By Junius Williams
I watched Senator Bernie Sanders’ announcement that he was suspending his campaign for the presidency of the United States with the same emotion I felt with Jesse Jackson’s concession speech at the 1988 Democratic Party Convention in Atlanta Georgia on behalf of the Rainbow Coalition. I felt then America lost an opportunity to become the great inclusionary democracy his campaign promised the world it would be. I feel that same sadness today.
I was one of those people who felt the “Bern” right down into my pocketbook by helping create that average contribution of $18 given by millions of contributors. So now that we don’t have a candidate, where do we go?
Let me explain demographically who I am: Since I started voting in the 1960s, I have voted for the Democratic Party although I consider myself to be an Independent. I vote for Democrats because when compared with Republicans, I think I will at least get something out of the deal. But with few exceptions, Democrats don’t deliver what I really want, such as housing for the poor, universal health care for all, debt free college tuition, racial justice, fuller employment and environmentally friendly conservation plans. These are the things deemed “liberal” for those of us going into the voting booth, holding our breadths and hoping against hope that something good will come out of this for all of us, and not just for the privileged in this country.
Most of the time, we are disappointed. We are told, “It’s the best we can get now.” Or, “We can expand on what we have later on.” Or, “We can do better for more people, but change takes time.” So like good soldiers, we persevere and therefore when it comes the next time to vote for president, we endure the debates, the promises, the comparisons, the pundits, the advertisements and go through the same process again. We are the disciplined voters.
We are the older voters, some of whom remember when we couldn’t vote; when by the law or common practice, entire sectors of the American public were blocked from voting or the weight of our votes minimized by all kinds of systems of exclusion. So out we come, pushing that big rock up the hill, standing out even in Corona-drenched rain, to cast our ballots in hope for some modicum of change for the better. Some of us went to jail for that right; we know people who died for that right. So we show up no matter what. We have a name for who we are: We are the people who vote for the lesser of two evils.
We are the disciplined people upon whom the Democrats most depend to win elections. Most of us are not ideologically driven; we are not that angry; we are not polarized by racism; nor against immigrants, gays, women or anybody else. Unlike the political right in this country who are driven in their frenzy to worship at the polling booth for some person to take America forward by going back into the dark ages of human oppression. We vote to keep them out of the White House, and not for what we really want or need.
But along come the younger generations — our children and grandchildren — who are relatively new or brand new to voting. They actually dare pin their hopes on something that is good, rather than just getting rid of the bad. They get behind a candidate who says, “We have to fight for it,” rather than, “That’s too hard to achieve.” They want a president who says, “It’s possible to change,” rather than one who says, “Let’s go on the way we’ve been going.” For the thousands of mostly young Americans like this who don’t see any plan beyond Bernie’s to make their lives better, how do the Democrats expect them to do what my generation has grown so accustomed to doing: vote because we’re supposed to, vote to make things not so bad?
I will vote for Joe Biden. But what are the Democrats going to do to get those mostly young, idealistic, angry, disgusted, clear thinking, and hungry-for-solutions voters to do the same?
President Trump has an army of supercharged true believers, and Joe Biden has his army who wants to get rid of Trump. It’s going to be a test to see whose army is big enough and motivated enough to get to the polls to cast their votes. Let’s hope the leadership of the Democratic Party has some changes in mind that will make the former Bernie voters see the good, rather than just what Trump does that’s bad.
Junius Williams, Esq., is Newark’s historian and author of “Unfinished Agenda, Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power.”