Everyone is talking about Bernie Sanders’s comments on identity politics. On Sunday night in Boston, the Vermont Senator and progressive hero gave a speech, first fully reported by Boston Magazine, where he said that identity politics was going to be the big struggle inside the Democratic Party. Because the party was not connected to the working class, and that’s why Donald Trump won.
At minute 39, the moderator passed along the first question, from an audience member named Rebecca who described Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sanders as her heroes and said, “I want to be the second Latina senator in history. Any tips?”
Let me respond in a way that the questioner may not be happy with. It goes without saying that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans– all of that is enormously important.
And count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen. But it is not good enough for somebody to say, Hey I’m a Latina vote for me. That is not good enough. I have to know if that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country and take on big money interests.
Now one of the problems, one of the struggles we’re going to have, right now– let me lay it on the table in the Democratic Party– is that it is not good enough for me, to say well we got We have x number of African Americans, we got y number of Latinos, we have z number of women. We are a diverse party, a diverse nation. Not good enough.
We need that diversity, that goes without saying. That is accepted. Right now we have made some progress in getting women into politics. I think we got 20 women in the senate now. We need 50 women in the Senate, we need more African Americans.
But here is my point, and this is where there is going to be a division within the Democratic Party. It is not good enough for somebody to say, I’m a woman, vote for me! No that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.
In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. You know, I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African American CEO of some major corporation. But you know what, if that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of this country and exploiting his workers, it doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot whether he’s black or white or Latino.
Alright, I know some people may not agree with me. But that is the fight that we’re going to have right now within the Democratic Party. The working class of this country is being decimated. That’s why Donald Trump won. And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down. That young people in many parts of this country have a very limited future. That life expectancy for many workers is going down. People can’t afford health care, can’t afford their medicine, can’t afford to send their kids to college.
We need candidates, black and white and Latino and gay and male, we need all of that. But we need all of those candidates and public officials to have the guts to stand up to the oligarchy. That is the fight of today.
So I say to … Rebecca, I would be delighted to support her. But it is not good enough that you’re a woman, not good enough that you’re a Latina. You’re going to have to tell me how you stand on the major issues facing this country and whether you have the guts to take on big money.
By the way, Sanders also said this re elites:
Donald Trump won the white working class overwhelmingly. I think he got 72 percent of white male workers who did not go to college. I think he won women who did not go to college by 20 points. And what we have got to do is create a party which absolutely, and I hope I have made the point as strongly as I can, we will not tolerate one iota of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia… But what we have got to do is be a party of white workers, black workers, Latino workers, women workers, that has got to be the cutting edge, and not a party dominated, and I know these are good meaning people…. they go to fundraisers and contribute $10,000. That’s great, that money is well needed… But at the end of the day the party has to be led by working class people who are standing up and fighting for their futures. That’s the future as I see it…
For forty years the middle class of this country has been in decline…and if you go all over this country, you see enormous pain and confusion as to why the people on top make huge amounts of money while the middle class continues to shrink and 43 million Americans live in poverty.