This is an excerpt of Sen. Bernie Sanders' book, "Where We Go From Here." Published with permission.
During my campaign for president in 2016, I stated over and over again that the future of our country was dependent upon our willingness to make a political revolution. I stressed that real change never occurs from the top down. It always happens from the bottom up. No real change in American history—not the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement, nor any other movement for social justice—has ever succeeded without grassroots activism, without millions of people engaged in the struggle for justice.
That’s what I said when I ran for president. That’s what I believe now. That’s what I’ve been working to accomplish over the last several years. At a time of massive and growing income and wealth inequality, as our nation moves closer and closer to an oligarchic form of society, we need an unprecedented grassroots political movement to stand up to the greed of the billionaire class and the politicians they own.
And the good news is, we’re making progress. People in every region of our country are standing up and fighting back against the most dishonest and reactionary president in the history of the Re- public. In state after state they are also taking on establishment politicians who are more concerned about protecting their wealthy campaign contributors than they are with the needs of the middle class and the working people they are supposed to represent.
We’re making progress when millions of people, in every state in the country, take to the streets for the Women’s March in op- position to Trump’s reactionary agenda. We’re making progress when an unprecedented grassroots movement elects a young African American as mayor of Birmingham, Alabama. We’re making progress when tens of thousands of Americans turn out at rallies and town hall meetings to successfully oppose the Republican efforts to throw thirty-two million people off health insurance. We’re making progress when governors and local officials announce, in response to student demands, tuition-free public colleges and universities. We’re making progress when over the past two years hundreds of first-time candidates from every conceivable background run for school board, city council, state legislature, and Congress -- and many of them win.
The good news is that the American people are far more united than the media would like us to believe. They get it. They know that over the last forty years, despite a huge increase in worker productivity, the middle class has continued to shrink, while the very rich have become much richer. They know that, for the first time in the modern history of the United States, our kids will likely have a lower standard of living than us.
The bad news is that instead of going forward together, demagogues like Trump win elections by dividing us. The bad news is that too many of us are getting angry at the wrong people. It was not an immigrant picking strawberries at $8 an hour who destroyed the economy in 2008. It was the greed and illegal behavior of Wall Street. It was not transgender people who threw millions of workers out on the street as factories were shut down all across the country. It was profitable multinational corporations in search of cheap labor abroad.
Our job, for the sake of our kids and grandchildren, is to bring our people together around a progressive agenda.
Are the majority of people in our country deeply concerned about the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that we are experiencing? You bet they are. Do they believe that our campaign finance system is corrupt and enables the rich to buy elections? Overwhelmingly, they do.
Do they want to raise the minimum wage to a living wage and provide pay equity for women?
Yes, they do. Do they think the very rich and large corporations should pay more in taxes so that all of our kids can have free tuition at public colleges and universities? Yup. Do they believe that the United States should join every other major country and guarantee health care as a right? Yes, again. Do they believe climate change is real? You’ve got to be kidding. Are they tired of the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, falling apart at the seams, with roads, bridges, water systems, wastewater plants, airports, rail, levees, and dams either failing or at risk of failing? Who isn’t?
Further, a majority of the American people want comprehensive immigration reform and a criminal justice system that is based on justice, not racism or mass incarceration.
Today, what the American people want is not what they are get- ting. In fact, under Republican leadership in the House, Senate, and White House, they are getting exactly the opposite of what they want.
The American people want a government that represents all of us. Instead, they are getting a government that represents the interests and extremist ideology of wealthy campaign contributors. They want environmental policies that combat climate change and pollution and that will allow our kids to live on a healthy and habitable planet. Instead, they are getting executive orders and legislation that push more fossil fuel production, more greenhouse gas emissions, and more pollution. They want a foreign policy that prioritizes peacemaking. Instead they are getting increased military spending and growing hostility to our long-term democratic allies. They want a nation in which all people are treated with dignity and respect, and where we continue our decades-long struggle to end discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and nation of origin. Instead, they have a president who seeks to win political support by appealing to those very deep-seated prejudices.
During the last several years, I’ve worked hard in Washington, but I have also traveled to thirty-two states in every region of our country. I have seen the beauty, strength, and courage of our people. I have also seen fear and despair.
I have talked to people with life-threatening illnesses in West Virginia who worry about what will happen to them, or their loved ones, if they lose the health insurance that keeps them alive. I have talked to young immigrants (Dreamers) in Arizona who are frightened to death about losing their legal status and being deported from the only country they have ever known. I have talked to a young single mom in Nevada worried about how she can raise her daughter on $10.45 an hour. I have talked to retirees and older workers in Kansas who are outraged that, as a result of congressional legislation, they could lose up to 60 percent of the pensions they paid into and were promised as deferred compensation for a lifetime of work. I have talked to senior citizens in Vermont who divide their pills in half because they are unable to afford the outrageously high cost of prescription drugs. I have talked to workers in San Francisco who, as a result of gentrification, are no longer able to live in the neighborhoods they grew up in and love. I have talked to family members around the country who have lost loved ones to the opioid and heroin epidemics sweeping the nation.
I would hope that each one of us honors the men and women who have, throughout history, put their lives on the line to defend our country. I will never forget meeting, in a small town in northern Vermont, an older gentleman who was part of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. I had goose bumps talking to him, trying to imagine all that he had gone through and the extraordinary sacrifices he and his comrades made.
In school, we teach our kids to understand and appreciate the sacrifices that veterans made in defending “our way of life.” But we spend too little time explaining to them what that “way of life” means.
Standing in Gettysburg in November 1863, soon after that terrible battle that claimed tens of thousands of casualties, Abraham Lincoln reminded his compatriots, and all of us, what that “way of life” was, and what our enduring responsibility in a democratic society is. He stated “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Creating a nation that works for all, and not just the few. That was worth fighting for in 1863. It is worth fighting for today.
Maintaining a vibrant democracy based on principles of justice has never been easy. In these dangerous and unprecedented times, it may be more difficult than ever.
As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, billionaires are now able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars anonymously in ugly TV ads demonizing candidates who dare to stand up to them. Republican governors and legislatures are working overtime to suppress the vote, making it harder for people of color, poor people, and young people to vote.
The internet and social media now allow for the worldwide transmission of total lies, and the capability of targeting those lies to susceptible populations.
Further, recent studies show what the average American has long known. More and more mainstream media political coverage is devoted to gossip and issues of personality, and less and less to the major problems facing our country and the world. During the last presidential campaign, for example, there was almost no discussion devoted to climate change, the greatest environmental crisis facing our planet. There was hardly a mention that, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, 40 million Americans live in poverty, or that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of nearly any major country on earth.
Yes, I know. These are painful and frightening times. Many friends have told me that they dread reading the papers or watching TV. But let us be clear. Despair is not an option. This struggle is not just for us. It is for our kids, our grandchildren, and the future of the planet.
This book is about some of what I and millions of progressives have been trying to accomplish day by day over the last several years.
Some of that work took place inside the Beltway, and much of it outside the Beltway. But no matter where it took place, the goal has always been the same. We must create a vibrant democracy where the voices of all people are heard. We must build a nation that leads the world in the struggle for peace, and for economic, social, racial, and environmental justice. And we must unite our country while repairing the damage Trump has done trying to divide us up.
The struggle continues.
From WHERE WE GO FROM HERE: Two Years in the Resistance by Bernie Sanders. Copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted with permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC