As I grabbed my phone this morning to snooze my alarm at around 7:30am, I saw the notification that Bernie Sanders had (finally) announced his bid for presidency. I donated $27 before I fully opened my eyes.
Waking up with a sense of hope instead of the impending doom we have all become casually accustomed to was a nice change. What hadn’t changed was the tired and recycled narrative about Bernie supporters online. As if the fever dream of the Trump presidency hadn’t even begun, out came the flood of tweets warning about the return of the hated “Bernie Bros.” And with these 2016 cries, I felt the same feelings of frustration and erasure I felt during the last democratic primary.
I’m from Miami — we call everyone we know “bro” — but I cannot stand being called a “Bernie Bro.” It’s not that it offends me or hurts my feelings: that wouldn’t be worth writing about. It frustrates me because it’s reductive, unequivocally untrue, and hypocritical coming from people who tend to advocate for racial inclusivity and feminism.
The term implies that if you support Sanders you are likely a white, entitled, fratty male who harasses women online. If you happen to be a woman and you support Sanders, well, you’ve internalised your misogyny and are just trying to impress a real bro. And if you happen to be black, Latino, Asian, Muslim or Native American, then you clearly have some white saviour obsession going on.
I’m a 31-year-old Hispanic woman and I’m a Bernie supporter. I voted for Bernie the first time round because I believed in his policies and because of his decades-long, relentless record of fighting for equality on all fronts. I believe in his proposals of Medicare For All, a $15 minimum wage and meaningful action on climate change. Almost every single one of my female friends voted for him too.
Every Bernie organiser I encountered in 2016 was either black or Latino. I thought that voting for Bernie, instead of Hillary Clinton, was the more feminist choice. In the end, I believed Bernie’s policies would benefit more women and do more to fight wealth and racial inequalities than Hillary’s would.
When Bernie lost the primary, I was sad but I threw my support behind Hillary. Bernie himself endorsed Clinton, campaigned for her, and encouraged his supporters to vote for her. They did. Only 12 per cent of Bernie supporters ended up voting for Trump, while 25 per cent of Hillary supporters voted for John McCain in 2008. I filled in that little circle next to her name on election day without a single doubt in my mind because I was acutely aware of the horror and evil stupidity that threatened us behind that fake tan. And yet here we are again, and we’re just a bunch of Bernie Bros?
The numbers speak for themselves. Sanders is even more popular with non-white voters than with white voters. According to a recent Gallup poll: “Sanders’ ratings are mixed among whites, with nearly half viewing him favourably and half unfavourably. But, consistent with their more Democratic political orientation, nearly two in three nonwhites (64 per cent) have a positive view of Sanders.” And it only takes one day at the Sanders campaign office or at a #fightfor15 rally to see it for yourself. His campaign is in large part to thank for the new wave of progressive, diverse Democrats that won on socialist ideas he made mainstream.
To be clear, I don’t deny that online harassment of women exists or that it should be ignored. I am simply saying that the group of so-called Bernie supporters who aggressively attacked women online are 1. Assholes; 2. Unrepresentative of the overwhelming majority of Bernie supporters; and 3. Not a unique phenomenon to Bernie — or any political candidate or leaning.
I don’t want to get rid of the “Bernie Bro” label and have civil conversations because it’s nice. I want to because the literal fate of the planet rests on us understanding each other, listening better, and coming together to fix this mess.
This might be a crazy and naive, but maybe, just maybe, can we do things differently this time around? Let’s try and peel back the layers of internet gunk and find our discernment, our empathy, our independence of thought. Let’s not turn candidate’s supporters into monoliths that we stereotype and deny their complexity. Let’s not rely on hashtags and headlines to understand our opponents. Let’s take advantage of this diverse group of candidates to create meaningful and productive debate on policy, not a foodfight of smears. Let’s allow for disagreement without running to call each other racist or sexist. Let’s remember that certain things aren’t mutually exclusive. I can still be a feminist and vote for the old white dude.
There’s a lot I like about Bernie as a person and there’s even more I like about Bernie as a movement and a set of policy proposals. But one of the things that has inspired me most and I think will have lasting impact is his belief in grassroots organising and his ability to talk face-to-face with people that disagree with him in an effort to find common ground.
Politicians like Bernie and AOC inspired me to walk away from my screen and step outside. Brace yourselves for two years of feeling frustrated, angry and perhaps hopeless online. Remedy that by talking to people that support different candidates than you in person. Go knock on doors. Not everyone will be nice, but you’ll almost always go home feeling pleasantly surprised, having learned something new, and yes, even hopeful. Terms like “Bernie Bro” will fade into the distance.