Home Politics Bernie Sanders gains support through grassroots activism

Bernie Sanders gains support through grassroots activism

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Bernie Sanders is on the rise across the country, and Athens County is no different. With groups like ‘Bobcats for Bernie’ and ‘Athens for Bernie Sanders’ appearing everywhere, there is increasing support for the Democratic-Socialist.

What is Democratic-Socialism?

Sanders is an Independent senator from Vermont who is running to receive the Democratic nomination for president. A new poll emerged this weekend out of New Hampshire, and it has Sanders with a 9-point lead over Hillary Clinton: 41 percent to her 32 percent. He is a self-described “Democratic-Socialist,” which falls outside the mainstream political spectrum.

His political beliefs seek to combine a democratic political system with a socialist economic system. Representatives are still elected, but primary ownership of property falls in the hands of the state and not the individual or private corporation. The Democratic Socialists of America have more information on particular stances.

AFBS Meeting

On Aug. 27, Athens for Bernie Sanders, or AFBS, met in a multipurpose room at the Athens Community Center with over 50 members in attendance. “Feel the Bern,” the pun in support of Bernie, was plastered on a sign behind the podium at the meeting. A neighboring sign read, “Bernie for a $15 minimum wage.”

AFBS had several guest speakers present at the meeting, including Planned Parenthood representatives, a former professor who is working on establishing an Athens County charter, members from the student group Bobcats for Bernie and a cancer survivor speaking on the importance of unions as it relates to healthcare access.

“Bernie Sanders might succeed, he might fail, but we’re left with what we have in our community; so it’s important to come together and focus on issues that matter,” said Stu Adams, the president of Bobcats for Bernie. “I’m not here to talk about Trump or Rubio or any of those others. I’m not here to talk about whether Joe [Biden]’s gonna run, and I’m certainly not here to talk about Hillary [Clinton]’s emails. I’m here to talk about you and how much this has grown in just two months.”

And grown it has. Bobcats for Bernie had over 200 sign-ups at the Campus Involvement Fair.

Sanders consistently draws large crowds compared to many of any candidate on either side of the aisle at his speaking events. Many experts attribute this to ‘grassroots’ movements across the country. Sanders has capitalized on this fact; his campaign has a specific page on his website dedicated to organized events. Even without a physical Sanders presence, the Athens meeting drew dozens of people from the community, from high school students to retired citizens.

Political Polarization

A community member read over the agenda for the night at the AFBS meeting. After seeing a bullet point listing a watch party for the next Republican debate, he leaned to a woman next to him and said, “The GOP debates? Well I don’t wanna watch the GOP debates.”

A recent study from the Pew Research Center suggests that political polarization is at an all-time high; this means that an individual’s stance on a given issue, policy or candidate has never been more strictly defined by their identification with a particular political party or ideology. This political climate creates a unique environment for the 2016 presidential race, an environment where Sanders is quickly finding his niche.

Voter Turnout

Out of the 88 counties in Ohio, Athens County was tied for fifth in worst turnout of registered voters in the 2012 presidential election. Only 55 percent of the total registered voter population came out to cast a ballot. Sanders himself has gone on record speaking on voter turnout issues in America.

“When 63 percent of the American people chose not to vote…what we need to do is create a momentum so that 70, 80, 90 percent of the people vote,” Sanders said.

Opposition

Support for Sanders has grown rapidly, but it is not felt everywhere. Critics, such as Aric Kaskey, vice president of Ohio University’s College Republicans, disagree particularly with his economic policies.

“Socialism doesn’t work,” Kaskey said. “It’s never worked. On college campuses, a lot of (Sanders’) support comes from his cries for things like free tuition. That sounds extremely appealing, but where are you going to get that money? Raising taxes substantially, which is flat-out unacceptable and hurtful for the middle-class.”

As was emblazoned on a sign at the AFBS meeting, Sanders has proposed a plan to raise federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Kaskey, however, doesn’t think that would work.

“Minimum wage jobs are simply not meant to be permanent,” he said. “They are entry-level jobs for highschool and college students. Raising [the minimum wage] to $15 would only hurt small businesses, cause tax increases and cause price increases.”

Kaskey said that while socialism “sounds good on paper,” it’s not a sustainable economic system.

“The money has to come from somewhere,” Kaskey said. “He wants to eliminate all these big corporations, but when has a poor person ever given someone a job? I understand that we need to close a lot of loopholes in the tax code and really reform it altogether, but we can’t just raise taxes. Our small businesses can’t afford it and those are a driving force of our country.”

Despite the differences in viewpoints, Kaskey agrees with Bernie Sanders on one major idea.

“I encourage everyone to vote no matter what party you belong to,” Kaskey said. “At least give me the opportunity to change your mind, hear out my opinions, but I definitely encourage everyone to turn out.”

In a Real Clear Politics poll of the Ohio Democratic Party, running from June 6 to Aug.18, Sanders held 15 percent of the vote to Hillary’s 54 percent. However, if Athens for Bernie Sanders has anything to say about it, that could change.

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