Bernie Sanders is striking a chord with a broader segment of the electorate than almost anyone expected.It’s obvious from the crowds at his early campaign stops — some reportedly numbering in the thousands — that Bernie resonates with a considerable amount of American voters. With the Sanders campaign claiming more than 200,000 individual donors who have contributed an average of $40 each, one might say the verbose Senator’s grassroots supporters are growing by the day.
Sanders proclaims himself as a proud socialist, the only one in the Senate. What does that mean? It’s certainly not the same kind of “socialist” some fringe tea-party members accuse President Barack Obama of being. Bernie is the real deal, and far from some frightening Stalinist strawman fiction.
Bernie has championed the so-called radical left since his start in politics in Burlington, Vermont. Serving as mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1988, he expanded affordable housing, squashed a private development of the waterfront and helped usher in a co-op supermarket.
As a plague unto the world,
from atop inhospitable peaks,
a wicked rage unfurled and
came forth to proclaim superiority.
Fiction flags then built
a network of their Colonies,
and not an ounce of guilt
accompanied wretched policies.
How little men remember
of yesterday’s deceit, in the frigid dead December
of modernity’s defeat.
Humanity that were stripped
of it’s natural dignity,
too easily eclipsed
by our incivility.
When Brothers become alien
there can never be a Peace,
for hate is seed of warfare;
sowing season not to cease
The late April sun beat down on the little cadre of restless reporters and, for the first time in 2015, I felt the light tingle of subtle sunburn spread across my face. Some of us were pressed up against the bars of the fence surrounding the New Brunswick Counseling Center, hurriedly scribbling notes as we interviewed the handful of protesters that had been pushed out and gated off moments earlier. The large frame of the well-dressed man who had turned them away cast a shadow across our news cameras and the crowd of raucous demonstrators.
“Can I get your name,” I asked a protester after he agreed to be interviewed.
“Voiceless Black Man,” he answered, hanging on the wrought-iron fence as if it were the bars of a prison cell. His group had gathered to protest Governor Chris Christie’s decision to send some 150 N.J. State Troopers to help quell the unrest in Baltimore, which was set off by the death of Freddie Gray, a man who died in police custody after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury. (The next day, Christie extended the State Troopers detail beyond the original 72-hour period.)
“So, what brings you out here,” I asked. I was genuinely interested, but it wasn’t the reason I had come. Christie would soon be stepping out of the addiction treatment center, a depository of Methadone and Suboxone, to sign two bills regarding opioid-based painkiller addiction.
In truth, it seemed like the governor’s decision to send police to Maryland was just an excuse to reignite the Black Lives Matter protests in New Brunswick and keep the pressure on. Why not? After all, the marches that had been seen months earlier had resurged since the latest high profile killings, including one in South Jersey. The protester began his response calmly:
“The first part is holding the people who have the power to make change accountable for their power,” he said, giving a thoughtful glance downward before he continued. “Not doing anything is the same as doing something.”
Mass protests continue to rage in cities across the U.S. after grand juries neglected to indict the police officers responsible for the killings of unarmed men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, in Ferguson, MO and New York city, respectively. But it remains to be seen if the outrage and demands for justice and accountability will coalesce into something truly resembling a sustained social movement. The protests, which remain largely peaceful, have been rightfully focused on the extra-judicial killings of unarmed black men by police. But what if this issue, and many others that have surfaced recently in the American psyche, are symptomatic of a larger problem? An economic problem.
Poverty; the elephant in the room. Certainly race and poverty are closely interlinked. In a society where people of color have historically been marginalized time and again, at every turn, it makes sense that the poor will disproportionately be the non-whites. Therefore, wouldn’t it stand to reason that non-whites are also disproportionately victimized in a society which has left its poor behind? While the inherent racism in the structure of our society is a major factor, all who are excluded from the miniscule ranks of the extremely wealthy are at risk as the gap between poor and rich continues to widen. Injustice and exploitation are not simply racial issues. They are the manifestations of an unjust and vicious economic reality. They are human issues.
The utter impunity granted to police in these extrajudicial killings, only two of a myriad in 2014 alone, is symptomatic of a larger systemic problem. At a Dec. 4 summit of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, hosted in the unlikely choice of Monroe Township, a relatively affluent Middlesex County municipality known for its open space holdings and agricultural roots, speakers repeatedly cautioned that “poverty in a nation of plenty degrades everyone.” Georgian Court Professor Katsuri Dasgupta sought to hammer that idea home as she delivered a scathing critique of American society’s apparent inability or total unwillingness to address the structural underpinnings of poverty. Without true reforms to the institutions that perpetuate social inequality, she told the crowd of more than 200 attendees, even a tidal wave of government services, non-profit and grassroots efforts to eradicate poverty could only amount to spitting into the wind,
“The problem of poverty and inequality is ultimately a problem of insufficient jobs. Not just any jobs, but jobs that pay adequately so that people can live with dignity and their well-being intact.But the system of Capitalism is not in the business of providing jobs; at least, not the kind of jobs which allow people to realize their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Not because Capitalism has necessarily failed, but because it simply cannot.
… Capitalism is an economic system which has to continuously increase its profit margin if it is to survive; if it is to compete; if it is to drive its competitors out of market. Wages and salaries drain the profit margin more than anything. In its simple-minded drive to garner increasing levels of profit; finding cheap regions of labor, mechanizing work, diverting more and more capital to financial speculation; [Capitalism will do] anything that minimizes labor costs –and even eliminates the need for labor … But that leaves people and communities empty handed. People need work to survive; to flourish; to get ahead in life.” – Dasgupta, Dec. 4
According to a 2013 report from the non-partisan Pew Research Center, income inequality in the U.S. is at its highest levels since 1928, right before the stock market crash that lead to the Great Depression. Since the early 1970s, income has overwhelmingly gone to the top one percent of American earners. Shocking, I know. Well recently, Fortune reported that wealth inequality, or the actual value of all assets owned, is ten times worse than income inequality. Meanwhile, U.S. household debt has continued to increase, and national student debt easily sailed past the $1 trillion mark in 2013. It’s hardly a stretch to say that minorities have borne the brunt of this consolidation of wealth, but middle class Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds have suffered from this trend. And they stand to suffer more.
The alleged hazing-ritual-turned-sexual-assault among players on the football team had already been ravaging the borough for weeks. Seven players had been charged and arrested during the course of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s investigation, and now the culpability of the coaching staff was unclear. Why had these indefinite suspensions, with pay, been handed down so suddenly? The board president had insisted that no discussion regarding the termination of their employment had taken place, but a unanimous decision to dock their annual stipends seemed to be an ill omen.
Labbe, for his part, was preparing to issue a short statement to the dozens of wild-eyed, frantic journalists that were now encircling him like a group of sharks, each one more desperate than the next to devour the prey. Giant camera lenses were thrust into the superintendent’s face from all angles and, even as he spoke, questions were thrown at him in rapid succession.
When he finished giving some innocuous statement – something like, “we will be beginning our investigation shortly” – a final question came from somewhere within the throng: “Will you comment on rumors that you were overheard celebrating the coaches’ suspensions behind closed doors?”
Labbe shook his head and began to back away. When the group lurched forward and a few cameramen broke ranks to follow him, he finally realized just what sort of grave danger he was in. He turned around entirely and looked as if he were prepared to sprint off in any direction, but in an instant he was surrounded. A few school officials managed to help shepherd him out into the parking lot, where he threw terse and ambiguous responses and ‘no comments’ to the oncoming horde.