By Ernie McCray
Over a week ago I tortured my 77-year-old muscles and bones standing for the better part of 4 hours at the San Diego Convention Center, “Feeling the Bern.”
But Bernie made me forget my discomfort and lifted my spirit high when he said “The status quo just isn’t working for us”: something I’ve felt all my life considering the long row my people have had to hoe to get a break in the USA.
I’ve been up against the status quo, in one of its many forms, starting when I was in kindergarten, wanting to jump out of my skin, as we five-year-olds stood singing “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” over and over again, like we were Irish tenors, until we got it right. At some point I yelled, in my budding rebel voice to Sister Mary Benedict (forgetting, in the moment, that my knuckles would pay for such an outburst big time):
“Hey, why can’t we sing some songs we like, like “Caldonia” or “Your Feets too Big,” something fun?”
Lord have mercy, what had I done? Sister Mary Benedict was on my ass like a mongoose on a rattlesnake. But we never had to sing “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” ever again and I took the experience of that little win on to other forms of activism, especially in matters of race: I joined the Junior NAACP; I went to political barbecues with my mother, listening to see what politician might further our cause, like what candidate for sheriff, for instance, might be less likely to go upside your head if you broke one of the Jim Crow Laws; I aligned with SFE (Students for Equality); I earned a degree that prepared me for my life’s work, creating learning environments for children that helped them break their world down and come to love it and care about it enough to want to learn all they can about it and change it.
So, when it comes to candidates for political offices I’m sensitive to those who I feel will try to forge a world that goes with my teaching, with my leanings, someone who doesn’t like the status quo anymore than I do. Someone who will go against the grain to grapple with it.
And that’s a short list of people when it comes to those who have sought the presidency. Robert F. Kennedy comes to mind, for one, for when he started getting out and about in the inner cities and barrios and reservations and came to realize that the American Dream was a nightmare for many citizens. But then, “Bam!” he was gone like his brother and Martin and Malcolm and Medgar before him.
Since then the status quo, at the most, has been dealt with in the form of a few disrespectful platitudes such as: the money of the rich would trickle down to the “lower classes” through some kind of magic osmosis (wink-wink); those on welfare would learn responsibility by going off to work (with no one to watch their kids); “3 Strikes You’re Out” laws will keep crime down (when what it did was lead to mass incarceration, now called “The New Jim Crow”).
Obama got more of us insured which was a nice move against the status quo. But he found himself in a situation where he had to spend more time keeping the ship afloat than putting a dent in business as usual.
So here we are today, mired in somewhat unparalleled troubled times, in dire need of someone to grab the horns and come up with something sound to turn our society around, and inside out and upside down.
And when this current season for presidential campaigns began I could only come up with two folks I considered up for the task, based on all that they have done with their progressive-minded thinking in their careers – Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, in that order. But it didn’t seem likely that either would toss their hats in the ring.
And when Bernie did join the race my heart jumped for joy because I’ve been watching him ever since he first came on the political scene and no one in the game is as aligned with my soul as a true ally of my lifelong hopes and dreams as he is.
He’s marched for justice and racial equality. So have I… He’s willing to work for universal health care. So am I… He wants to make going to college free. My schooling was free, so that sounds real good to me… He’s willing to fight for decent hourly pay. That thrills me because I once worked for criminally meager wages trying to feed my family… He wants to end the war on drugs and keep people from being imprisoned unnecessarily. I’ve battled to keep a few folks out of lockup who didn’t need to be…
We think along the same lines when it comes to taxes for the military and kids “being all they can be” and climate change and the environment and energy and police brutality…
All to say Bernie has stood up to the status quo and jabbed at it, relentlessly, bobbing and weaving, looking for an opening to get it on the ropes and knock it out in Vermont and D.C. since a long time ago – and I’ve been doing likewise in Tucson and San Diego. Who else is there for me to get behind? Elizabeth’s not running.
And anyone who was at Bernie’s rally had to be excited to be in the midst of the electrifying energy generated by the thousands of young folks, millennials, who are eager and willing to change their world for the better.
We, however, tell them their candidate can’t win, that he’s unrealistic, that he can’t do what he says he will do.
But they know that’s not true since the senator has been one of the most accomplished members of both the congress and the senate, reshaping American policies on key issues like poverty, environment and health care (googling will verify). But more importantly, he’s made it clear to young people from the beginning of his campaign that he can’t work on “A Future to Believe In” without them, the “Occupy Generation,” pitching in.
Having faith in what young people can do, I’d say we should be listening to them and encouraging them and supporting them as they are: the future. The status quo, as we know it, in the world they’ve got to deal with someday, just won’t work for them. Just as it isn’t working for us now.
They want Bernie to get the ball rolling to change that. And I’m down with that. All the way. Like them “I’m Feeling the Bern.”
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