By The Shoestring
As a worker-owned journalism collective, we are pleased to endorse Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for President of the United States. Sanders’ plan to save journalism is the most robust vision to revive local news (which is in crisis) and to build a more democratic media system in this country—one which can withstand the whims of advertisers and billionaires that have historically funded the press. As Donald Trump continues to taunt journalists as “enemies of the people,” Bernie Sanders’ plan takes seriously the role of the press in a democratic society and is the only one that specifically considers the role of worker ownership and unions as a vital component of media power. Sanders’ plan to democratize the press—away from monopolistic corporate ownership—could give more marginalized groups more sway in shaping the means of media production, ideally away from misinformation, fake news, and authoritarianism.
As Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren’s candidacies seem like longshots after Iowa, the race for the Democratic nomination is likely between Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. Pete is funded by more billionaires than any other candidate and his appeals to the presidency lack a coherent message (he recently promoted the phrase “The shape of our democracy is the issue that affects every other issue” after a CNN town hall). The vapid, power hungry former McKinsey consultant has a map of Afghanistan’s “resource and mineral” fields on his living room wall, and he has cast youth climate activists as dark money special interests while he funds his campaign with the blood money of fossil fuel executives.
All four Shoestring co-editors have our own reasons for supporting Sanders’ bid for the nomination, which we include below. This Wednesday is the deadline to register and/or change registration in Massachusetts, which you can do here.
Co-editor Jules Marsh
My memories of my mother growing up are intrinsically linked with the long hours she worked as a salesperson and finance manager at numerous car dealerships, a job that she could get without a college degree and that allowed her to support her two kids as the single mom she most often was. Nine to nine, six days a week. It wasn’t my job, but her tired voice reciting her schedule is emblazoned in my brain. Our night chats consisted of me calling the switchboard operator and asking, in a very official voice, to “speak to my mother please.” I remember her telling me her childhood dream was to be a photographer for National Geographic. I imagined her being so good at that. I could tell she wanted to rest, that she needed to rest, I wanted her to rest.
But any job mobility was out of the question for my mom. Four hours after my little brother was born, the doctors discovered he had been born with a heart defect that would require non-stop medical attention throughout his life. She couldn’t be uninsured or have insufficient health insurance, my brother’s life and quality of life depended on it. Bernie Sanders’ platform rests heavily on his commitment to provide Medicare For All and he understands the way in which healthcare runs intravenously through every aspect of all of our lives. My mother showed up anytime she could and did her best with the schedule she had, but I wonder what it would have been like if Medicare for All had been around when I was growing up. My brother would have been covered, my mom could have had more job mobility and income options, and we both could’ve spent more time with her during those really important childhood years. We shouldn’t be bound to our jobs just because of the health insurance they provide us. Healthcare is a human right and once it exists independent of our employment, the working class will have the mobility to choose and shape our workplaces in a way that supports health in our families, communities, and the global ecosystem.
Co-editor Will Meyer
9/11 occurred when I was 10 years old. Although I did not understand much, I remember being a child and intuitively feeling that the march to war led by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was unconscionable and wrong. I went to protests with my neighbors. I stood on street corners of the Hudson Valley college town where I grew up, and would tell anyone who would listen that we had to stop the war in Iraq. Around that time, I also learned about climate change and how corporations were manipulating the public into doubting the conclusions scientists had come to about the issue. Although both the War on Terror and the ambient ecological disaster didn’t much affect my happy and relatively comfortable upbringing, they both deeply shaped my understanding of the world at an impressionable age.
When Bernie Sanders took the debate stage in 2015 with Hillary Clinton and was asked about foreign policy, he would swing his arms around and invoke anger at the fact that climate change was the biggest existential threat facing our world. Although pundits didn’t take the guff, avuncular Senator’s answer seriously standing next to the Secretary of State, I saw that Bernie was as angry as I was at age 12, giving voice to a feeling that had been with me most of my life. Bernie, of course, was right. The climate is vastly connected to the death drive of the U.S. empire—as powerful emitters build border walls to keep out those fleeing the ravages of climate destabilization and war. His plans to both significantly realign U.S. foreign policy away from the depravedy of endless war and to implement a Green New Deal to curb emissions have the potential to take great leaps in repairing our broken world. The United Nation believes that we must rapidly decarbonize and transform our economy if we are to weather the storm. Climate experts like Naomi Klein believe Sanders takes this science seriously. And we must take him seriously — our collective future may depend on it.
