Opinion //

Our last best chance: Bernie Sanders and the Democrats Abroad Primary

Americans abroad have an important role to play in electing the most significant progressive presidential candidate in generations.

Image: Reuters

As an American historian and citizen working at the University of Sydney I often get asked by Australian media to comment on U.S. politics. This is especially the case regarding the presidential candidacy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who I have written about academically, covered journalistically, and supported through my own volunteering since he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.  

The most common question I get asked about Senator Sanders is, why is a 78-year-old so overwhelmingly popular with younger people?  The answer is simple. Younger people in the U.S. disproportionately fall into the class of people rocked by tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. Younger people in the U.S. are chronically unable to afford quality health care in a system in which health care is delivered for profit and not as a citizenship right. Like in Australia, younger people in the U.S. are plagued by skyrocketing rents and decreasing hope of owning a house or apartment. Like in Australia, younger people are entering a labour market beset by stagnating wages, declining workplace rights, and the growing likelihood that they will cycle through dozens of jobs and multiple careers in their lifetimes.  

And like in Australia and all around the world, it is younger people who will inherit the devastation born of tepid action on climate change after it is far too late to meaningfully reverse course. Younger people around the world are not exhibiting some kind of generational politics born of youthful idealism in their overwhelming support for Senator Sanders. They’re demonstrating their cohesiveness as a distinct class of citizens with particular material and ethical interests vis-à-vis an American, Australian, and global political and economic elite that benefit from the upward redistribution of wealth, the privatisation of public goods, and who are relatively well-insulated from the realities of climate change.  

I was in Iowa recently to write about the campaign for the ABC and it was striking how much this summer’s fires in Australia have become a point of emphasis for voters and Senator Sanders. The U.S. has the highest per capita carbon emissions of major countries in the world and is second to China in overall emissions. Sanders’ “Green New Deal” foregrounds the trade union principle of a real “just transition” for the hundreds of thousands who depend on jobs in the fossil fuel industry. It proposes the complete renewability of transportation and electricity in the U.S. by 2030 and the total decarbonisation of the U.S. economy by 2050.  Given the U.S. role in global emissions, these plans alone would do wonders to stem the tide of climate change.  

But Senator Sanders does not stop there. He frequently talks about being the “organiser in chief,” not just in reference to labour unions in the U.S. but also regarding global grassroots action on climate change. His is the politics of climate strikes and mass-mobilisations of voting blocs around the world to counter those who profit from a carbon economy and the politicians their money buys. Indeed, if you think the elite brokerage politics of Paris and Davos can get us to where we need to go on climate change, then as the saying goes, I’ve got a bridge to sell you in Sydney Harbour. In this regard and given the enormous global power of the American presidency, the election of Senator Sanders represents what may be the world’s last best hope to curtail the worst of social and environmental climate catastrophe.

Luckily, even from Sydney, there are ways students and staff can support this last, best hope.  With easy online registration and voting available from March 3-10 at http://democratsabroad.org/primary as well as an in-person voting from 11 am to 4 pm at the Sydney’s Palace Hotel on George St. on March 7, U.S. Citizens abroad have the opportunity to disproportionately play a role in the victory of Bernie Sanders. Disproportionately because Democrats Abroad (D.A.) will be awarded thirteen delegates to the party’s National Convention in 2020 where it will take a minimum of 1,991 delegates to secure the nomination. In the 2016 race, less than 2,000 votes in the D.A. primary was enough to earn a candidate a delegate whereas in most American states it took around 10,000 votes. Thus, voting in the D.A. primary—with its ease of online, same day registration and voting—has the added benefit of meaning your vote or the vote of the American exchange student sitting next to you in your lecture has exponentially more value than say, my primary vote this year in Louisiana. Indeed, between exchange students, dual citizens, and their friends and family in Sydney, it’s likely there are enough U.S. citizens on or near this campus to make a real difference in this election.  

Bernie Sanders campaign slogan is “Not Me. Us.”  That “us” refers to all of us around the world. Not just those of us who can vote in the U.S., but those who can’t as well. You can phone and text-bank from abroad on behalf of the campaign as hundreds do via Australians Supporting Bernie Sanders. And we can talk to our friends, classmates, and coworkers who can vote and urge them to cast their ballot in the D.A. primary. As Senator Sanders emphasises repeatedly on the campaign trail, this past summer’s events in Australia are a vivid reminder that sitting on the sideline is no longer an option. To beat back the politics of inaction on climate change, it truly will take all of us.     

Dr. Thomas J. Adams is Senior Lecturer in History and American Studies in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry.  On leave during Semester 1, he will be teaching HSTY 2712: From Lincoln to Trump, a unit on the history of American (in)equality in Semester 2. 

How to vote for Bernie?

  1. Vote online from March 3 – 10 at http://democratsabroad.org/primary; or
  2. Vote in-person from 11am to 4pm on March 7 at the Palace Hotel on George Street.

Can I vote? Yes! If:

  1. You’re 18, or will turn 18 by November 8;
  2. You’re an American citizen living abroad;
  3. You haven’t voted in another state primary yet; and
  4. Are registered to vote (if you’re not, no worries, you can register online at: https://www.democratsabroad.org/join).