Bernie Sanders, the seventy-eight-year-old senator from Vermont, did not emerge as the Democratic nominee in either of his two presidential bids (in 2016, and 2020), but he is said to have reshaped the American politics with his youth-led movement for sweeping a much-needed change in the country.
When Bernie Sanders first started seriously entertaining the prospect of bidding for the presidency, in 2014, he never used phrases like, ‘As President, I will…’, or ‘When I am President…’, instead he always talked about building movements and educating people. Even when he announced his candidacy, one would have expected a big rally in his home state, but all he did was walk out of the Senate, and held a ten-minute conference with a scrum of reporters, and headed back to work. So, the first words of his ‘political revolution’ were, ‘We don’t have an endless amount of time. I’ve got to get back.’
In his words, ‘a campaign has got to be much more than just getting votes and getting elected. It has got to be helping to educate people, organize people. If we can do that, we can change the dynamic of politics for years and years to come.’ Slowly, it became clear that Sanders’ anti-establishment, anti-billionaire message was taking off, and resonating with crowds. Crowds grew and grew, and he tapped into a seemingly bottomless pit of small-dollar online donations from supporters, and grew his campaign into a national organization.
However, Sanders failed to win the nomination in 2016 which instead went to Hilary Clinton, but following that, the Democratic party adopted the most progressive platform in its history. In the time since, Sanders has continued to have an overwhelming effect on the party’s politics, taking it further and further to the left.
On April 8, 2020, he withdrew from the U.S. presidential campaign, thus ending a remarkable, unprecedented phenomenon in American Politics: his emergence as a key candidate for the nomination of a party he didn’t even belong to and his movement to the front-runner position in the world’s leading capitalist country as a proud, self-described socialist. Despite ending his campaign, Sanders said he would keep his name on primary ballots in an effort to accrue delegates and press his policy agenda at the Democratic convention. However, he has pledged to throw his support behind former Vice President, Joe Biden in the general election. “Together, standing united, we will go forward to defeat Donald Trump,” he said. Throughout his political career, which spans over four decades, he has been the champion of the working class, the centre of his campaigns, both times, has been the need for a ‘revolution’, and to make the government work for all, and not just for the ‘top one percent.’ He even promised to take on big corporations, their lobby groups, and Wall Street.
Three major cornerstones for Sanders’ campaign have been: reworking the nation’s healthcare system, providing easy access to education, and increasing social welfare schemes. In the United States, if one loses his job, they’re also deprived of healthcare. Sanders wanted to change that, he had a plan to provide ‘Medicare for All’, i.e. a single player, national health insurance programme which promises comprehensive healthcare coverage, free at the point of service. Another one of Sanders’ key motives was to provide college education for all. In his campaign he guaranteed tuition, and debt-free public colleges, trade-schools, and universities for all. He even promised to cancel all student debt, he believed these steps would help end ‘equity gaps in higher education attainment.’
Furthermore, he also campaigned to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, from $7.5 per hour which was last revised in 2009. He also campaigned to increase funding for social security programmes and housing projects. He also supports unions, and wants employees to be represented in company boards. He was also the first of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders to back the ‘Green New Deal’, a resolution introduced by Congress’ most progressive lawmakers, outlining goals and principles, for the US fight against global warming and climate change.
Several of his ideas have become part of the core platform of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, including ‘Medicare for All’, free public college, a $15 minimum wage, and increasing spending to deal with climate change. Sanders has also played an important role in the rise of the youth, and leading a multicultural movement of politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who is likely to become the face of the party in the near future.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and young progressive leaders like her continue to push for an agenda first popularized by Sanders (who is technically not a Democrat). She is an unabashed leftist, with the support of Democratic Socialists of America and various progressive organizations. Running on a platform of ‘Medicare for All’, and abolishing Ice and a federal jobs guarantee, she is unafraid of calling out capitalism and corporatism. During his two campaigns, Sanders also set a new standard in the way campaigns raise funds, rejecting high-dollar donations, and building a massive grassroots movement with small-dollar donations.
Even Joe Biden was quoted saying, “I want to commend Bernie for being a powerful voice for a fairer and more just America…He doesn’t get enough credit for being a voice that forces us all to take a hard look in the mirror and ask if we’ve done enough.” Thus, even though Bernie Sanders’ campaigns have ended, his influence on the current election and on the overall American politics is far from over, he has inspired the youth and paved the way for them to be the driving force of change in the country.