what is necessary to aid the fresh food movement: farm to table or farm to school we Vermonters eat well.
Last week, Sanders held an official kick-off for his campaign, and several prominent Vermonters were on hand to endorse his bid for President. “What you see is what you get,” said Bill McKibben, an author and environmentalist who helped introduce Sanders. “He always means what he says, and he always says what he believes.” And everyone’s favorite ice cream maker had the crowd cheering when he took the stage. “He’s been saying the same stuff and doing the same stuff for the last 30 years,” said Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen, one of Sanders’ childhood friends. “If he wasn’t so inspiring, he’d be boring” (Stableford).
Do I think you should vote for Bernie Sanders for President in 2016? I really don’t know if he will even be on the ballot and supporting an individual candidate isn’t my goal here. But what I do know is that you should educate yourself by looking carefully at your local politicians and who backs them. Monsanto or you? Corporations or you? The 1% or you? Then follow your local politician to your state level. Inquire into their voting record. Is your senator, who makes over $200. an hour, opposing an increase to make the minimum wage a living wage? Is your Senator opposed to a woman’s right to choose, yet doesn’t support health care or education funding? Does your Senator visit people of all ages and incomes to hear their concerns? (Sanders has been to my high school multiple times to listen to students’ questions and provide answers).
Last November, 63 percent of Americans did not vote in the mid-term election; sadly, 80 percent of young people are included in that statistic. We need a candidate willing to challenge the status quo. I do believe Sanders will provide a much needed exposure of the wealth inequity that drives much of our current politics, on both sides of the aisle. The economy has been a Sander’s topic since day one. Standing on the shore of Lake Champlain, speaking to over 5,000 supporters, Sanders spoke about his presidential goals:
“Let me be very clear, there is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent and when 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent. There is something profoundly wrong when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans work longer hours for lower wages, and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on earth. There is something profoundly wrong when one family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans. This grotesque level of inequality is immoral. It is bad economics. It is unsustainable. This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about. This has got to change, and as your president, together we will change it.
But it is not just income and wealth inequality. It is the tragic reality that for the last 40 years the great middle class of our country – once the envy of the world – has been disappearing. Despite exploding technology and increased worker productivity, median family income is almost $5,000 less than it was in 1999. In Vermont and throughout this country it is not uncommon for people to be working two or three jobs just to cobble together enough income to survive on and some health care benefits.
The truth is that real unemployment is not the 5.4 percent you read in newspapers. It is close to 11 percent if you include those workers who have given up looking for jobs or who are working part time when they want to work full time. Youth unemployment is over 17 percent and African-American youth unemployment is much higher than that. Today, shamefully, we have 45 million people living in poverty, many of whom are working at low-wage jobs. These are the people who struggle every day to find the money to feed their kids, to pay their electric bills and to put gas in the car to get to work. This campaign is about those people and our struggling middle class. It is about creating an economy that works for all, and not just the one percent” (Sanders).
It is not that I am anti-wealth. In fact, I am proud of the philanthropic endeavors that Americans support. Buffet, Gates and Zuckerberg collectively donated 13 Billion dollars in 2012, (Adams). Staggering generosity. From my own extended family, there has been no end to the generosity given to me, my mother, my children, and even beyond our small circle, I see the pay-it-forward forces at work. It all seems so simple, that we take care of each other, like family, that we give each other support when needed; yet there is another drive in this county that revolves around money begetting more money, regardless of the outcome. Remember the recent recession, the coast to coast jobless rates, the flood of foreclosures, all caused by bank greed? Thankfully many in the US have weathered that storm and are moving toward fiscal stability. But it is time to safeguard our momentum by questioning every politician either on the local level or the bigger arena.
Take Jeb Bush for instance. Although it is a known fact that he will run, he is stalling his formal announcement into the presentational race and “personally raising scores of millions of dollars for his custom-tailored, supposedly independent super PAC, Right to Rise. Mr. Bush’s cynical pretense has netted him the largest dollar haul of the campaign so far, with a reported take of $100 million in super PAC money this year to put him ahead of his rivals. Tactics like his “non-declaration” have laid bare the Federal Election Commission’s abdication of its responsibility for policing campaign abuses” (The Editorial Board).
Sneaky, right? I am wary of his opaque agenda but besides that I have zero interest in a politician who governed a state that is ranked 36th in education, 28th in unemployment, where poverty levels are below the national level, the term “climate change” has been banned, and unsuspecting retired people are arriving daily to live in a state where health care is a disaster. “This dispute over Medicaid is the chief reason the Florida Legislature, with large GOP majorities in both houses, adjourned its annual session last week without passing a budget, as it must by July 1. The Senate, backed by hospitals and business groups, supported a plan to expand Medicaid, while the more conservative House, with Scott’s blessing, rejected that” (Fineout and Kennedy). Poor governing doesn’t even cover Jeb Bush’s legacy, (or his successor, Rick Scott) but it’s a pretty good indicator that real people, like you, like me, would not be his concern.
When I think of the Sanders’ campaign I have three great hopes: that he drives people to get involved in their local politics, that he drives people to investigate issues instead of accepting political rhetoric, and ultimately that he drives people to the voting booths on election day. In the end, I would love to know that corporate money and super PACs didn’t buy our next election. That real people who voted determined political offices, from mayor to the next president, and these forthright elected individuals lead our America into a brighter future for you, and me, and our babies.