To most viewers, there was no clear winner of the first Republican debate — unless you count Donald Trump for the surplus of attention he demanded, or Megyn Kelly for her fierce and unrelenting interrogation of the candidates. In the realm of social media, however, there was a clear victor: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
As the Republican debate proceeded, Bernie tweeted his own commentary. One of his tweets, which became the single most retweeted comment on the debates from that night, read as follows:
“It’s over. Not one word about economic inequality, climate change, Citizens United or student debt. That’s why the Rs are so out of touch.”
This sentiment, that the Republican debate was skirting around the issues most important to voters’ quality of life, was echoed by tens of thousands of individuals on social media throughout the evening — an indication of deep dissatisfaction with national political discourse that many Americans feel today.
Bernie’s honesty has struck a chord among a small (but vocal) cohort of supporters. So has his consistency — Bernie’s platforms are issues that he has pushed throughout his career. Although little of his proposed legislation gets passed in the current Congress, his fervor and integrity have earned him a devoted cult following that has made itself known in recent months. Even as he is brushed off as a fringe unelectable candidate, he manages to garner record-breaking turnouts at his rallies, consisting of huge amounts of young people, suggesting that his views aren’t so outlandish after all.
To a generation only recently of voting age but already saddled with the weight of burgeoning student debt, Bernie’s platforms resonate soundly. The voices of those most impacted by mounting student debt need to be heard, and Senator Sanders seems to be the one listening. Few other candidates are highlighting issues that so immediately affect young people as Bernie’s calls for reduction in the costs of higher education.
Millennials watched the Supreme Court rule on Citizens United, endured the Great Recession at the hands of an unregulated finance industry, witnessed the destructive drought in California, and heard the cries demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and too many more. Bernie’s firm stances on campaign finances, income inequality, climate change, and racial justice are answers to the questions that young voters have been asking.
Whether Bernie’s independent quest for the Democratic nomination is successful or not, his campaign is important because it forces more honest and critical discourse surrounding crucial issues, while piquing the interest of voters who feel inadequately represented by mainstream candidates. UC Berkeley has an important role to play in this movement.
As the value of a bachelor’s degree has plummeted, its costs have skyrocketed at institutions of higher education across the country. The University of California is a prime example: student fees have tripled here since 2000 alone. The hard-won hiatus in tuition hikes for resident students until 2017 is, unfortunately, merely a temporary solution. However, the 2016 presidential race presents an ideal opportunity for Berkeley students to turn their activism towards long-term solutions to the crisis of public higher education funding. For such long-term solutions, there is no better candidate than Independent Vermont Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders.
The greatest threat to our nation’s politics, well-being, and environment is our own political apathy. Despite being the age demographic that arguably has the most vested interest in the long-term future of the country, young people consistently have the lowest voter turnout rates. Many of us have grown up being taught that our votes won’t make a difference and that our views can’t bring about change.
But we can change that mentality. As Bernie said himself, “It is not just about electing Bernie Sanders for President. It is about creating a grassroots political movement in this country.”
Supporting Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primaries this June means bringing a voice to idealism and voting for policy, not politics. This campaign is just part of a greater movement to get big money out of elections, preserve the environment, fight income inequality, and make education accessible and affordable. Should Sanders lose the primary, the campaign cannot end there. It manifests itself where it began — in local activism and politics, the labor movement, the student movement, and the eternal struggle to make the unheard heard.
This campaign provides a golden opportunity for students to get involved in the issues that most affect them. The success of this campaign and the success of the movement beyond the election hinges on the commitment of students. Individual people, individual donations, and individual voices can make all the difference when they are united. The establishment and the big donors may have the money, but we have the people.
Get informed, get educated, and get out the vote. Together, we just might be able to actually make America great again.
Rigel Robinson and John Paraskevopoulos are co-founders of UC Berkeley Students for Bernie and Paraskevopoulos is a former Daily Cal copy editor.