COLUMN OP ED: Sanders to the Second Power

Updated 8 years ago By Tom H. Hastings

With no assistance from the major media, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is drawing larger crowds than any candidate currently running for anything in the US. The largest crowd to date was in my town, Portland, Oregon, this past week. More than 28,000 showed up to hear a skinny 73-year-old white-haired curmudgeon rant and promise.

He also had a secret weapon he unveiled to great effect.

Symone Sanders is a 25 year-old African American who is now Sanders’s press secretary. But more powerfully, she was the MC, introducing three young speakers in a series of endorsements and short warm-ups—labor, immigrants, and climate change. They all did very well indeed.

But Symone Sanders blasted it over the fence in her eight minutes on the most divisive issue facing the nation and the Sanders campaign—violence against unarmed African Americans. She took it head-on, simply calling for a new national spirit of justice and reconciliation with a powerful denunciation of the systemic violence that divides us so painfully. She didn’t shrink from saying Black Lives Matter, nor from naming many of those killed in the past 12 months around the nation. She brought the house down with her charismatic clarity. It wasn’t rage; it was a pitch-perfect channeling of the pain felt by so many for so long, but framed with determined hope and challenge. In the words of Annie Dillard, I felt like a bell that had been lifted and struck. Tens of thousands echoed that resonance. Sanders the Younger finished, said thank you, and Sanders the Elder strode out to a tumultuous crowd on fire—Portland could “feel the Bern.”

Bernie’s speech was a synthesis of the catalog of problems the Occupy movement addressed with almost zero effectiveness anywhere. Where the Occupy movement was outside electoral politics, Sanders is the first to forcefully bring it all inside. He excoriated the anti-democratic Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, that redefines corporations as people and introduces unprecedented levels of corruption into politics that make Daley’s Chicago or Boss Tweed’s New York look like choir practice.

Bernie called our extreme income inequality the “great moral issue of our time,” and offered a several-point program to mitigate it. He called for support for the Iran nuclear deal—and this is from a certified Jewish friend of Israel.

He outlined a plan to bring a great deal more funds to help reduce or eliminate college expenses for qualified students—effectively a mass scholarship for hardworking US students. His presidency would signal an end to oil corporate impunity and strong climate change mitigation measures. He was rhetorical about some issues, borderline wonkish about others, and never finished more than two sentences without needing to wait for the boisterous, thunderous applause to subside.

If Sanders continues to capture hearts and minds, he will be the next president in the greatest upset since a peanut farmer knocked off an incumbent insider during America’s Bicentennial year. If he continues to surround himself with talented, dedicated, articulate and passionate young campaign workers he might just make it happen.


Dr. Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.