Fight for someone you don’t know. Health care is a human right. Billionaires should not exist. People over profit. Not me, us. To Bernie Sanders, these sayings weren’t just applause lines or bumper stickers. They’re his life’s work.
With his campaign suspended, the Vermont senator’s presidential ambitions appear to have ended. Yet as a global pandemic exposes the deep vulnerabilities of our economy and health care system, the case for the bold visions of change his campaign promoted has never been stronger.
When historians look back at Sanders, they’ll be sure to note that. They’ll also undoubtedly note that he never gave up the fight. Not one inch, not ever.
It would be totally understandable if, in the wake of an exhausting campaign, Sanders wanted to take some time to relax. He does not. Instead, Sanders has continued to fight for working people as the economy continues its freefall and the death count from COVID-19 soars.
He continues to cry foul against the inherent injustice of skyrocketing economic inequality and pandemic profiteering. He’s promoted a new study from the Institute for Policy Studies, for example, showing that during the early weeks of the pandemic, US billionaire wealth increased by $282 billion — an almost 10% gain — while tens of millions of workers lost their jobs.
He continues to call for a rapid transition to “Medicare for All” as tens of millions of people lose their health insurance in a deadly pandemic. He regularly cites a recent study by The Lancet medical journal showing that our privatized health care system costs 68,000 unnecessary deaths — about the equivalent of a coronavirus pandemic — and $450 billion in unnecessary spending — every year, compared to Medicare for All.
I had the honour of working for Sanders for a few years before he ran for president. For part of that time I worked as his driver, spending full days with him tooling around to events — in a borrowed Saturn, with duct tape holding the bumper on, in D.C., or his comically small Chevy sedan in Vermont.
I sat through countless speeches that, as many have pointed out, don’t tend to change that much. The top 1% are getting richer. The rest of us are struggling. Love him or hate him, you have to admit he stays on message.
Perhaps more than any other politician in the modern era, Sanders has pushed forward a progressive movement for change — for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free college for all, free child care and pre-K for all, an end to mass incarceration, and so on.
And whatever his critics say, he was effective. In Congress, Sanders passed more amendments under a Republican Congress than any other member, leading admirers to call him the “Amendment King.” Because of his links to social movements, Sanders found ways to be effective even when the laws didn’t pass. In the Senate, he introduced a $15 minimum wage and launched a name-and-shame campaign against Amazon and Disney for paying starvation wages. The law didn’t pass. But soon after, both companies raised wages to at least $15 an hour.
With his slogan “not me, us,” Sanders inspired a movement that won’t end with this presidential primary — or with Sanders himself. These bold demands for human dignity, linked not to the narrow politics of Washington but the power of ordinary people working together, won’t go away — not when the current crisis is making them more relevant than ever.
They live now with the millions of us Sanders inspired to fight for his vision of a more just society.
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