This week, US Senator Bernie Sanders was in Brussels, and the ECDA was elated that he accepted our invitation to speak in a closed session with several progressive EU MEPs. We invited Bernie to share his US perspective, as a progressive politician, given the parallel challenges we face both in Europe, dealing with the rise of authoritarianism, and in the US, combating the threat of another Trump presidency.
Here is a summary of some key points that Bernie Sanders addressed in the closed session with the MEPs.
Inequality drives frustration
The ruling class is succeeding because of status quo economics and policies. These are working well for the people on top as the wealthy have never been wealthier, and the working class has to battle for a decent wage and workers’ rights. Looking back at policies, both foreign and domestic, in the United States and Europe over the past few decades, it should not come as a shock to anyone that the wealth of resources is in the hands of a few and that the gap of inequality continues to widen. As corporations increase the wealth of their executives, little benefits are trickled down to the workers themselves. The fight for a decent minimum wage and workers’ rights is a common battle, in both the United States and Europe.
Unless progressives can come up with an agenda to protect the working class, raise the minimum wage, and protect their rights, the ruling class is going to win.
Climate change is real and needs to be a priority
Billions are being spent, in both the US and Europe, as a result of the effects of climate change. Natural disasters have become distressingly common worldwide, with people suffering as a result. Those who suffer the most are in third-world or developing nations, populations that neither contributed to climate change nor enjoyed the benefits enabled by climate-destructive technologies.
The guilty parties, fossil fuel companies, and the executives that run them have been aware of the consequences of persisting in a dependency on fossil fuels but have done nothing to address it for decades. Failing to hold these parties accountable only propels us toward a disastrous escalation in climate change. The future of our planet is at stake, and we must take action.
What the far-right capitalizes on
A common frustration in the political battle between progressives and the right, both in the US and Europe, is that discussions initially centered on policies related to climate change, the economy, or the movement of goods and people, often devolve into irrelevant debates about the protection of women’s rights, LGBTI rights, immigrant rights, or other values-based arguments. What ensues are battles in a cultural war, a terrain in which the far-right thrives. They find it easy to convince people to align with one camp or another, either for or against a particular group, leading to great polarization.
As populations fall behind and suffer in terms of climate change, unequal economic distribution, and a lack of security, people search for a reason why. People want to feel better amid conflict and look for a person or an ideology to blame. The far-right, both in the US and Europe, succeeds by providing a rationale for the prevailing hardships, even if it lacks logic or coherence. More often than not, it creates a scapegoat or a group to blame for all the problems. As progressive groups strive to protect the rights of women, LGBTI individuals, immigrants, refugees, or other marginalized populations, the far-right manipulates these groups and the policies meant to protect them to bolster their rhetoric. Not only does the far-right successfully rally people around their ideology, but they also divert attention from the crucial policies that need to be decided and enacted, and this is a double blow to progressives.
How Bernie did it in 2016
What set the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign apart from all the others was its launch and reliance on small-donor fundraising. Previously, candidates had largely relied on donations from individuals or corporations to fund their electoral campaigns. Not only does this make a campaign dependent on their sources of funding, but it also distances them from the very people that they aim to represent.
Bernie Sanders rejected big money and his team shattered records by organizing millions of donations from millions of people. By refusing corporate money, more people were incentivized to support the Bernie Sanders campaign and were willing to put in small, personal donations. This was a groundbreaking moment as it demonstrated, for the first time in a US presidential election campaign, that a campaign could be financed by small donors. It underscored that big money was not a necessity to run a campaign, and, most importantly, it eliminated the need to cater to big money interests during the campaign.
Change is inevitable
Bernie Sanders offered an optimistic perspective on how the world can change if progressives from both sides of the Atlantic come together and address the issues at hand. His message centers around the notion that change is inevitable because people desire it. Change is pervasive in a world characterized by disparities in the distribution of resources, opportunities, and fundamental rights. Our task is to ensure that this change is progressive. For the sake of our children and our planet, we must ensure that change brings about a more vibrant democracy, one that fosters opportunities. By uniting to advocate for climate change protection policies, workers’ rights, human rights, and resistance against authoritarian threats, we can shape this change into a truly progressive force for good.
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