It’s time to call the whole “Bernie Bros” phenomenon exactly what it is – racist, sexist, homophobic propaganda.
I don’t mean that Bernie Sanders’ supporters are any of those things.
I mean that the term used to lump us all together is.
There is no monolithic group of angry straight men backing the Vermont Senator’s bid for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020. Nor was there in 2016.
A substantial portion of Sanders’ supporters are female, racially diverse and/or LGBTQ.
Women under 45 make up a larger share of Sanders’ base than do men of the same age, according to February findings from The Economist.
Moreover, women have given more money to his campaign than to any other candidate.
In November, Sanders raised about $17.1 million in itemized contributions, or 40% of his total funds from women, according to Nicole Goodkind of Fortune.
In particular, that’s more than $13 million in small donations from nearly 280,000 suburban women. And he took in more than $2 million more from suburban women in large donations.
Women support him just as much as men do, “if not more,” according to a Vox analysis of polling between November 2018 and March 2019.
But he’s also extremely popular with people of color.
In fact, the same Vox analysis found that Sanders is more popular among people of color than among white people.
Heck! Sanders’ polling numbers with black voters were double that of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) who was also seeking the nomination before dropping out in December, according to a March Morning Consult poll – and Harris actually is a person of color.
Both The Economist’s latest numbers and Univision Noticias poll found Sanders was the second choice of Latino and Hispanic voters after former front runner Joe Biden. Moreover, 39% of Latinos in California said they prefer Sanders, compared to 21% for Biden and 5% for Warren, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Meanwhile, he also has strong support in the LGBTQ community.
Sanders is the first-choice for 34 percent of Democratic primary voters who identify as LGBTQ, according to the latest Morning Consult poll. That’s more than Elizabeth Warren at 19%, Joe Biden at 18%, Michael Bloomberg at 7%, even Pete Buttigieg at 12% – and Buttigieg is openly gay.
Sanders has a long record of supporting gay rights. In the 1980s as Burlington mayor, he proclaimed a Gay Pride Day, while during his tenure in the House, he opposed both the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a law that barred gay and lesbian military service members from proclaiming their sexual orientation. And in 2009, Sanders endorsed marriage rights for gay couples — three years before then-Vice President Biden did the same.
If that’s not enough, the Sanders campaign has women and people of color in prominent leadership positions.
Two women of color, Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner and San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, are co-chairs of the campaign, along with Indian-American Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen. Sanders’ campaign manager is longtime progressive activist Faiz Shakir.
Are all these women and minorities really Bernie Bros?
The term was coined four years ago by Atlantic writer Robinson Meyer to characterize those backing the Vermont Senator as mansplaining internet trolls – a sexist mob who refused to support Hillary Clinton because of her gender and not her neoliberal policies and anti-progressive history.
And that’s really the crux of it.
The Bernie Bros phenomenon is an attempt to use identity politics to minimize the beliefs of people – to paste over their actual identities as real, live women and men, to erase the opinions of diverse people – to create a fake picture of who these people are.
But don’t take my word for it. Take that of Barbara Smith, the black feminist author who coined the term “identity politics” and has thrown her support behind Sanders in 2016 and 2020:
“It was absolutely meaningful for Bernie Sanders or for anyone else to say, ‘No, I’m going to step away from that white-skin privilege, I’m going to interrogate what is going on here around race. And then I’m going to do what most people never do: I’m going to actually put my body on the line and take a stand and work with those whose oppression we are committed to ending,’ That’s what Bernie Sanders did.”
Bernie’s opponents are trying to weaponize the language of civil rights activism against that very same movement.
To dismiss his supporters as “Bernie Bros” is just not true.
It is merely tone policing – an attempt to silence passionate political advocacy because it is too loud, too enthusiastic and – frankly – too nonwhite, lower class and ideologically progressive.
To be sure there are some belligerent Bernie supporters out there – just as there are for every candidate running.
But to suggest that Bernie’s supporters are somehow more ill-tempered, rude or unwilling to compromise is to display your own prejudices.
Clinton is not even running for anything in 2020, yet she misses no opportunity to attack Sanders as unliked and has even said she would not support him if he won the nomination. She repeatedly criticizes him as unsupportive once she locked up the party’s nomination in 2016, yet Sanders relentlessly campaigned for her in the last two months before the election – appearing at 39 rallies in 13 states on her behalf.
In fact, her supporters tried a similar bit of propaganda back in 2008 when she was running against Barack Obama where Clinton supporter Rebecca Traister ran an article in Salon entitled, “Hey, Obama boys: Back off already!”
This is just more establishment propaganda meant to divide progressive voters who actually care about social justice issues so that the big money candidates can more easily get the party’s nomination.
It is insinuation, libel and slander. It is racist, sexist and anti-LGBTQ.
And though most of the remaining Democratic candidates are white, Bernie is also a minority. He’s Jewish.
Their carping on his irritating voice and mannerisms border on the anti-Semitic.
But no one talks about that – least of all Bernie who is too busy talking about policies that would benefit us all – often in a Jewish Brooklyn accent.
Moderates complain that regardless of the primary, in the general election we must vote blue no matter who. It is imperative we end the Trump presidency in any way possible.
Erasing the voices of the most energetic and committed constituency in the election is not the way to accomplish this.
A significant share of Sanders supporters — myself included — consider Warren their second choice, and if she wins the party’s nomination, would cast a ballot for her with little to no hesitation. And this despite her own foray into bogus accusations of sexism against Sanders that backfired actually increasing his support among women and minorities.
Sanders’ supporters willingness to consider other nominees besides their top choice will probably depend to a large degree on the fairness with which the primary is conducted.
As we saw in Iowa, the Democratic Party has not committed itself to ensuring this goal.
If anything is likely to derail a Democratic victory in 2020, it is that partisanship and incompetence.
If we want any chance at uniting behind a common candidate – Sanders or otherwise – we need to stop deleting our strongest allies under such a false characterization.
Let the people decide who they want to represent them against Trump.
And when they support Sanders, respect that decision without degrading them behind a prejudicial and politically convenient lie.
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