The story of politics throughout my lifetime has relied on the same emotional promise as the plots of horror movies: no matter how good things may seem, they can always get worse. Someone can take your job away or make the prospect of finding another job a source of actual terror. Someone can decide that your illness is terminal, not because it is incurable but because you can’t pay for treatment. Someone can take the bread out of your mouth and put poison in your water and then punk you by asking for a glass of that water. Someone can mine the ground beneath your feet for a fuel that is destroying life on this planet, and the guardians of culture will tell you that it’s not happening—or that only you can stop it by shopping differently or paying more tax. And someone is always trying to kill you because this parlous state in which you live is called ‘freedom’ and these strangers hate and envy you for it.
Politics promises that there are forces operating in your life—on your life—that you have no control over. You are a weak, warm, tender little body that can be hacked to bits, tortured, starved, controlled, managed, made into meat, particularly if you’re not white or male or rich. This is your lot. And it all takes place in a vacuum: tell everyone what you think you know, but no one will believe you. You can scream until your voice cracks, but no one can hear you. You are alone.
Politics has made good on this promise day in, day out. So, we adjusted to it, riddled with anxiety, exhausted and bewildered and resigned.
And then, in 2015-16, Bernie Sanders ran a campaign to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president. And he lost, which seemed to confirm the promise. But how he lost—or rather, how he almost won—called that promise into question. Bernie didn’t arrive as a saviour. He wasn’t the cop busting in the door and firing a dozen rounds into the body of a machete-wielding maniac—he pointed to the set. Lights, camera, action! And cut.
Bernie made a different promise. He promised that politics is not a movie, and that we are not an audience. We don’t have to be spectators at our own sacrifice to a bloodthirsty Moloch. But Bernie Sanders isn’t the answer: the movement behind him is. And that movement is people like us, because it is open to anyone who hasn’t spent the last 40 years terrifying the electorate with a promise that things will get worse unless we feed the beast. The politicians, pundits and protectors of the status quo want you fully immersed in the theatre of politics. Like in a movie, you are invited to suspend your disbelief. Bernie asks that you break the fourth wall and step into the action. That is what a movement is, and the success or failure of the Bernie campaign—the promise NOT ME, US—hinges not only on his success in the Democratic primary, but in our willingness to help seize control of the machinery of government after winning the election.
Social media gets me down. After one too many hours spent feuding in a comments thread with right-leaning baby-brained ‘friends’ who I haven’t spoken to in decades, I stopped using Facebook. Every two weeks or so I check in on Instagram and fuck around with a new, mildly amusing filter until I get bored and do something else without having posted anything. And Twitter—well, I’m back on Twitter. Not because I like Twitter, but because you can’t find news about the Bernie campaign anywhere else in the corporate media blackout. It’s not hard to imagine what this primary looks like to someone who only reads the Guardian:
It speaks volumes about the media class that we need to trawl a site where the top trends are #WakeMeUpOnlyWhen and #BurberryShow to find a Gysonian cut-up of headlines hijacked by a racist billionaire with 40-odd of allegations of sexual harassment under his belt (I’m talking about Michael Bloomberg, not Donald Trump) and reports from determined journalists who can’t seem to find a home for the news they break. The mere fact of Bloomberg’s presence in this cut-up stream is testimony to what is wrong with politics today: you can buy your way into it, and in so doing, purchase the reduced visibility of other candidates.
The purpose of this newsletter is to digest my reading into a concise summary of what’s happening in the Democratic primary elections. As I write, early voters are caucusing in Nevada, and who knows what that’s going to look like one week from now (the big day is on Saturday). Time flies, and the news flies with it, in all different directions, with disputed results. Even if you don’t care about what happens in politics, even if you’re not American, you have skin in this game. The campaign to elect Bernie Sanders as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States is a movement that compels an unwilling culture to acknowledge a way of looking at the world: that is, the view from the bottom. The degree to which we can bring Bernie into visibility, and into power, is the degree to which we can bring what Arundhati Roy calls ‘the terror of the mundane’ under scrutiny—the fact that life is shit for so many people who live in countries full of billionaires. It’s a way for us to be seen and heard and felt, and no denying it. If you’re struggling to make a living, struggling to cope with your workload, if you’re uninsured or you live in fear of losing your healthcare, if you’re working 40+ hours every week and still not making enough to survive, if you’re sick and you’re tired and you’re on your last tether and you think even a strong breeze might push you over the edge, if you’re on the receiving end of racist, sexist, ableist, or transphobic legislation, if you’ve been neglected to the point of emergency, if you’re maybe not going to make it to the end of the month or the end of the week or the end of the day without something giving, then this is your time. Get involved.
And to do that, you need to know what’s going on. There’s no newsletter—no news outlet even—that will suffice. But I can tell you what I’m seeing, and it’s giving me cause for hope.