The tender activist: Why Bernie

The tender activist: Why Bernie

scottie campbellWe’ve often heard the phrase “survival of the fittest” bandied about to the point that it is a concept we readily accept. But in his epiphany-fueled book Life’s Operating Manual, comedy film director Tom Shadyac points out Charles Darwin only used this phrase “twice in The Descent of Man but used the word love 95 times.” Darwin actually emphasizes mankind’s ability to cooperate and sympathize as keys to our survival – physically we’re inferior to many beings on the planet, so it stands to reason.

My guess is our most easily accessed emotions, fear and anger, have distanced us from Darwin’s reality. Industrialization and technology have left most of us ill-equipped to survive in actual nature. Through conditioning and training, we have arrived in 2016, collectively, as a reluctantly-huddled mass of selfish fucks.

Over the past year, America has been introduced to the concept of democratic socialism and a remarkable amount of people – 18,000 gathered at a Bernie Sanders rally in Colorado this month, for instance – have studied and embraced the theory. Still others have a knee-jerk reaction to socialism born of Truman era propaganda against communism, ironically manufactured to mask faulty presidential governance, but I digress. You can nutshell democratic socialism to this: government by the people, for the people. Say, that sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?

Art Garfunkel was on CNN in January to explain why he gave permission for the Simon and Garfunkel tune “America” to be used for a television commercial supporting Bernie Sanders. As he watched the stirring ad with host Michael Smerconish, its bucolic imagery neatly timed with guitar strums and lyrics, he described in phrases what he liked about Sanders, and the 74-year-old poet’s face was younger than it ever has been. He is waking up to a dream, I thought to myself. A dream he has never forgotten exactly, but is amazed could still become reality.

I recognized that look on Garfunkel’s face. It gave me a flashback to my 18-year-old self and the moment my spirit took its first real blow, soundly delivered by my dad. His advice regarding the goal in question – to attend college – was to “take off my rosy-colored glasses.” He emphasized the statement by slowly miming removal of said glasses – the theatrics a touch ironic, since my plan was to pursue a theater career. Higher education itself wasn’t the issue; paying for it was. I would eventually finish college at 29, racking up an unmanageable amount of debt. Dad, incidentally, achieved his degree a few years after me, earned by his service in the military. Our military, by the by, is a great example of socialism in action.

Making a college education accessible to all of our citizens is among the elements of Bernie Sanders’ vision for America that have been labeled “pie-in-the-sky.” I’m surprised Americans have any tolerance for such a dismissive term. Imagine the number of times it, or something similar, was uttered in the course of our history and, if people had listened, what little would have been accomplished. I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, the beginning of our country was a pie-in-the-sky idea forged by people wearing rosy-colored goggles. Declaring a plan pie-in-the-sky indicates that you think it’s a good idea but fear the odds against it; you are not so much a pragmatist as you are a coward.

Sanders’ platform is packed with these good ideas. We made great strides with healthcare under President Obama, but even he knows there were too many compromises. Let’s get fully realized universal healthcare. It’s unconscionable that people work 40 or more hours a week and live in poverty. How about a $15 minimum wage for all? A strategy proven, even in America, to be economically beneficial. Sanders stunned his fellow candidates during the first Democratic debate when he correctly identified climate change as our country’s greatest national security threat. It is an answer that proves Sanders connects the dots, addressing the whole picture. These are hard ideas to denounce for any other than political reasons.

Somewhere along the line the so-called American Dream became less about the pursuit of genuine happiness and more about stuff, the riches it takes to get more stuff, and forsaking all others to get that stuff. “Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?” wailed Biff Loman in 1949. But the “something” has happened: a cockeyed distribution of wealth with rising poverty levels and a government either too scared or too corrupt to take measures to fix it. Bernie Sanders knows we desperately need a different dream, one toward a more sentient America.

The political revolution Bernie Sanders is leading strikes some as radical, but I think its roots are actually basic. It’s interesting to note that more than one artist – including Chad Mize of St. Petersburg – has depicted Sanders as a Sesame Street character. His name is an obvious mashup of roommates Bert and Ernie, but the connection goes deeper. In that fictional neighborhood, many of us learned the building blocks of being a good citizen: cooperation and sympathy. Darwin knew it; it’s how we’ll survive.

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