"It's going to be the most epic case of moral whiplash the world has ever seen. And it's going to inspire the people around the world."
They are not official members or designated surrogates of the campaign, but a potent and dynamic trio are among those showing up on the trail for Sen. Bernie Sanders these days, determined to tell all who will listen just how profound an opportunity voters in the United States now have before them: the chance to elect an unapologetic progressive and visionary to the most powerful elected office in the country at a time when people and the planet need a champion they can trust unlike any time in living memory.
Ahead of Monday's official commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr., actor and activist John Cusack, journalist and public intellectual Naomi Klein, and writer and artist Molly Crabapple were among those who joined Sen. Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail in New Hampshire over the weekend to meet with voters and explain to rally-goers why their preferred candidate—coupled with the grassroots movement he now leads—represents something extremely rare in U.S. politics.
At a pair of rallies on Saturday—one in Exeter and another in Manchester—Cusack argued that Sanders stands in the great prophetic tradition of civil rights icons like MLK Jr., Fanny Lou Hammer, and Ella Baker as well as other warriors for social justice throughout U.S. history such as Eugene Debs, Phil and Daniel Berrigan, and Dorothy Day.
A writer and longtime activist in addition to his career as an actor, Cusack co-authored the book, along with Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, "Things that Can and Cannot Be Said," and is also a founding board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation which advocates for journalist freedoms and free speech.
Cusack told the crowd in Manchester that what the Sanders campaign has undertaken is not isolated from the great social and labor movements of the past, but rather the continuation of an ongoing struggle against capitalist greed, militarism, racism, sexism, and the pervasive inequities that only a great many people joined together in community and solidarity can overcome.
When he came on the national political scene in the 1980's, said Cusack, Sanders "said all the things that cannot be said—and he was absolutely fearless. This was a man with a deep and powerful connection to the truth—a person with remarkable courage—who proclaimed the absolute need for justice equality and dignity for all people."
During his career since, Cusack continued, Sanders has told the nation "what we needed to hear, not what we wanted to hear." And Cusack argues Sanders' honesty is proof that he respects the American people.
"When a person respects you, they tell you the fuckin' truth," Cusack told the crowd in Exeter, though he immediately apologized for the language and jokingly wondered if the campaign—for which he is a volunteer—might fire him.
Cusack was fired from the Bernie campaign
Go to 1:15pic.twitter.com/BCBA3HMcyp
— Zack of All Trades (@TheIceMonkey72) January 19, 2020
Like MLK Jr., Cusack argued in his speech, Sanders has taken positions—often lonely positions—unpopular in his day but prophetic for their time. Like Dr. King, Sanders "voiced the forbidden connections between capitalism, imperialism, racism, sexism—yes, even global warming—the era of endless wars that he saw coming, and the war economies that [President Dwight] Eisenhower warned about."
"When Bernie Sanders is in the White House, he is going to fight for us. And how do we know that? Because he has always fought for us." —Molly Crabapple, artist and writer
For Cusack, it is the "deep and powerful connection to the truth" of Sanders that sets him apart.
"He spoke for the absolute need for justice and equality and dignity for all people," said Cusack, and did so in a way that was "unrelentingly powerful in its moral clarity."
Sanders has "offered a principled and visionary critique of American empire," he added, and "publicly, loudly, and boldly rejected the hideous lie that uncheck greed and predatory capitalism—in all its cruelty—was good."
For his consistency and steadfastness over the years, Cusack said it is clear that Sanders is "one of the true inheritors of the mantle of the great American voices for justice in America."
Watch Cusack's remarks in Manchester on Saturday:
"For 40 years we've endured class warfare from above," Cusack said. "And for 40 years Bernie Sanders was there fighting back. And for four decades, Bernie was right—again and again and again."
"We've never ever in our lifetimes had a true champion of social, economic, and climate justice this close to the White House," Cusack added. Calling Sanders "a profile of courage, clarity, and consistency for 40 years," he told the crowd it is crucial to understand that the senator's critique of the "neoliberal period" the nation has been living through since Ronald Reagan has been spot on, and that unfortunately his "prophetic warnings have come to pass."
But has "the world caught up to Bernie Sanders' moral vision?" Cusack asked. "Well, that's up to us."
Don’t sleepwalk through the miracle - it’s happening https://t.co/6nvTH7R0wI
— John Cusack (@johncusack) January 20, 2020
Commentators on social media noted just how unusual it is for surrogates to deliver such far-ranging critiques on behalf of their preferred candidate.
Not talked about much, but @BernieSanders surrogates like @johncusack make a big difference compared to the typical Chamber of Commerce Democrats going around for @JoeBiden. Here @johncusack emphasizes how unprecedented Sanders' movement is pic.twitter.com/gk7yokeqnq
— Jordan (@JordanChariton) January 19, 2020
In remarks at an event in Conway, New Hampshire on Sunday afternoon, writer and artist Molly Crabapple—who has, in fact, drawn what the Green New Deal could and should look like—said, "I believe we have to be able to see the future we are fighting for."
