Bernie Sanders is running to be the Democratic Party candidate for US president. He calls himself a socialist, he confidently puts out radical policies—and in some polls he’s ahead of the establishment choice Hillary Clinton.
Styling himself the candidate of the “99 percent against the 1 percent”, Sanders stands for change. He backs a $15 an hour minimum wage, more regulation of the banks and restrictions on their size and urgent action on climate change. He wants urgent action on climate change and a move away from fossil fuels.
He is for free tuition for students at publicly-owned universities and colleges, and reducing the number of people in prison.
Over 400,000 people across the US have come to hear him speak at rallies and cheered his call for “political revolution”. Web searches for “socialism” soar after he appears on television debates.
He electrified audiences at a recent debate when he blasted Clinton for taking £400,000 worth of speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, the multinational bank.
For many people, Sanders offers hope of a move away from the manipulated and stage-managed political process that serves only the elite.
Refugio Villagrana, a Sanders supporter from California, told Socialist Worker, “I’m for Bernie because he speaks the truth. He stands against wars, for more help to seniors, for free college tuitions, and for a revised medical insurance plan.I also admire that he refuses to take donations from big business and the rich.
“I am of Hispanic descent and his record proves he speaks from the heart. Republican candidate Donald Trump’s speeches have made many people on the other side support Sanders.
“The one thing that I do wonder is how he is going to manage to do all that he says in four years. I'm sure he's gonna face opposition from the big banks he plans on breaking up and Wall Street.”
US elections are saturated with the money and the power of the rich.
The billionaire Koch brothers have pledged to put £600 million towards electing a Republican president and Congress. Last August they called together five Republican presidential candidates and told them to compete for funding.
Republican strategist Mark McKinnon told theNew York Times newspaper, “For that kind of money you could buy a president. Oh right. That’s the point.”
Clinton hopes to amass anything up to £2 billion for her campaign, mainly from company executives and millionaires. Current president Barack Obama spent £800 million in his 2012 campaign.
In contrast Sanders’ campaign is based on the few millions contributed by 750,000 people, each typically giving £20.
On 1 February, in the state of Iowa, the Democrats will begin the process of choosing their candidate. A poll this week showed Clinton and Sanders neck and neck. A poll this week in New Hampshire, which votes on 9 February to choose a Democratic candidate, put Sanders 27 percent ahead of Clinton.
Susan Grant a student from Fairfax, Virginia told Socialist Worker, “Bernie came to my university a few months ago. There were 1,500 people there in the volleyball stadium.
“All sorts were there—the political ones and the non-political, African-American and Asian and white. It was so exciting, something new and different. It was uncontrolled, not crazy and filthy like Trump and not corporate like Hillary Clinton.
“Now I’m working for Bernie to win. I do house meetings and lots of social media. I’m never going back to doing nothing.
“I respect people who say we can’t do it through the Democrats, but you have to respect me when I say how you gonna win otherwise? And Bernie will be better than Hillary Clinton, or Trump for god’s sake.
“Hillary Clinton is just running to win, Bernie is running to change things for the better.”
The Democratic Party remains one of the main parties of US capitalism. But there’s no doubt that Sanders has energised and inspired large numbers of people, and made discussion of socialist ideas easier.