I have decided to back Bernie Sanders for president. I got my Bernie 2016 t-shirt in the mail a week or two back. It took long enough. But it’s a lovely shirt: well-cut, union-made, and all.
It seemed too good not to share.
I’ve seen no visible sign of an Elect Bernie movement here in Santa Cruz — not even a bumper sticker. So last weekend I put on the shirt and hiked back and forth through downtown.
This is a well-to-do, progressive college town, hardwired into national Democratic politics. The local heavyweights all schmoozed with the Clintons and seem committed to them. Hilary Clinton is electable, the common wisdom goes. She’s the smart choice. Progressives and leftists, fall in line with the safe establishment candidate and be happy for what you get. You’ll get something. It may even be meaningful. I say, “may.”
But there are people around here who, like me, appreciate Sanders and his energetic, activist, no-generalities approach to America’s problems. Yet they’ve been quiet. They don’t have a voice of their own. Perhaps they’re unsure whether many others feel as they do. We talk of individualism, Americans, do. But human beings run in packs, in tribes.
So I decided to fly the flag. I put on the shirt and, for an afternoon, became the flag. And I walked myself up and down Pacific Avenue.
I said nothing, didn’t engage. But people engaged with me.
“Bernie!” said the retail clerk trundling goods onto the sidewalk. He threw a thumbs-up.
“Bernie!” barked the fat man in Bermuda shorts.
“Berrrrr-neeeee,” a woman sang out as we passed on the sideway.
“I like your shirt,” a young woman called from her car.
“I like your shirt,” a father said as he straightened the clothing on his disheveled tot.
“I like your shirt,” said the cost-conscious fashionista in the thrift store.
“I like your shirt,” said the hipster fledgling businessman from the counter of his new shop. “Do you think they have key chains, too?”
“Bernie, phhhtt!” spat a street musician. We know each other: a committed Republican and a Portuguese-American like me. If a Portuguese doesn’t get in your face, it means he doesn’t like you.
Most people said nothing, but I saw the eyes of oncomers shift down to my shirt, felt eyetracks zip across my chest . Calculations were taking place behind blank faces: “perhaps,” the neurons whispered to one another, “Bernie’s not just a media construct…”
I’d say there are a lot of people out there who’d like to see the flag flown, and even more who need to see the flag flown. And a t-shirt flies higher than a bumper sticker. If you are a Bernie supporter, and you’re comfortable with the idea, put on the t-shirt. Fly the flag. Become the message.
And the people you pass will see it with their own eyes, and begin to believe that it’s real. It’s a place to start, before the real campaigning begins.