When We Stand Together: Bernie in Portland Was Especially Thrilling To Those Of Us Who've Been Here A While
The huge crowd Bernie Sanders drew here in Portland - 9,000-ish, after the campaign's initial plans for 300 in a modest venue - told us a few things about the state of our ever-evolving nation. Yes, there were lots of young people nodding their glad heads in agreement. But there were more of the rest of us - no longer young but still steadfast, hopeful, dreaming of better things. In a brawny speech that made more sense on more issues in a more substantive fashion than any we've heard in a long while, Sanders confirmed our stubborn faith in a political revolution that - his campaign and its thunderous response has made clear - many still yearn for. In the words of one fan, "His rant is our rant."
Mostly, Sanders just made sense. Declaring that "establishment politics and establishment economics is not working for the middle class," he ran through a stubborn, cohesive laundry list of bedrock progressive issues that were fiercely applauded: Grotesque wealth inequality - coupled with the obscenity of hungry children - the wars on women/drugs/organized labor, health care, minimum wage, Social Security, Citizens United, immigrants' rights, marriage equality, free trade, climate change, youth unemployment, rampant incarceration, college debt, and the need to reclaim a country reeling from a Koch-flavored oligarchy in favor of we, the people. (One startling omission that, sooner or later, the campaign needs to address: In any talk of redistributing wealth, especially when rhetorically asking how he'd fund free college tuition, how can he not mention our wars, our toys, our bloated military budget?) Still, it was thrilling to hear him proclaim, "When we stand together, as white and black and Hispanic and gay and straight and woman and man, when we stand together and demand that this country works for all of us rather than the few, we will transform America."
Nobody knows what will come of it. Likely less will come of it than the shimmering hope it promises. But hope, as ever, is key. Listening to Sanders, Howard Zinn came to mind - his abiding faith and strength, his insistence that "pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy...crippling our willingness to act." Concluding his 1994 book You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times, the astute and tireless Zinn wrote, "There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment we will continue to see." He goes on to cite history's extraordinary changes, "eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies...the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible...good things that happen (that) are unexpected, and yet explainable by certain truths: Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think (note how nervous are those who hold it)...ordinary people can be intimidated (or) fooled for a time (but) sooner or later they find a way to challenge the power that oppresses them...people are not naturally violent or cruel or greedy, although they can be made so... revolutionary change (moves) zig-zag towards a more decent society... small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world."
Zinn ends, "The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory." It was in the air, inchoate but sustaining, the other night. So. Onward.