April 16, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Statement from the Campus Corps Leaders of Cornell Students for Bernie

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Last week was a difficult time for Cornell for Bernie. Our organization began in August, with five people handing out registration forms at Ho Plaza. Since then, we have grown into the most vocal and impassioned political group on campus for progressive politics. Here on  Cornell’s campus, we take great pride in what we were able to accomplish: A nearly 160 person strong base of supporters, thousands of phone calls made, countless buttons and flyers handed out, policy discussion and debates held and even a weekend trip to knock on doors in New Hampshire which we won. But what makes this movement stand out is its status as the largest resurgence of the American Left since the 1960s. Bernie’s message resonated with millions of people — nurses, teachers, students, truck drivers, clerks — and evolved into a formidable movement that outlasted most of its opposition and continuously defied the media’s expectations and predictions. How many times did you hear a panelist say “It’s over for Bernie” before it actually was?

Undoubtedly, pundits will now gleefully proclaim that Bernie was unelectable and “too far left” as the reason why he lost. Rather, we should take away the opposite lesson. The campaign achieved great ideological and moral victories precisely because of its willingness to empathize with the mundane, meaningless suffering of so many Americans. Bernie directly confronted the simple and terrible lie that their suffering was primarily their fault, and that it could have been avoided if they worked harder, were smarter, were better.

Rather, Bernie painted these hardships as a broad systematic failing and proposed common-sense solutions. The campaign managed to articulate policies and ideology once considered fringe in the U.S. into the mainstream and the household of every American. Five years ago, a 15 dollar minimum wage, let alone Medicare for All or a Green New Deal, was seen as a fringe position. Both of Bernie’s campaigns were instrumental in expanding our political imagination. Bernie showed us that we could unite to fight for change we were told was impossible because we are stronger together. Not me, Us. No longer is it taboo for nurses, Amazon employees, truck drivers — the working class — to demand more than the crumbs they’ve been granted by decades of corporate-centric, status quo policy.

At a time when the gross cruelty of our system openly demands human sacrifices of ordinary workers at the altar of capitalism, the need for universal healthcare and general democratization of the economy has never been more obvious. This never-ending parade of tragedies is fundamentally exacerbated by and borne out of systematic injustice, and will continue to be normalized by influential media and political discourse.

It is time to carry on the fight beyond this election. We, and more broadly, the Left, are now faced with two options. We can either succumb to political apathy or hold onto the collective dream of justice and human dignity — organizing with people that we don’t know, fighting for people we will never meet.

Under a new name, The Cornell Progressives, we will continue to fight for the future we want through the support of progressive candidates and grassroots action outside of the voting booth. We know we won’t be alone in this fight when we return to campus, and that’s why we will ultimately win.

George DeFendini and Noah Thompson are sophomores in the College of Arts and Sciences. Leanna Zilles is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.