Listening to Hillary Clinton’s concession speech after the New Hampshire primary was almost like listening to a female version of Bernie Sanders ranting about the injustice of campaign finance and income inequality. She never found those issues important enough to mention before, and even claimed that she doesn’t believe money influences politicians.
“Anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought, and I just absolutely reject that, senator,” Hillary said to Sanders during MSNBC’s Democratic debate in New Hampshire.
While I question her sincerity in addressing these extremely important issues, I realized that Bernie successfully changed the discourse of the election toward issues that matter the most to Americans. When the richest 62 people own more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion, it’s not hard to see how economic inequality is a major issue for many voters.
Bernie’s success in shaping discussions about the economy reminds me of how Occupy Wall Street did the same thing years ago. Crony capitalism wasn’t really part of the country’s discourse until Occupy Wall Street made it so in September of 2011. Decades of stagnant wages, government bailouts, corporate welfare and tax loopholes had finally struck a nerve with enough people that Occupy’s protests not only took hold of Zuccotti Park for months, but demonstrations spread to major cities throughout the world.
The establishment, including cable news networks and corrupt politicians who take advantage of legalized bribery did everything they could to belittle or delegitimize the movement from the very beginning. CNN’s Erin Burnett famously mocked the protesters in her “Seriously” segment by making them all seem like uneducated and ignorant hippies looking for government handouts. It wasn’t surprising to find that Burnett had close ties to Wall Street as a former financial analyst for Goldman Sachs.
The narrative in the mainstream media was already crafted to propagate the notion that the demonstrations were unorganized and even dangerous. The Guardian’s Naomi Wolf revealed U.S. government documents that proved the FBI and Department of Homeland Security had surveilled Occupy Wall Street through its Joint Terrorism Task Force, despite labeling it a peaceful movement. The New York Times reported in May of 2014 that declassified documents showed extensive surveillance and infiltration of OWS groups across the country.
Looks like the government acts quickly when it comes to Americans who aren’t distracted enough by the Kardashians, and take action against unfair domestic policies.
While the movement eventually died down due to violent backlash from cops who had been given a massive $4.6 million donation from JP Morgan Chase on the eve or the protests, the demonstrations managed to change the rhetoric in the country. All of a sudden income inequality was no longer a neglected topic in the news. The 99% felt the burden of a rigged system that led to no criminal charges and huge bonuses for the same CEOs who destroyed the economy. Americans were finally angry, and they wanted a political revolution. There was no real change as a result of the movement, but now we have a politician who understands the struggle and wants to do something about it.
The people who were part of Occupy still exist and they’re even more frustrated about the exact same economic issues. It should be no surprise to anyone that Bernie is surging in the polls. The media and crooked politicians can go ahead and brush the concerns of the American people under the rug all they want. But the reality is that messing with livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people will eventually lead to enough rage to fuel change. That desire for change is exactly what’s fueling support for Bernie’s campaign.