Beyond the Middle Class: Bernie Walks the Talk for Working Class People Like Me

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Beyond the Middle Class: Bernie Walks the Talk for Working Class People Like Me

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders embraces a protester after addressing a rally calling for higher wages for federal contract workers on Capitol Hill, Nov. 10, 2015. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders is an American hero. For me and millions of other people, Bernie stands his ground—our ground—at moments when it really matters. This campaign for president of these United States is a natural and fitting progression for Bernie and for working class people like me.

"When I hear other candidates say they will fight for the middle class, that leaves an ever increasing number of Americans in the working class out of the dialogue."I make a distinction between the working class and what used to be known as the middle class.  What I see is a huge—yes, "Yuge"—class of people like me working two or three (or more) jobs trying to piece together enough income to pay the bills. In pre-Reagan years, people like me might have been homeowners, but today many of us pay so much for other necessities of life, like health insurance, that owning a home is out of the question. There is no money for a down payment.  There is no way to be a part of a shrinking class of people who can still afford those things often associated with being in the middle class.

When I hear other candidates say they will fight for the middle class, that leaves an ever increasing number of Americans in the working class out of the dialogue. That was the case until Bernie announced he would run for president.  The power behind Bernie's message is built upon years of direct advocacy for the workers and the working class who have been the new and growing "silent majority" until now. Bernie's dedication to us did not start in 2015 or 2016.  He has been living his life in service to us in ways few others would have the courage to do.  

There's something in the air...

I was lucky enough to live and work in DC for several years that included the debates and passage of the Affordable Care Act. I witnessed the exchange Bernie had on the Senate floor as he presented his amendment in favor of a Medicare for all, single-payer system. I was in the Senate gallery -- quite literally all alone -- as Bernie secured billions more in funding for community health clinics.  And I witnessed the vitriol aimed at him surrounding his stand on Medicare He could have simply thrown his support behind the ACA, but he made sure more people would be able to access care.

Another time, I was working with a registered nurse who wanted to spend a few days meeting with Congressional members to urge them to support several measures aimed at making life better for working class people.  She knew Bernie from their time living near one another in Vermont.  We went to his Senate office and asked if we could meet with his staff, and we mentioned that Barbara knew him.  Within moments we were sitting in the Senator's office.  Bernie came in, warmly greeted us, and spent the next 30 minutes chatting with us and recalling days when neighbors and friends were together in Burlington. This was a side of the powerful, influential Senator I had never seen before -- and an interaction the likes of which I never saw again while I was in DC.

There are so many more examples I could offer about Bernie and his humanity and decency, but that's not why I am recounting these stories. What became abundantly clear to me was that I was but one of thousands of people this Senator speaks to, and each of us probably has our own memories of moments when as working class Americans we stood as equals with one of the most powerful elected officials in our democracy. That matters to me. And it drives my passion to see us elect this extraordinary man to be my President.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.  PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party.

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