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Notes From A Wannabe Bernie Babe

How Bernie Sanders Failed Feminists. Profoundly.

April 1, 2020

Antonia Crane
photo by Gage Skidmore

n the time before America got cancelled, Sen. Bernie Sanders led the primary by a healthy margin and was poised to be our preferred Democratic candidate. It looked like voters were having one of those sexy psychic moments where you sense the tidal wave before anyone drowns and you’ve got the right hero at the right time to swoop in with a life donut.

Imagine Bernie in his catastrophe crown, flanked by hardcore Bernie Bros, Bernie babes and me, a Warren woman — all of us luxuriating in crystal visions of universal healthcare, a living wage, a cooler planet and a warmer NLRB.

Then Biden rose from the dead and stole the show and so did the Coronavirus.

Super Tuesday was three weeks ago and change, but it seems like it’s been much longer than that because it was in the time before eggs, bread and toilet paper vanished from the shelves of major grocery chains; before social distancing, quarantining and massive layoffs; before the stock market plunged to its death like a dervish Joker. Before zoom yoga, zoom school and zoom AA meetings.

It’s hard to care or remember the heated Democratic debates in the time before, because now we are building hospitals in baseball fields and making masks out of 3-D printing paper as thousands die in overcrowded hospitals, unable to breathe. But now, more than ever, I need to believe in something while staring into the abyss that is our Trumpacolypse pandemic.

And so I re-watched the Democratic debates instead of the creepy tiger thing.

I watched Elizabeth Warren outsmart every human in the room when she suggested Bloomberg release all the women in his company from the NDA’s they signed. I delighted in Bernie Sander’s plans to cancel billionaires. Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg clawed each other’s eyes out to a giddy crowd. Kamala Harris flashed her electric smile and schooled Joe Biden on his racist bussing policies. Biden, in response, mumbled incoherently and forgot who was on stage next to him.

One would think a union organizing, queer stripper GenXer like myself would back Bernie, a pro-union progressive with a platform deeply rooted in class consciousness with a sturdy socialist agenda and a penchant for speaking Millennial. And, I wanted to.

But Bernie Sanders is not a feminist. And every chance he’s had to prove otherwise has been an abysmal failure. For instance, when Yamiche Alcindor of PBS asked:

Senator Sanders, at least 22 transgender people were killed in the United States this year, [most] of them transgender women of color. Each of you has said you would push for the passage of the Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ civil-rights bill. But if elected, what more would you do to stop violence against transgender people?

Sanders failed to answer the question directly, pivoting to his health care proposal:

…above and beyond providing the moral leadership of trying to bring our people together, what we also need for the transgender community is to make sure that health care is available to every person in this country, regardless of their sexual orientation or their needs.

Bernie Sanders is tone deaf when it comes to the most vulnerable demographic of all, which is the opposite message his campaign delivers. The deaths Alcindor cited are a direct result of a bill Sanders signed in 2018: SESTA/FOFSTA, that further criminalized and condemned sex workers by shutting down the websites that hosted them, thus destroying their ability to advertise online. After SESTA/FOFSTA passed, 7 times more sex workers were killed because they were forced to do more risky, street-based sex work.

Bernie bros and babes could change this right now by admitting the above-mentioned failure to protect transwomen sex workers.

Why hasn’t the Sanders base demand that he listen to the most marginalized, deeply stigmatized workforce in the world? Instead of helping Sanders nuance his message to speak directly to feminist issues, he side-steps or resorts to his one-note slogans alienating the feminist vote and leaving us out in the cold to rot.

One such moment was on Vermont Public Radio when he said:

“We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age,” Sanders said.

“I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”

This statement, although well meaning, diminishes the acute gender discrimination suffered by women for hundreds of years and undermines our hard won battles from women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Act to Roe VS Wade, spousal rape laws, sexual harassment and wage theft in workplaces that massively affect American women.

It is a feminist issue that in 231 years, we have never elected a woman for the job, although many are qualified. It is a huge problem that both Democratic nominees are elderly white dudes with loud mouths and weak hearts.

I realize how this may sound. And you’re right, I would have preferred Warren in a hot second over Sanders or Biden. Not because I’m moderate, pro-capitalist slime, but because, as a woman, feminist, union-organizing queer sex worker, it means something to have a female candidate for President of the United States. I’m the daughter of a feminist who always said I could do anything but would have to work 10,000 times harder than my male counterparts to be recognized for it. She died of cancer before she had a chance to vote for Hillary Clinton. In her honor and her mother’s honor, and for feminists before them, I voted for Warren.

When Warren quit, I was ready to jump over to Bernie Sander’s side because I believe he cares about the suffering of others and I believe he believes in taking responsibility for improving the lives of Americans. Some of his actions prove it.

For instance: Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who has been demanding to eliminate the economic exploitation in our society. So why didn’t he immediately pivot and aim his young, hip, progressive campaign directly at Warren’s base?

Which brings me to the most recent CNN debate where Biden declared he will have a female running mate on his ticket. Sanders, when asked the same question, was less committal and said that he would likely move in that direction. But he seemed cornered — and not prepared to commit. And that was the final blow.

Each moment, the bar becomes lower and lower for the next leader of the free world: we have a doddering geezer and a socialist who’s stuck in patriarchal quicksand. And on the right, a sociopathic conman and his boomer base of racists.

And who knows what the world will be tomorrow. And the next day.

The ground is shaky. The sky has fallen. Right now, the U.S. has surpassed every other nation in number of Coronavirus cases. NPR, the national radio station in Seattle, Washington stopped broadcasting a daily briefing because of the false, misleading reportage that cannot be checked in real time. Volunteers are sewing homemade masks to supply hospitals because the current occupant of the White House refuses to utilize his position in a way that might actually help people.

And Bernie Sanders has not ceded his campaign. He has shifted it to online where he livestreams videos and hosts town halls to over 85 million viewers. I am writing you from self-isolation in Los Angeles. My partner gave his notice yesterday and is moving here from San Francisco so we can be in love in the time of Coronavirus.The presidential primary and the ghost of impeachment past have faded into the background of this savage pandemic.

I want to believe that Bernie Sanders will wake up and resuscitate his campaign in a way that speaks to all of us, because he may be the only leader who can build from this place of incomprehensible wreckage. Denis Johnson wrote that “We are all whimpering dogs inside,” but even whimpering dogs eventually give up and drop to the floor.

Bernie Sanders, give us a reason to stand up.

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