There is a fervent debate going on right now on this campus, around the Bay Area and among Democrats across the country: Hillary or Bernie.
I believe the debate reflects a disagreement about how urgent our current situation is. Hillary supporters seem to think we can afford to wait for change to happen, to work the system, to inch forward through compromise. I think the problems we face are far too pressing to accept that.
To steal the buzzword of the moment, I think there is disruption coming; the only question is whether the disruption will be one that we choose and control or one that is imposed by crisis. Global warming is one example: Without massive mobilization and transformation of our economy and lifestyle, we will witness rising sea levels, leading to resource wars, mass migrations and more. Global inequality is another: Both around the world and here in the United States, inequality is rising. Wages in the United States for all but the wealthiest have been stagnant or falling for at least 40 years. Without major changes to our political and economic systems, rising inequality is likely to lead to perpetual violence and instability.
In the face of these coming disruptions, I respectfully disagree that what we need now is governing from the center, implementing more of what we have seen for decades and failing to be bold. Most people in the world, including many here in Berkeley, cannot afford for us to accept that luxury.
Hillary tells us we must trust the process, the same process that has consistently delayed change in favor of compromise and “realism,” and undermined bold alternatives at every turn. The same process that has protected and entrenched the interests of the wealthy, including in the establishment of the Democratic Party. But to accept caution is to deny the real urgency that faces us, to surrender the chance for real change out of a fear of failure.
Students here at UC Berkeley will soon inherit a world with major problems. Will you wait for disruptions to be imposed on you? Or will you choose to disrupt the existing political system, take control of the future and give real change a chance by building a new movement?
As a Bernie supporter, let me be very clear about some important questions:
- One of the most widely repeated pro-Hillary arguments is that she is more “electable,” and so to prevent a Trump/Cruz/Rubio presidency, we have no choice but to support her. But look at national polling, at comparisons of how Hillary and Bernie each fare against possible Republican candidates, at favorability ratings, etc. Bernie does better in many polls. The idea that Hillary is more electable than Bernie is based on fear and inertia, not real data.
- The argument that Hillary would be more likely to “get things done” has two major problems. One, it does not tell us what things she would get done. In that sense, I think her foreign policy positions in particular should worry anyone who sees themselves as progressive. Two, it assumes that she would be more successful getting her agenda through a Republican-controlled Congress. But do you believe that anything Hillary proposes would have a chance to pass with a Republican-controlled Congress? Have you been paying attention to how that has gone for Obama? Bernie, of course, would face the same problem. But which candidate do you trust more to push for their principles? Which candidate do you think is more likely to spur a larger transformation of our politics that could lead to fundamental change?
- We have a real opportunity in the present moment to fight for more than more of the same. The candidacy or even election of Bernie would, of course, only be a small starting point of what would have to become a much larger movement if it were to make real change. But that is how movements start.
Taking the first step is hard, and risky. But if we sit on our hands now in the interests of remaining “realistic,” then the fight is over before it has begun. I hope those of us at UC Berkeley — students, faculty and staff — realize our opportunity and obligation to use our intelligence and influence to start to disrupt the world for the better.