After denouncing Trump as a "reality TV show huckster"—someone who "stokes vile bigotry while he and his rich friends rob America blind"—Crabapple asked: "Do you know what beats the politics of hate? The politics of solidarity."
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"We have the chance to elect a president who has spent his whole life fighting for the working class," she added. "When Bernie Sanders is in the White House, he is going to fight for us. And how do we know that? Because he has always fought for us."
Watch Crabapple's speech in Conway on Sunday:
— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) January 19, 2020
Joining Crabapple and Cusack on the trail for the Sanders campaign over the weekend was Naomi Klein, a friend of both and another well-known progressive who in November endorsed Sanders not only based on his longtime commitment to social justice but because she also believes there is simply no other candidate in the race who has adequately shown they understand the "existential urgency" of the climate crisis.
"For 40 years we've endured class warfare from above. And for 40 years Bernie Sanders was there fighting back." —John Cusack, actor and activist"We are here saying 'Not me, Us,'" Klein said during the Exeter rally on Saturday, "because we know that even if the White House has turned into the set of some twisted, never-ending, nuclear-armed reality TV show—this is, in fact, not a show. This is reality. And we need a real human being in the White House who gets the stakes—the unfathomable stakes—of the moment that we are living; that gets it in their bones. And that person is Senator Bernie Sanders."
Decrying how little progress was made—and how much opposition there was to even incremental change the last time Democrats had control of the White House and Congress—Klein, whose latest book is "On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal," argued what Sanders represents is something that was nearly impossible to imagine just a few years ago.
"I want you to picture what it would look like to have a president in the White House," Klein said, "who we didn't have to find and drag, kicking and screaming, to stop new pipelines and new corporate trade deals that don't mention climate change or new fracking projects—but who actually was an organizer-in-chief who understood the existential urgency and wanted to lead this transformation with movements driving it from below."
Watch Klein's speech in Manchester on Saturday:
At the rally in Conway on Sunday, Klein espoused confidence that Sanders will win the Democratic nomination and ultimately defeat Trump in November.
"It's going to be the most epic case of moral whiplash the world has ever seen," Klein said. "And it's going to inspire people around the world to find their own survival instinct and act like the house is on fire—because it is."
Though clear-eyed about the challenges and opposition the Sanders campaign now faces, Klein said, "I believe we can perform this miracle."
"It's going to be the most epic case of moral whiplash the world has ever seen. And it's going to inspire people around the world." —Naomi Klein, author and activistBut she didn't always feel that way, she admitted to the crowd.
"I did not always believe that a man as principled as Bernie Sanders, with his record fighting against war and greed and for the rights of working people and a healthy environment, could be president," she said.
Why? Because, she told the crowd, "I think the answer is that our expectations were low because our expectations had been systematically lowered for a very long time."
Like Cusack, Klein invoked the 40-year period of neoliberalism since Reagan as a time of defeats and defensive measures for the progressive movement.
"Don't get me wrong," Klein said, "we put up some good fights: against bad trade deals and factory shut downs, and illegal wars and polluting pipelines and healthcare cut-backs and racist police violence. And sometimes we won a single victory in these fights. Mostly we didn't."
Watch Klein's speech in Conway on Sunday:
According to Klein, Sanders' run in 2016 changed this dynamic for social movements, organizers, and regular people in significant ways. And now, with a larger, more organized movement behind him than ever before—representing millions of people who previously did not realize just how many others there were or how powerful they could be—something has profoundly changed in ways that once seemed impossible to imagine.
And while Sanders and the grassroots movement that he is leading are now on the verge of something potentially historic, Klein warned "there is profound responsibility" for what happens next, "because now our entire planet hangs in the balance" in the crucial years ahead.
"And if Bernie was right about what we should have done in the past 40 years," Klein continued, "then it's time to believe that he is right about what we can do in the next 40 years. To really believe it. Because screw being right—this time we are going to win."
"Screw being right—this time we are going to win." —Naomi KleinFor progressives who share the critique of society's ills and the economy's shortcomings that the Sanders campaign articulates, Klein argued that now—in this moment which Crabapple described as a moment of both "danger" and "possibility"—is not the time for ruminating on what could have been or lamenting lost opportunities in the past.
Citing a phrase Cusack delivered the day before when he described Sanders as someone with the "future in his eyes," Klein ended her speech Sunday by saying it's increasingly clear the world is catching up to the wisdom Sanders has long been offering.
"He was waiting for us," she said. "All of us. The power of us. The power so long suppressed under that blanket of lies."
And that, she concluded, is "what this campaign is all about."