I Write Letters

[Content Note: Harassment.]

Dear Sanders Stans:

Hi. I think we all know to whom I'm speaking, but, just to be abundantly clear: I'm addressing you—the Bernie Sanders supporters who go below and beyond the typical enthusiasm shown by supporters of any candidate running for president, even the most obnoxiously fervent ones.

The Sanders supporters who pepper comments threads with patronizing lectures and condescending pronouncements about Sanders being the best candidate for any progressive. Who accuse anyone who criticizes Sanders in even the most gentle way, even if that critic explicitly states they make criticisms because they want Sanders to be a better candidate, of being a paid Clinton shill. Who tell anyone who flatly dislikes Sanders that they aren't "real" progressives.

The Sanders supporters who disrespect boundaries drawn by people who want to discuss politics without a flamewar. Who harass Planned Parenthood and the US Black Chamber of Commerce and the Human Rights Commission for endorsing Hillary Clinton. Who dox and harass individual people who don't support Sanders. Who tell people of color, especially women of color, that they are stupid and ignorant if they don't support Sanders, if they don't reflexively agree that he is the best candidate for them. Who harass marginalized people, in particular, on social media for criticizing Sanders' lack of intersectional analysis.

The Sanders supporters who send shitty, rude, and sometimes outright threatening emails and tweets to people, especially people who are not straight white men, who have the unmitigated temerity to criticize Sanders. As if this is some kind of democracy or something.

The Sanders supporters who use harassment and intimidation to try to silence critics of their preferred candidate, then accuse Hillary Clinton of feeling entitled to win without a democratic process.

The Sanders supporters who tell women who support Clinton that the only reason we could have to support her is because we're women and she's a woman. Who create misogynist memes about Clinton and use misogynistic rhetoric against her and her female supporters.

The Sanders supporters who, on the one hand, brag about how Sanders has "pushed Clinton to the left" simply by being in the race, and, on the other hand, accuse Clinton of being opportunistic and ingenuine if she espouses a view left of a previous held view.

The Sanders supporters who yell at black people on Twitter that Bernie Sanders marched with MLK.

The Sanders supporters who are fucking bullies.

Yes, I know: #NotAllSandersSupporters. If you're a Sanders supporter who doesn't do any of these things—congratulations to you for not being a terrible human being. No cookies for that in this space, I'm afraid.

If I'm not talking about you, then I'm not talking about you. And you don't need to pop in to tell me what we both already know.

And if you feel it's more important to insist that you're not like those other Sanders supporters than you are to engage with the rest of what I'm about to say, then maybe you're actually more like them than you think.


So, here's the thing, Sanders Stans: You're not doing your candidate any favors.

To the contrary, you're turning off a number of people who were open to Sanders, even if they didn't find him a perfect candidate, with your aggressive—and oppressive—attacks on anyone who fails to fall in line behind him.

Now, typically, we shouldn't judge candidates by their supporters. But, in Sanders' case, there are legitimate questions about how an independent Socialist running on the Democratic ticket, if elected to the presidency, is going to work with a potentially Republican-controlled Congress, or even a less than super progressive Democratic-controlled Congress, in order to enact the progressive agenda on which he's running.

And the answer I get every time I ask that question—the answer anyone gets any time they ask that question—is that Sanders will bring with him a movement of millions engaged supporters.

And this comes straight from the candidate's own mouth: "I don't have any illusion that I'm going to walk in—and I certainly hope it is not the case, but if there is a Republican House and a Republican Senate—that I'm going to walk in there and say, 'Hey guys, listen. I'd like you to work with me on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.' It ain't gonna happen, I have no illusion about that. The only way that I believe that change takes place…is that tens of millions of people are going to have to stand up and be involved in the political process the day after the election."

Sanders' supporters are key to his plan for executive success.

His stated reliance on the his supporters' continued engagement in the political process warrants an assessment of his supporters, and their tactics, in a way that most candidacies never would.

So, yes, those of us disposed to vote for a Democratic candidate are looking at Sanders and his supporters. And I, for one, don't like what I see.

Even if I were fully on board with this vague concept that relies on an increasingly outdated notion about how much influence average people (without endless amounts of cash and access) have over Congressional legislators, and I'm not, I would be cringing at the very thought of a conglomeration of didactic bullies whose electoral strategy has been anything but progressive being tasked with the responsibility of enacting a progressive agenda.

I, and others, have valid questions about how Bernie Sanders is going to overcome the entrenched divisiveness in Washington and deliver on his radical promises. When the answer, offered even by Sanders himself, is that he will rely on the enthusiastic engagement of his supporters, many of whom are themselves using divisive, illiberal tactics against fellow progressives, I not only don't hold out a lot of hope for his success, but actively don't want to lend my support to that dynamic.

Much of the criticism some progressives have of Sanders is that he doesn't do enough listening. That he continues to retain a laser-like focus on economic inequality without enough in-depth intersectional analysis—that is, speaking directly to how economic issues interact with issues arising from identity. It matters that raising the minimum wage to $15 and breaking up the banks doesn't actually solve the problem of a poor woman not having access to abortion, and/or other means of controlling her reproduction, when reproductive choice is one of the most important financial concerns for women. And it matters that Sanders doesn't talk about giving women access to abortion and contraception nearly as much as he does the minimum wage or breaking up the banks, despite the fact that we're more than half the population and our financial security is deeply tied to our reproductive options.

Sanders doesn't listen to critics who make points like this one. And neither do you, the Sanders Stans. And if you're not listening now, what reason do I have to believe that you'll listen if Sanders is elected?

If I wanted to vote for a group of people who didn't have the slightest interest in meaningfully engaging with me or listening to anything I have to say, I could vote Republican.

(I will never vote Republican.)

If you're appalled at being compared to Republicans, well, I can assure you that I am appalled by being obliged to make the comparison.

At this point, the Sanders Stans have two options: You can react to these concerns with your usual bullshit strategy, or you can listen to what I'm saying and reflect on how you're hurting your own cause by refusing to abide criticism or to listen to the people for whom you are so certain that Sanders is the best candidate.

I invite you to try not to prove my point.


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