Co-editor Mod Behrens
I dropped out of college and started supporting myself independently at age 17. Even with massive amounts of financial aid, coming from a single-parent household, where my mother’s income never reached above $45,000/year (and was usually much lower), made attending school past the first semester essentially impossible. I had no savings and no financial help from my family, so I started work as a barista at a pastry shop that primarily employed teenage girls unlikely to be familiar with their rights as workers. We were paid minimum wage with no overtime, forced to illegally sign non-disclosure agreements upon being hired where we agreed to never discuss our wages with each other. It would be four years before I ever saw an OSHA poster in my workplace. As I got older and continued to be employed as an hourly minimum wage worker, I started to research labor rights in order to stand up for myself, fighting against wage theft from my employers and informing my coworkers of labor violations at my various jobs. When I started organizing at age 21, I began meeting union workers who shared their experiences with me. They earned livable wages I could only dream of, benefits I had assumed I could never achieve, and job security that was unimaginable to someone who had only been employed “at-will” and already seen many friends laid off without cause or warning. At my worst job, I had been working tiring hours; for example, one day after working a twelve hour shift until 2am, I had to return the following morning at 11. This was normal. Fair hours were a concept I had never even considered, despite my research into my rights – I had learned that while there were some things I could fight for, the fact was that federal labor law was severely lacking, containing loopholes built for further exploitation in a country built for capitalists and not the working class. I had seen efforts towards unionization in my town be thwarted over and over.
My mother still suffers from severe student loan debt, as do I for the single semester of non-transferable credits I took six years ago. My mom got a PhD as a working class single mother and after tenure never came, left academia to work for only a couple thousand more per year than I make as a full-time employee making $14/hr. I am grateful for not having gone to school on a false promise of a better life or career because our higher education system no longer necessarily leads to a better job; instead it ends up hindering the working class even further by holding us back with debt while falsely promising to help us surpass our class standing if we just make time for the right unpaid internships and watch wealthier graduates get accepted to work at their parents’ companies. Of course I would have loved to continue my education—I would have loved to make connections with people in college and gain opportunities if that had not meant being in further debt for the rest of my life. But my dedication will always be to the hourly workers, not the academics. The capitalist system encourages us to move up in the job market (ignoring the glass ceiling of wealth) and leave behind “unskilled trades” like food service instead of working to make wages livable for the people in those trades and valuing the lives of people on the ground working incredibly hard without a degree. Given that class mobility is often a myth the wealthy use to justify oppression and absolve themselves of culpability, we need to strengthen the rights of workers providing for their families who are living paycheck to paycheck. I am tired of seeing bosses gain wealth off the backs of workers like myself in the name of “profit” when they only work ten hours for every forty we do, and claim there isn’t enough money when they own their house and we can barely make rent on a tiny apartment.
Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate who can speak for the working class. Not only does he want to break the wealth barrier for education by making public colleges debt and tuition free, a Sanders presidency would also mean removing the massive boulder of student debt off the shoulders of millions of Americans, some of whom (like myself) are paying off debt for a degree they couldn’t even afford to actually get. More importantly, Sanders plans to make at-will employment federally illegal, which would provide every single worker with the right to know why they were fired and require employers to give “just cause”—a standard in union contracts that is nearly unheard of for non-unionized workers. Sanders’ labor policy also guarantees the right for farm and domestic workers to unionize and benefit from labor laws that currently exclude them, including overtime compensation and pay scale regulations. Sanders will also deny federal contracts to companies who are not acting in good faith. He will penalize companies who offer poor benefits and wages to their workers and overpay their CEOs while employees suffer. While other candidates plan to continue profiting off the backs of the poor, Bernie Sanders understands that workers are the majority, and we have a right to own our labor and stand up for the right to live comfortably regardless of background, education or type of job.
Co-editor Harrison Greene
I was born to a mother who was both a nurse and the public face of a unionizing effort for what would eventually become Vermont’s very first nurses’ union. She worked tirelessly–40 years of 12-hour overnight shifts in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) plus numerous side gigs along the way in food service and retail. Although she loved her job saving baby lives, she despised her working conditions, and would come home exhausted not just from the rigors of the job, but from the budget cuts imposed by management. Though by all accounts an excellent nurse in her unit, because of short staffing she would often be “floated” from department to department where she had little training. Similar to the nurses in Massachusetts whose ballot initiative would have enabled safe staffing limits, my mother and her fellow nurses were up against CEO’s and hospital owners more interested in profits than human health, let alone dignity. Sanders’ public endorsement of my mom’s union was pivotal to them eventually winning their decades-long fight in 2002. To this day I know that my mom appreciates Bernie standing in solidarity with her fight. Time and time again, Bernie has sided with unions and working people.
Perhaps equally important to who Bernie stands with is who Bernie stands against. This became abundantly clear to me, of all places, on a quick trip to the bathroom of a Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton. It was a very hot day in late July 2016 when I had to take a quick break from protesting the DNC’s convention. Men (seemingly only men) in very crisp and expensive looking suits rubbed elbows, barking jovially at each other in knowing tones of luxurious day-drunk. I would later read that this was one of the week’s major gatherings of stalwart Democratic donors and the politicians who love them–it was, in essence, policy-making and politics as usual. I was unsurprised but still disgusted that these were the people making decisions about our democratic process as the masses outside worked tirelessly to be heard.
In both instances, if nothing else, I learned a tiny bit about how institutional power works, and for whom it worked. In Iowa we had yet another glimpse. A people’s movement that not only elects Bernie, but continues past the 2020 election to demand the human rights he campaigns on is an unstoppable force. The Democratic elites and their ilk of Obama-burnout-#resistance-grifters that made their careers (and Trumpism) all but a foregone conclusion know this could be the asteroid that wipes out the plutocratic dinosaurs of American politics. Let’s make sure it is.