For millions of Americans who are battling for survival in an economy that punishes workers and youth with high rents, low wage jobs, and the highest health care costs in the world, Bernie Sanders and the political revolution against the billionaire class is a breath of fresh air. Socialist feminists who are looking for an avenue to fight Trump and the right wing’s attacks on women, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights should go all out for Bernie.
Bernie Sanders’s program to combat economic inequality through taking on the corporations and billionaire class is exactly what socialist feminists argue for: a comprehensive set of demands to improve the lives of working-class women.
Addressing Economic Discrimination
Women hold a majority of low wage jobs. They hold a majority of student debt and are a majority of university students. Bernie Sanders’ policy proposals for a $15 minimum wage, student debt cancellation, and free college tuition take aim at some of the most fundamental problems facing working-class women.
Women bear a heavy economic burden for pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Bernie’s program lays out specific solutions to these problems. Medicare for All will make all medical care, including full reproductive health care, absolutely free. Bernie’s plans for parental leave, childcare, and universal preschool education would be a major financial boost for all parents and would have a hugely beneficial impact on children from low income families. All of these programs would constitute an enormous transfer of society’s wealth from the billionaire class to working people.
The actual policy positions of candidates are, naturally, important ways to measure how good a candidate is for working-class women. However, the massive and widespread distrust of the political process in the U.S. stems in no small part from a thousand broken campaign promises on the part of Democratic politicians over the last several decades. The idea that society, through the standard political process, is gradually making progress in becoming more fair and equitable for women or other groups facing oppression is no longer credible.
Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who emphasizes again and again that, historically, it is mass movements that have forced the political establishment to accept big social and economic advances for working people. As part of his stump speech, Sanders cites the women’s movement as the driving force behind big gains in equality for women. Bernie argues that the mass social movements of the 1960s and 1970s are the model for how we can win things like paid parental leave and free reproductive care for all.
Bernie’s embrace of a movement-based approach, saying he sees his role as president as being an “organizer-in-chief,” is extremely significant. Women in the U.S. not only need an offensive strategy to win things like parental leave and free childcare, but we also need to mount a fierce defense of abortion rights connected to an urgent campaign to ensure abortion access to all in every state and abolish non-medically necessary ultrasounds, waiting periods, etc., that have been enacted to punish poor women who want to have an abortion.
Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar have pro-choice policies, and they’ve spoken at Washington, D.C. pro-choice rallies, as has Bernie Sanders. However, it’s clear that the pro-choice policies and very limited protest actions of the Democrats over the last several decades have not presented much of an obstacle to the steady roll back of abortion rights and access in large swaths of the country. It’s not enough to denounce Republicans when they pass another state law requiring a horrifically invasive ultrasound prior to an abortion, or a fetal heartbeat law. The Democrats in Congress and the mainstream women’s and progressive organizations allied to the Democratic Party have failed to rise to the occasion in the way that is demanded by the Republican attack on abortion rights and access.
Politicians like Klobuchar and even Warren, despite her plans to reform some of the most outrageous inequities of the current system, are cast in an entirely different mold from Bernie Sanders. They are beholden to the political and economic status quo by many thousands of dollars collected from corporations, CEOs, and the billionaire class over their long political careers. Their loyalty, first and foremost, is to the capitalist class which abhors mass movements that challenge its power. If a women’s movement were to win a significant victory, ordinary people would be inspired to demand and fight for more and bigger victories.
The Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016 focused on the historically significant opportunity to elect the first woman president, and Klobuchar and Warren have also put emphasis on being a woman. Amy Klobuchar echoed Clinton’s insufficient approach to fighting sexism on the Nevada debate stage when she said that in order to stop sexism “We could nominate a woman for president of the United States.”
Undoubtedly, it would be historic to have a woman president, but young women in particular pushed back on the idea that Clinton’s gender was more important than her policies, as they supported Bernie in big numbers. Again, young women support Bernie in far larger numbers than support either Warren or Klobuchar.
Ensuring that working-class women have high enough wages and access to housing in order to leave an abusive partner or guaranteeing access to full reproductive health care to all would be a far greater blow against sexism for working-class women than electing the first female corporate politician to the presidency.
Fighting Trump’s Sexism
Trump recently became the first president to appear at the anti-abortion “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. The appointment of far right Supreme Court justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch means that abortion rights are in danger nationally in a way in which they haven’t been since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, when the women’s movement was a massive force.
Defeating the right-wing attack on reproductive rights will require grassroots organizing, mass-struggle tactics like protests, walkouts, strikes, and occupations, and new organizations that can provide a base for a sustained battle. Electing Sanders would not only be massively inspiring to left-wing activists, but Bernie has already begun to use his campaign apparatus to mobilize supporters to picket lines and to the voting booths in critical elections like that of Seattle socialist city Councilmember Kshama Sawant.
Bernie has a long personal history as a radical activist and a fighter for the oppressed. Barbara Smith, a member of the Combahee River Collective cited Bernie’s activism when she recently endorsed him. Sanders has drawn the correct conclusions on how social change happens, and has not sold out to the corporate dominated political establishment. Socialist feminists should link arms with the millions of working-class Americans – namely people of color, immigrants, and women – and go “all out” to elect Bernie Sanders in 2020.