Bern, Baby, Bern

Bern, Baby, Bern
Social activism of the 1960s vs. today.
photoThis Bernie for President campaign makes me feel like marching some more. My jean jacket was probably thrown out by Goodwill decades ago
and my “McCarthy for President” bumper sticker crushed in a scrap yard along with my Volkswagen, but, like the proverbial flashback, I’m seeing it all again.
Among Bernie’s millennial generation supporters, I recognize a lot of the same anger, drive, and, yes, fear and confusion that we had in our anti-war and social
justice Movement in the 1960s and ’70s.
I see key differences, too.
Bernie’s message that “A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little,” is more pointed and poignant than the late Abbie Hoffman titling his autobiography Steal This Book. The Bernie movement, while it has its light side, has brought an agenda of serious policy to the top of the homogenous bottle of politics and play from which we drank.
Still, there is a direct line from then
to now.
At Bernie’s rally at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City in early May, Tim O’Neill of Collingswood, one of the few old hippies there, told me, “I’m tired; I’ve been waiting for these guys to take over the cause we’ve been supporting since Vietnam.”
There were enough signs and chants at that rally to make me feel at home (the rock and roll soundtrack helped, too), but I mostly watched the millennials digest the candidate’s hourlong lecture on social injustice, oligarchy of the billionaires, complexities of unfair trade agreements, and vagaries of the medical care system.
Bernie is no Abbie, that’s for sure.
Many in this generation can’t afford the frivolous aspects of our movement. They can’t afford to vote for Pigasus or try to make the Pentagon fly. They want Bernie to win, not Ho Chi Minh. (You’re on your own to look those up).
Our student loans were $1,200 not $120,000. For many of us, our future, if we decided to accept it, was of increasing income and an exploding middle class. Millennials are the first generation less well off than their parents, with real income for ages 18 to 34 at 12 percent lower than 10 years ago. And now, for the first time in history, more of them live with their parents than with a partner.
We turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. They are getting kicked out.
We were never a majority, even of the boomers. They aren’t either, and, in fact, many describe how coming together with other Bernie people makes them feel complete, not alone anymore. It has made them feel like they have a purpose, their ideals not irrelevant or destroyed by a rigged social and economic structure.
This is familiar ground.
But we were a counterculture; they are a culture. Most are naturally idealistic, unite around social media and want to succeed: Nothing revolutionary there. They’re on the Internet, not the barricades.
I was discussing the violent clash with law enforcement we had at the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention with Vinelander Niko Villani, a key local Bernie supporter and recent high school graduate. Villani told me, “We would more likely hug a police officer than call one names.”
Bernie’s tireless effort transformed a Democratic Socialist, small-state Senator with no national name into a phenomenon of huge rallies, fanatic volunteers, and millions of small contributors who last week trailed the rich and powerful Hillary Clinton by only 220 pledged delegates. His issues now shape the political landscape.
Symbolic of the intense local campaign in support of what Bernie stands for, Cindy Johnston of Vineland told me, “We keep winning primaries, why should he quit? They say it’s not over until the fat lady sings and I haven’t heard her yet.”
I do hear the fat lady and I imagine Bernie does, too. I just hope it’s not another 40 years until young people come together for political revolution and a just society—because America can’t wait that long.
Looking back at our old social change movement, Neil Young recently wrote the lyric, “Think about how close we came.”
If today’s Bernie Sanders had been there, it may have been more than just close.
This column was written on May 27. I am indebted to two key local volunteers in the Bernie 2016 campaign, Eric Beechwood and Crystal Harris, for their gracious help with this project.
Follow on Twitter: @Mickey_Brandt