'Feeling the Bern' in Erie: Local, Grassroots Activism Ignites

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 at 6:57 PM
'Feeling the Bern' in Erie: Local, Grassroots Activism Ignites by Emma Giering
Bernie Sanders’ local supporters at the Erie Maennerchor Club.

On Jan. 11, I heard a ping sound emanating from my cell phone. Moments later, I was checking a message from local filmmaker and EU alumnus, John C. Lyons, telling me, “I’m currently considering hosting a Bernie Sanders local supporter gathering.”

Twelve days later, roughly 50 people arrived at the Erie Maennerchor Club on State Street to watch Bernie Sanders’ live-stream web address to his grassroots supporters.

What started off as an idea that was tossed around between John, John’s friend Chris, and myself became a small but powerful community event. The planning was easy enough. We created a group chat on Facebook and invited friends we thought might be interested, found a location that was free because Chris was a member of the club, created a Facebook event page called “Feel the Bern in Erie,” and from there we invited the community to come out and support our next presidential hopeful.

I had even prepared a speech for the occasion, which was constructed with excitement and pure bliss. To share ideas and ideology with people of like minds is truly a moving experience. The speech was read, the web address was given, and much to my surprise, there was a fantastic talk-back after the main event concluded. Not one person slipped out of the room.

My co-hosts and I facilitated the first remarks and questions and then soon nearly everyone in the room was mentioning something. Professors talked about how this election would be so important for education. Mothers talked about college affordability. Others discussed increasing primary voter registration awareness. The notion of whom Democrats should vote for should Sanders lose the nomination was discussed. Everyone was polite and thoughtful. Not one classist, homophobic, sexist, or xenophobic remark was made. Though we differed on some issues, all involved were adamant in their conviction that the only thing that served as a threat to the progress made under the Obama administration was a Republican controlled House and Senate under Trump (or Cruz for that matter).

I wanted to share this experience, because I think it speaks to the power of grassroots support and organization. The Sanders campaign is a campaign by the people, for the people. This campaign is being financed by the working class, not special interest groups or Super PACS. Its survival will be dependent on people who volunteer their time for phone banking, on people who are willing to help college students register, and on those who truly believe that the American democracy is still salvageable.

If you’re interested in continuing the success of this campaign locally, please go to Facebook and follow our page, “Erie for Bernie Sanders.” The following is the speech I read to the activists on Jan. 23:

“I have, as I assume is the truth for most of you, never been a one-issue voter. I have opinions about gun rights, abortion, racial injustice, gay marriage, entitlement programs and refugees. And I assume it is likely we all unanimously believe there is progress to be made over the aforementioned hot-button issues and that we likely have varying ideas on how our nations should approach these topics. However, we are all here because none of us believe that any of these previous issues can be addressed until corporate welfare is ended.

Corporations and the super rich have simply rewritten the law until the term “land of opportunity” applies only to the most fortunate among us. If Donald Trump, as he claims, made a fortune in bankruptcy by taking advantage of the laws of this country, isn’t it clear that there is something wrong with those laws?

Koch Industries, a multinational corporation with subsidiaries involved in manufacturing, trading and investments, made $115 billion dollars in revenue this year and paid less than 1 percent in taxes. They did receive $174 million in taxpayer subsidies and now plan to spend $900 million dollars on political contributions, most of which will go to the Republican party to finance presidential elections. Why not pay another $900 million in tax? It would come in pretty handy for those guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

You see, I can only assume that it’s because they believe that we the people, the “peasant-class,” owe them something. So they buy politicians from — and let’s be honest here — both parties. They hire an army of lawyers to hide their money in Luxembourg and then they try to convince us to blame our neighbors. They try to convince us that the $15 minimum wage is communism, but giving the banking industry four trillion dollars isn’t. This system of bribery is illegal in every other part of American life, and it makes the biggest problems that we have worse. Whether you’re a Republican, an Independent, or a Democrat, “Tea Partyer,” or “Occupy Wall Streeter,” whether you’re a part of the NRA or ACLU, we have to end this corporate welfare and argue about all the other issues plaguing our nation after we take our democracy back. Because what we have now is a democracy in shambles, and to claim that the illustrious “American Dream” is still a tangible reality is bunk.

Bernie Sanders does not accept contributions over the legal maximum for individuals of $2,700, but has already raised over 40 million from more than 1 million individual donors. A vote for Sanders is a vote for a candidate that believes in economic justice, that is, addressing the root causes of economic inequality. It’s a vote for someone who desires to break up large banks and add fees for high-risk investments. It’s a vote for someone who has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record, the same of which can be said for the issues of civil rights and same-sex marriage. It’s a vote for someone who has made public statements to never endorse racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia, because that’s not who we are as U.S. citizens.

A vote for Sanders is agreeing with a man who called the Wall Street business model fraudulent, who would treat addiction as a disease and not a crime, who wants the corporations who have long abused and exploited Americans to foot the bill for a $70 billion investment to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. It is a vote for acknowledging climate change as a moral issue, one that will require our nation to transition into a more sustainable system, one that’s nonreliant on fossil fuels. It’s a vote for someone who will reflect on what happens after we get rid of dictators before we decide to assume the position of world police once again. It’s a reasonable and ethically responsible vote for a candidate who wants to implement demilitarization of the police and sensible gun control that will hopefully keep the thousands who are killed each year by gun violence alive. It is a vote for the revival of democracy.

And it is because of people like you — you crazy, beautiful people — who are willing to brave icy roads and GOP infested western Pennsylvania on the hope, perhaps the promise, of making America work again, that I still believe in America.

Senator Elisabeth Warren of Massachusetts once said: “Anyone who shrugs and claims that change is just too hard has crawled into bed with the billionaires who want to run this country like some private club.”

So I want to thank you for deciding not to shrug; thanks for deciding to fight back, for deciding to be the beacon of light in an everdarkening political chasm.”

Emma Giering is the Voices Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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