Generalizing all Bernie Sanders voters as bros erases the diverse coalition of supporters his campaign fosters.
I’ve been a supporter of Bernie Sanders for the past five years.
In 2016, I volunteered over 50 hours to his primary campaign. I vowed to be respectful when discussing other politicians and their voters, and I worked alongside dedicated volunteers who were nothing but kind and positive. So when I would see generalizations from the media or social media that all Bernie supporters were just angry white “Bernie Bros,” it was deeply hurtful. I was not a bro, and neither were the Bernie Sanders supporters in my community.
Fast forward to 2020, and the narrative is even stronger, put forth by the media and now a presidential candidate who chooses to ignore the large and diverse coalition of supporters Bernie has cultivated. When I see accusations that Bernie’s supporters are nothing but a bunch of angry white dudes — though Bernie leads with Black, Latinx, and Asian voters — it is now beyond hurtful, it is deeply frustrating.
That is not to say that I’m oblivious to some of the interactions voters have experienced with Bernie supporters. I’ve had three friends this year privately share with me that they’ve had some unfortunate and unprovoked exchanges with Bernie Sanders supporters. In all three cases, my friends were simply supporting their own candidate, in real life or online, and in return received expletive-filled or bullyish responses. These friends asked me why they experience more vitriol from Bernie Sanders supporters than the supporters of any other candidate.
First, I assured them the Sanders’ campaign takes harassment seriously. We volunteers receive regular communications from campaign staff requesting that we be positive both online and off.
Second, I reminded them that Bernie has a wide and diverse coalition of staff, endorsers, and voters, and asked them to please not let a bad experience with a couple of supporters taint their view. Social media can perpetuate a road rage mentality, and there are millions of us who are refraining from negative speak and are lifting up our candidate because we believe he will lift up all Americans.
I will concede that some Bernie Sanders supporters have been ugly or cruel in their remarks, but please note it is not strictly a Bernie Sanders phenomena. One should look to Peter Daou, a former adviser of Hillary Clinton and once outspoken critic of Bernie Sanders and his supporters, who has since joined the Sanders movement. He frequently writes about the harassment he and his wife, Leela, receive from Bernie Sanders critics. “As we began to embrace #NotMeUs and express support for Bernie, a cadre of Sanders haters began trolling and harassing us with the same venom that they attribute to so-called Bernie Bros,” he wrote for The Guardian. “They impugned our motives and character, called us traitors and sellouts, and mobbed Twitter threads.”
Recently I had a Pete Buttigieg-supporting Facebook acquaintance tell his followers that he refused to support Bernie Sanders as the nominee because “F*ck Bernie.” As I write this, I’m getting trolled by a Mike Bloomberg supporter for posting on Facebook my concern and confusion for receiving an unsolicited text from the Bloomberg campaign. Sanders supporters have kept detailed lists of the attacks they too have received.
I do not condone harassment and I personally abstain from practicing it, but I think it’s important for Bernie Sanders critics, within the party, the media and the voter base, to understand that many Bernie Sanders supporters feel like our government is not working for them. They are terrified they can’t afford their $1500 health insurance premium or $1000 life-saving insulin, and they’re angry they pay over $800 a month in school loan debt while working the only job they could find — one that pays $12/hour and barely covers the rent.
They feel our government is run by wealthy politicians who pay lip service to poor people and marginalized people. Insurance for all Americans, affordable higher education and higher minimum wage are impossibilities, many of these politicians say, but tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy are not.
In some cases, these supporters aren’t even Democrats at all — they are Independents or Green Party members or Libertarians who have been brought into the fold by Sanders, and by Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard too. They are not “Vote Blue No Matter Who” because they’re not fully blue to begin with. Does all of this give anyone a pass to troll or harass? Absolutely not, but we must understand that bullyish tweets often come from a place of fear, anger, alienation or resentment. Bernie critics must also understand that if someone respectfully pushes back or disagrees with you, that doesn’t automatically make them a troll.
Bernie himself has condemned harassment from his supporters. In a February 2020 statement, Sanders said, “Harassment of all forms is unacceptable to me, and we urge supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or ugly personal attacks. Our campaign is building a multi-generational, multi-racial movement of love, compassion, and justice. We can certainly disagree on issues, but we must do it in a respectful manner.”
He has also said, “Anybody making personal attack against anybody else in my name is not part of our movement. We don’t want them. And I’m not so sure, to be honest with you, that they are necessarily part of the revolution.”
I implore all of Bernie Sanders supporters to think about Bernie before they post. Ask yourself: Is what I’m about to post going to help Bernie in any way, or is it only going to make me feel better? If the answer is the latter, please take a minute before posting. Like Bernie said, if you’re truly part of the revolution, then you will not harass or attack with malice in his name. Doing so does not help him, you, or us. It is wrong.
I understand the want and need to not only defend Bernie, but ourselves as Bernie supporters too. He and we are continually put down by some media, other presidential candidates, and some Democratic supporters as nothing but a bunch of brain dead cult members. But you deserve a break from it all too. If you don’t tweet in support of Bernie for one or two days, it doesn’t make his chances any less of becoming the presidential nominee.
Do I wish every single Bernie Sanders supporter would only post positive comments about their candidate and refrain from any negative speak against another candidate or their supporters? You better believe it, but the reality is our country is broken. So many Americans are fed up, exhausted, and angry of a government that has turned their back on the working class.
Do you really expect these Americans to go quietly in the night, especially when some in the Democratic Party, some Democratic voters, and some media outlets tell them they’re candidate and their voices don’t matter?