As a climate voter, Joe Biden was hardly my first choice for president. He wasn’t my second choice. Bernie Sanders was my dream presidential candidate, with Elizabeth Warren my second. But like Sanders and Warren, I am now backing Biden for president.
Why? I don’t believe our democratic Republic will survive four more years of Trump & Co. I see this as not only the most important election in my lifetime, but as the most important election in the history of our nation. As Bernie soberly reminded his supporters during his 2020 convention speech: “The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together, defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden.” He closed by warning “the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”
But do try imagining the human carnage of even one more year of Trump’s inept pandemic response. Then try imagining what a world on fire will look like after four more years of Trump tossing fuel on the worldfire. The only thing standing between us and a terrifying Trumpian dystopia is a President Joe Biden.
I am not surprised that Sanders and Biden share mutual respect. I don’t know Joe Biden, but I have met him twice, and both encounters shaped my view of him as a good person. He strikes me as a decent and caring man. The first time was almost two decades ago as I was walking home past the U.S. Capitol after work. It was dusk and a gaggle of reporters were gathered around someone on the lit up Capitol grounds. Curious, I stopped to see who it was. It was U.S. Senator Joe Biden. A handful of bystanders and I watched the interview from the perimeter. I don’t remember the topic, but I will never forget how after the cameras were turned off, a friendly Senator Biden walked over to us to introduce himself and ask each of us about our lives.
My second encounter with Biden was more personal in nature. It happened in the fall of 2013, again in the shadow of the Capitol dome, only this time we met inside a drafty tent on the National Mall. I was on day eight of what for me ended up being a nine-day water only fast organized by a coalition of faith and social justice leaders under the banner of Fast 4 Families. Fasting is a time-honored spiritual practice used to open hearts through personal sacrifice and we were fasting in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Numerous VIPs and nearly 50 members of Congress visited the tent to honor the fasters during the month-long campaign, many of them leaving in tears. I think there were 11 of us in the tent the day Vice President Biden visited. Our practice was to sit in a circle, with each faster sharing with our guest what brought us there – I also took the opportunity to ask the Vice President for a meeting to discuss shutting down the southern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline – before hearing from our guest what inspired them to visit us. Inside the fasting tent, egos and lofty titles melted away and it was just real people meeting heart to heart. Joe Biden was no exception. If anything, I remember his empathy and humanity shining especially bright in that tent. Try imagining Donald Trump doing something like that. You can’t because he wouldn’t.
Of course, being a good person does not automatically translate into championing good policies. I harbor no illusions that Joe Biden’s compassion means he is going to suddenly break ranks with Wall Street and transform into a populist like FDR. Unlike FDR, who boldly championed the New Deal, Biden will have to be relentlessly pushed to support a Green New Deal. But the fact that Biden’s climate plan – while nowhere near what the climate emergency demands – is the strongest of any major party presidential nominee in history shows that Biden can be moved. With Biden, progress is possible. Trump would see it all burn. Climate blogger David Roberts lays out the stakes: “Trump’s damage to the climate is not like his damage to the immigration system or the health care system. It can’t be undone. It can’t be repaired. Changes to the climate are, for all intents and purposes, irreversible. They will be experienced by every generation to come.” This makes getting out the vote for Biden between now and November 3 a fight for our very lives. This is why climate warrior Greta Thunberg is urging everyone to vote for Biden.
Given the immense power of forces aligned against any president seeking meaningful change, it is important to remember that even a President Sanders would had to have been pressured to deliver on some of his more revolutionary proposals, though certainly not as hard as a corporate centrist like Biden. But I’m with “Fire Drill Fridays” founder Jane Fonda, who says, “I’d rather push a moderate than fight a fascist.” November’s election is first and foremost a referendum on our freedom. If we lose our democracy, forget about progress being made on any issue you care about. Any hope of advancing the popular causes championed by Sanders and Warren begins with removing Trump, flipping the Senate, and electing more progressives to the House. Then the heavy lifting of cleaning up Trump’s wreckage and moving America forward can begin.
As long as the Republic stands, we the people have the final word. On Nov. 3, the tables get turned on The Apprentice game show host. On that day, America’s voters are the judges and corporation Donald J. Trump is the contestant. Because he has failed so miserably at managing the project with which he was entrusted, Election Day is our turn to say, “You’re fired!”