Senator Bernie Sanders at Ventura College, 2016. Photo credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
In 2000, I was a member of the Green Party and working for its presidential candidate, Ralph Nader. A twenty-something living in San Francisco, I took the bus every day to the Green Party’s campaign office in the city’s Mission District. It was a cavernous, dusty old store-front with political posters decorating its windows and an open front door that encouraged passersby to drop in.
We were a rag-tag group of volunteers: retirees, students, people barely making it economically, techies, and some trust-fund kids. We all were exhilarated by Nader’s message that our political system was corrupt, and that the Democrats were clearly sell-outs to progressive values after eight years of Bill Clinton. Voting for Nader and the Green Party was the way to change the political system.
I was at the headquarters on election night. It was a celebration. But, I felt unease in my stomach when a volunteer came over and hugged me, saying, “Yay, Al Gore lost!” Was this really a good thing? Was there really no difference between Gore and George W. Bush, as I’d heard repeated over and over?
By 2004, I realized there were significant differences between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Gore wouldn’t have led us into a war in Iraq based on doctored maps and flagrant lies. Gore wouldn’t have rolled out an energy policy that was informed by the oil and gas industries, and he wouldn’t have withdrawn the United States from the Kyoto Protocol. He wouldn’t have established Guantanamo or appointed conservative justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Though I still believed in much of the Green Party’s political platform, I knew that I needed to do my part to defeat Bush. I started a national campaign group called Greens for Kerry. Along with two friends, and in coalition with other Greens nationwide, we successfully worked non-stop for seven months to encourage Green party members in swing states to support John Kerry, and for the Green Party presidential candidate not to campaign in swing states.
Over the years, I started to feel distance from Green party members who seemed to regard their party leaders as messianic figures who could do no wrong. By re-registering as a Democrat, I could use my vote to support progressive candidates and policies while also working within the confines of our problematic two-party dominant system. I voted for Obama twice, and felt ambivalent about his two terms in office — satisfied with some domestic legislative victories, disappointed with some of his foreign policy positions.
In this election, I hear from some Bernie Sanders supporters echoes of the kind of language we Green party members used in 2000. Biden today like Al Gore then: a feeble vessel of a corrupt system. He will backtrack on any progressive promises he makes. It doesn’t matter if his opponent wins. Our job is to change the system, not shore it up.
Bernie Sanders created a movement that has given a powerful voice to millions of people in a political system that is overrun by corporate interests. He has pushed Joe Biden and other moderate leaders in the Democratic party to adopt some of his policy positions. He has also clearly articulated that a political revolution does not occur in one election.
Our democracy was designed to make the legislative process a tedious one that forces moderation and compromise. Political change happens slowly. Even if Sanders had become president, he couldn’t possibly have achieved all the aims of his “revolution” in four years — or even eight.
Does Joe Biden have flaws? Absolutely. No candidate is perfect: They’re politicians, not prophets. But Joe Biden is not a racist, xenophobic, science-denier, anti-woman demagogue like Donald Trump.
Progressives who refuse to vote for Joe Biden because he doesn’t fulfill their idealistic political visions should know that the stakes are too high. If you want to advance any social, economic, or environmental issues, then the choice is obvious. The progressive movement will have a voice and significant impact under President Joe Biden. There is zero chance of any political progress, and only more devastating rollbacks, if Trump is re-elected. I still am “green” — but I’m also proud to vote for Joe Biden this November.
Sarah Newman is a communications and social impact strategist in Washington, D.C.