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The Buzz about Bernie A Working Class Consciousness Emerges

November 13, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld

Chill winds blew through Rockland county earlier this week, but that didn’t stop phone bank volunteers from gathering in private homes in the area to make phone calls to the Hawkeye State to urge participants in the upcoming caucuses to consider giving their support to presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders.

On the same day that nationwide demonstrations were taking place to support the “Fight for $15,” these callers were engaging the political process in a slightly different way, and each took a few minutes of their time to explain how and why they viewed Senator Sanders as the right choice for the middle class. The participants were anything but cookie cutter. Each had a unique slant and perspective on the issues which affect working people today. Gina I., of Tappan, NY was gracious and committed enough to host the event. She reached her political position partially by witnessing her 20 year old son’s involvement. Back in July, he had asked permission to use the house for a “Bernie Broadcast.

About 3,000 of them took place across the country that night, and Gina’s house was one of those locations. The words she heard moved her from interest to activism. Her primary concern is what she terms social justice, and she includes environmental justice under that umbrella. Another of her concerns is the recent Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling. She sees Bernie as a  champion for these causes, because he is not taking any super pac financing, and therefore will not be beholden to corporations. “ He is different from Hillary,” she says, “he’s not afraid to stand up to big money.” Gina went on to say that “ he [Bernie] stands up for labor in ways that no other candidate does, on a long list of issues that affect both working families and the unemployed.” Though she did not claim to be a member of any union herself, she is “completely in support of a worker’s right to organize and bargain collectively.

Another volunteer, Steve L., was a young man from New City, NY, who was born and raised in suburban Rockland County. Unlike Gina, he has a history of political activism. He volunteered for both Obama campaigns, and several local elections as well. His introduction to Bernie was also different. He first began to follow him, a little over a year ago, after hearing a radio segment called “Brunch with Bernie” which is a regular feature on the Thom Hartmann show. Steve was attracted to what he sees as Bernie’s “progressive views and economic policies.”  When asked to be more specific, Steve was quick to reply “ Bernie doesn’t believe in giving in to Wall Street, like so many other politicians. He’s not being financed by corporate interests. He’s a man of the people. He cares more about the welfare of the working class than any other candidate.

Also a member of the group was Angela L. of Hillsdale, NJ. At age 23, she is indicative of her generation in that she first encountered Bernie on Facebook. That was shortly before the Democratic debate. She then began to read about all the candidates and she “fell in in love” with Bernie’s policy of refusing super pac funding, and “getting money out of politics.”  Angela, like Gina, considers herself an environmentalist and applauds his avowed opposition to the Keystone Pipeline. She too, a mechanical engineer by profession, and not a union member, sees labor rights as a critical issue. She expressed her support for the $15.00 minimum wage, because to her it is obvious that no one should be “working full time and living below the poverty line.” Not one to listen to hearsay, Angela did her own research and read the summary of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that was just released. It literally brought tears to her eyes as she envisioned the nation hemorrhaging jobs the way it did after the passage of NAFTA and CAFTA.

Angela recalled driving through the town of Edgewater NJ with her dad when she was younger. He would point out to her the locations of where factories once stood, that were now the sites for luxury housing. At some point she realized “that can’t be good for the economy.” Finally, there was Sharon from Riverdale, NJ. Recently retired, she spent her working life in what she described as middle management positions. A selective television viewer, she first saw Bernie Sanders on a PBS news program. She was drawn to his idea of a level playing field, and finds the current inequality of income and wealth in the U.S. to be an unhealthy state of affairs.Sharon remembers her father coming home from working in the garment district on Saturday at noon, and the whole family preparing to sit down together for dinner. She states with pride that although her father never had the opportunity to complete his education, he “moved up through the ranks” and because he was a member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, he made a good living and was able to provide for his family.

She doesn't see where there are opportunities like that for people today. “It’s like we are back in the days of the robber barons,” says Sharon.  We need to change that way of thinking. Everyone should enjoy a fair share of profits. CEOs need to understand that they wouldn’t have a company if it wasn’t for the workers.”The volunteers differed in age and gender and political experience. The juncture at which they all met was a deep and genuine concern that our political process has been hi-jacked by corporate interests. Their presence at the phone bank was evidence that they all still believe that it is possible to repair what they see as broken, and that the system can still work for everybody. Standing in her kitchen, before she went back to the phones, Gina was clear in her message: “Bernie’s goal is to activate the citizenry. That’s the only hope for change.”

November 12, 2015

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