Charles Atkins was visibly nervous when he took the Seattle Center stage on Sunday, tasked with warming up the 10,000-plus crowd that was already boiling over in an electoral euphoria. Atkins introduced himself as the vice president of the Washington State High School Democrats. Then he added a few more details. He is Native American. “We are often an afterthought and that has to change,” he said. He also spent some of his young life without a home, a victim of a societal scourge that he attributed to a lack of mental-health care and other aid.
In most presidential campaigns, trotting out someone like Atkins would feel like a cheap campaign ploy. But such cynicism withers in the face of Bernie Sanders, whom it was Atkins’ job to introduce on Sunday. People like Atkins, after all, have been front and center for the entirety of Sanders’ campaign—and his near-35 years in elected office.
We write about these people a lot in the pages of this newspaper. We pay attention to the struggles of our homeless population and our Native American neighbors, as well as our incarcerated brethren and those stigmatized by drug use or the color of their skin, because we believe that the health of our community and our country is dependent on the health of those most in need, a population whose ranks are swelling even as our rich get richer.
This crisis of means is a product not of individuals, but of a system. It is born of bigotry and greed and corruption, three attributes that have long been considered inevitable in U.S. government and as such have become acceptable to the political establishment. We believe that there is no room for any of these vices in the halls of government, and that their eradication is necessary to restore America to its place as a nation made exceptional by its social programs and superior education, rather than its billionaires and unconscionable incarceration rates.
Candidates who suggest incremental change in Washington may have sufficed in times when most Americans were a safe distance from the margins of society. But more and more Americans who once were comfortably middle-class are being pushed to the edge as well-paying jobs are outsourced, health care and education are made restrictively expensive, and the distribution of wealth is weighted to those who already have it. Fundamental change is needed now.
No other candidate speaks so clearly and consistently for the need to make this kind of change than Bernie Sanders. For that reason, we implore you to vote for the Senator from Vermont at the Washington State Democratic caucuses on Saturday. On foreign policy, Sanders’ guiding principle, that the U.S. should get out of the business of regime change, is a clean and necessary break from the cavalier foreign policy—perpetuated by recent Republicans and Democrats alike—that accounts for so much of the instability we see in the world today. True, he lacks the resume of his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and his prescriptions have remained vague. Still, between him and Clinton—who as Secretary of State displayed a hawkish propensity—it’s Sanders who appears ready to start rebuilding our relationship with the world.
Sanders has been more detailed in his domestic programs, an ambitious slate of policy goals that most firmly places him as the candidate prepared to meet the challenges of our time. These include meaningful campaign-finance reform, Medicare for all, drug-policy reform, a national minimum wage of $15, a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, and free public college for all. Critics are correct that such an agenda will be nearly impossible to achieve at all, much less in a single presidency. Yet Sanders is realistic about the challenges such a bold agenda—which was originally intended as part of a message campaign to pull the centrist Clinton to the left—will face. He speaks of a “political revolution” on the campaign trail, and that is likely what it will take.
If Sanders’ proposals are what’s right for the country—and we firmly believe they are—then we must do all we can to support them politically. It’s funny how quickly the impossible becomes possible when you stop listening to conventional wisdom. After all, we must remember that Sanders’ campaign was considered doomed to begin with by the Washington establishment and East Coast press, and now shows promise of going all the way to the convention—a road that a strong showing on Saturday would propel Sanders down.