Around the time the first Covid case surfaced in Seattle, some friends and I packed a car and drove four hours to Muscatine, Iowa to promote Bernie in the Democratic Congregation. It was January. In a makeshift outpost – a freestanding garage heated by space heaters – three volunteers arranged stacks of garden signs, scripts, and clipboards on a folding plastic table. When her mother was training us, a toddler in a blue Bernie romper was waddling across the cement floor and holding out her arms to us, complete strangers. Hours later, when we returned exhausted and frozen from knocking on the door, it was dark. The women were still there, as were the mother and her baby.
This worldly and remarkable scene, warmth in the dead of winter, will stay with me forever. It symbolized the depth of the commitment and the common connection of the common people who had joined the campaign millions of times under the motto “political revolution” and “not me”. Us. “When the campaign reached its climax, the unity of purpose, dedication, and electricity of the campaign felt like falling in love with millions of other people for the first time.
Love is about reminding ourselves that we are alive. And what was Bernie’s campaign about if not an affirmation of life and human dignity? Bernie’s campaign was essentially about feelings – feelings of loss, anger, and insecurity; Feelings of being trapped in alienating and undemocratic workplaces and political systems. He understood the reality of the working people better than any other candidate, affirmed our frustrations and channeled these feelings onto a common project and a common enemy: capitalism. The campaign was really about “us” and about taking control of our lives.
This time we felt ourselves in the driver’s seat and made the road as we sped over it. For my generation, the left had never dreamed of supporting socialist ideas among the population, let alone getting within reach to win with them. The day AOC’s endorsement went public, my friend videotaped me with freshly showered hair, wearing his oversized sweatshirt, dancing and singing, “I have the time of my life and I owe it all to AOC.” For the first time in a long time, the left felt confident.
Then it was over. None of us that night in Iowa could have imagined the rapid spread of Covid in the weeks that followed, the political and economic crises that followed, the resilience of the Democratic Party in the unification of Joe Biden and Bernie’s later departure. For the participants in the campaign, it was like watching a car accident in slow motion. We were powerless to stop it.