Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Sunday, February 28, 2016

We Have to Try: The Case for Bernie Sanders

“We have to try.”

So said the writer of a heavy metal rock anthem for Bernie Sanders titled, “Come on, Feel the Bern.”

Such is the anthem for those of us of all ages, races, faiths, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and every other diverse category in this country who believe our democracy has been hijacked by big money and entrenched power elites.

For close to 40 years, our country has been on a backward trajectory characterized by the failed theory of trickle-down economics—the notion that giving tax cuts and breaks to the wealthy will cause prosperity to “trickle down” to everyone else, a paradigm that failed miserably in the last century’s first decades, leading up to the Great Depression.

Today’s Democratic Party found its direction in the New Deal, a compromise that not only saved capitalism but resulted in decades of prosperity in which “a rising tide lifted all boats.”

In that era, blue collar workers could realize their dreams of becoming homeowners. Children of immigrants could attend college for free in some places and at reasonably low costs at other, public colleges. We had a social safety net that protected the old, the sick, the poor, and the most vulnerable.

We had a government that invested in its infrastructure and in its young people. We had a burgeoning middle class and legislation known as Glass Steagall, passed specifically to assure the American people never again experienced another Great Depression.

And we went to the Moon.

But then, Ronald Reagan came and pushed trickle down on a society that had largely forgotten the horrors of the Great Depression.

And unfortunately, we had a Democratic Party that too often complied with Reagan’s undermining of our social safety net. Eventually, a group within the party led by the Clintons formed the Democratic Leadership Council, a movement that sought to move the party to the right under the erroneous assumption that doing so would win the party national elections.

Over my own reservations, I listened to a good friend and campaigned for Bill Clinton in 1992. Yet at the same time, I publicly expressed the concern that Clinton would buy victory at the cost of the Democratic Party’s soul.

Then we got the crime bill, a tougher “war on drugs” with mandatory sentencing for non-violent offenders, “free trade” agreements that Ross Perot rightfully warned would lead to a “giant sucking sound” of jobs being shipped overseas, and finally, Newt Gingrich’s disastrous “welfare reform”—actually welfare repeal—bill, that consigned millions of working people to extreme poverty.

The Democratic Party did lose its soul, the very reason it captured so much popular support in earlier times, while our middle class faced assault on all sides, and our poorest, most vulnerable people were left to die and the words “liberal” and “progressive” were demonized.

At some point, 50 percent or more of the populace decided that voting between Republican and Republican lite was simply not worth it.

As more and more wealth went to the one percent, and the 99 percent struggled to stay afloat, the beginnings of a progressive movement began to rise. Occupy Wall Street proved a major turning point. Before the 2011 protest, no one would even mention income inequality. After Occupy, the concept of the super wealthy one percent versus the ever more struggling 99 percent entered the mainstream political lexicon and people’s consciousness.

Having a few very wealthy people, little to no middle class, and an overwhelming majority in poverty is one of the defining characteristics of a Third World country. Yet it is exactly what we have become.

It isn’t just our infrastructure, much of which was built through New Deal programs 80 years ago, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, that is crumbling. Our middle class, the backbone of all industrialized, First World countries, is crumbling just as much and just as quickly.

An old line from the 1960s states, “You’re either part of the solution, or part of the problem.” Candidates like Hillary Clinton, in whom Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Pharma, and other corporate polluters have so deeply invested are part of the problem—meaning they cannot be part of the solution.

Their loyalties have already been bought and paid for, and not by the 99 percent.

Bernie Sanders alone is running for president without having been bought by those who are the problem, which is why he alone is free to represent all of us, the 99 percent.

His candidacy was ignored, then ridiculed as a long shot by the mainstream media because it threatens their entrenched interests.

Yet, in spite of having every possible disadvantage, Bernie has defied the odds and transitioned from a protest, “fringe” candidate to a mainstream one.

And polls matching both him and Hillary Clinton against the leading Republican presidential candidates almost all show him doing better than Clinton.

Yet the mainstream media continue to write his political obituary, magnifying his every setback and downplaying his every triumph.

They have crossed the line from reporting his campaign to sabotaging it, which is why we cannot be influenced by anything their pundits and commentators say.

Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate I can support in this race. I support him because his vision is that of the New Deal, the Great Society, the GI Bill, the policies that brought us decades of prosperity and took us to the Moon.

Bernie never was anything but the underdog in this Democratic race, the candidate running against big money and the party establishment. His campaign isn’t on its last legs. If he does not win the nomination, it isn’t because his movement has declined from its peak; it is because it has not yet reached its peak.

Far from being a “single-issue” candidate, he is one who advocates a broad spectrum of ideas, starting with what amounts to a new New Deal rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. He understands that free college is not a handout but an investment. Today, many young people are going to Europe for low-cost or even free college educations. How many will stay there and contribute their talents to those countries instead of to ours?

Those who object to his single payer proposal likely do not realize that we are already paying to treat the uninsured and under-insured. We are spending more per capita on health care than any other industrialized country, but getting poorer outcomes. What Bernie is really proposing is increasing the efficiency of our health care—more bang for each buck. That turns out to be far less threatening than the mainstream media would lead us to believe.

On “Hardball” the other night, Chris Matthews pressured Bernie as to how he would get the 60 Senate votes needed to pass the legislation that makes up his agenda. Unfortunately, Bernie’s answer did not register in Matthews’ view of the world.

Everything will not suddenly change on January 20, 2017 if Bernie is elected president. The political revolution Bernie points to is a process, a re-awakening of people’s involvement in the political process. It will take time.

Yes, Bernie will face obstructionism. Those taking part in his movement will need to stay active, to keep showing up outside the House and Senate windows. Things will be tumultuous in the beginning; that is always how change is.

Where he can, Bernie will use executive orders to transform our corrupt campaign finance system and undo Citizens United. Meanwhile, the movement will groom and prepare a new group of progressive candidates to run for House and Senate seats across the country in 2018 and fundraise from the same small donors who contributed to Bernie.

We already have major obstructionism in government. With Bernie, the difference is, it won’t just be the Republicans or officeholders who are fighting. It will be us.

Reversing 40 years of trickle down, of having gone in the wrong direction, will not happen overnight. It will not be easy. But it can be done.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step. For this country, that step is making a U-turn and heading back in the right direction, much the way an alcoholic who hits bottom commits at that moment to making a change.

We have to try.