This is part of a series of persuasive essays written by Lancaster Stands Up members in support of their preferred candidates in the lead-up to Lancaster Stands Up’s People’s Caucus (Saturday, February 15 — details and RSVP here) and member endorsement vote. All LSU members are invited to submit a piece advocating for their preferred candidate. Submissions should be no longer than 600 words, should not argue with other members’ essays, and should be respectful. You must be a LSU member. (Become a LSU member here.) Submit your essay to info@lancasterstandsup.org.

Why I’m Driving to New Hampshire

by Perry Hazeltine, Lancaster Stands Up member

In 2016, Bernie started a movement but lost a race. I chose Hilary over Bernie. I really wanted a woman for president, and I felt she was more “electable.” I worked hard for Clinton and co-ran a canvassing site. But I wasn’t feeling it. I wanted to. I told myself I was. But I wasn’t.

After the election, I asked myself, “What did I get wrong?” Through many discussions and through being schooled in progressive politics by people twenty and thirty plus years younger than me, I am now voting as a progressive. I have actually always been a progressive, but in choosing candidates, I tended to choose “moderate” democrats. I now want a progressive for the same reasons I chose a moderate in 2016: Because I feel it is the way to draw in and mobilize the most voters. It’s just that now I have a different, and I hope wiser, point of view. 

Here’s what I have come to:  There is no center. In fact, the whole left-right continuum is just bad political messaging in the current political moment. It alienates people we need in a winning coalition. It is more useful to think about how conservatism and progressiveness are similar in one significant way: they are fundamentally value-based. They are rooted in deeply held emotions and beliefs, which are, for the most part, unconscious. Values are not receptive to rational argument. I chose from my head in 2016 despite the fact that Bernie’s movement represented my values and my heart. That didn’t work. The moderate position is a cautious and rational one. But caution does not excite, and we vote from the heart, not the head. Secondly, what we call the “center” has a lot of “undecideds,” and you won’t find energy there.  

This is why, when it comes to passion, Bernie’s campaign is much like Trump’s. Both harness populist energy. Trump, a self-interested demagogue, masquerades as a populist. This, of course, is not new. His self-interest is just an uglier version of the monied interests that dominate the Republican party and that have seduced a lot of moderate Democrats. Bernie has created an inclusive coalition with populist energy. He embodies the message that the 99% are “Us,” and only 1% are “Them.” Both Bernie and Trump strike deep emotions in their base. Trump taps into fear, and when we, in the 99%, fear each other, we are divided. Bernie tapped into justice and a passion to fix a system that left so many of the most vulnerable among us out in the cold. We win when we form unlikely coalitions. Both conservatives and progressives value fairness, so we win when we realize the system is rigged against Us. They win when they make working people think we are fighting each other for scarce resources when they have actually hoarded an abundance. In 2016, Bernie formed a coalition of working people fighting against the elite’s power and money accumulation at the top. Early signs are that he is effective in growing this coalition now. 

So, I am feeling the Bern which impels me to New Hampshire. I’ll be traveling with my daughter, stereotypically, in her Prius with a Bernie bumper sticker. My niece in Boston is meeting us, so that means that only 1 out of 3 of us is an old white guy.

The only other year I’ve canvassed in February was in 2018 for Jess King. She, too, lost an election but started a movement. I owe a lot to Jess and Bernie for getting me off the couch and out in the cold.