I remember the exact date I fell in love with Bernie Sanders. It was December 10, 2010.
That’s when I happened to tune into a 69-year-old white-haired senator from Vermont in the eighth hour of his famous filibuster against extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.
Fast forward to 2015: Bernie Sanders announced his bid for president. Elated, I volunteered with the San Diego for Bernie Sanders group, holding signs on interstate overpasses, making calls to voters, standing on street corners registering voters, and marching in parades, handing out stickers alongside a Tesla wrapped in Bernie logos.
I was even elected as a delegate for Bernie to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Yes, the Democratic National Convention. Because as you well know, to have a legitimate chance at the presidency, candidates have to pick a team.
More specifically, they have to choose between the blue team and the red team. Otherwise, they get relegated to a footnote. Just ask someone like Ralph Nader or Gary Johnson.
The further I got involved, however, the more it became apparent that the “Democratic” team had little interest in the candidate that passionate voters like me supported. The evidence was everywhere - from the lack of support from Democratic elected officials, to Tulsi Gabbard having to step down from her position as vice-chair of the DNC in order to support Bernie, to Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s position that superdelegates exist to make sure party leaders aren’t challenged by “having to run against grassroots activists.”
So by the time that Wikileaks released emails proving that DNC officials actively undermined Sanders’ campaign, no one in the Bernie camp was surprised. The emails, however, were released on the day we delegates were heading to Philadelphia to cheer on our anti-big-corporation hero at the Democratic National Convention - an event thrown by one of the two most powerful private corporations in the country, the DNC.
About as ironic as the “Democratic” Party leadership actively trying to prevent their own voters from opposing their chosen candidate.
And we all saw how things played out. Bernie lost the nomination and endorsed Clinton. After Clinton lost, and after hanging up his “D” and returning to his status as an independent senator, he almost inexplicably went on a “unity tour” with new DNC chairperson Tom Perez.
It was as if Bernie had some type of Stockholm Syndrome - playing nice with those who had treated him so unfairly in the entire election process.
So what were the dedicated Berners left to do? Bernie’s supporters were put in a position to have to choose between two bad outcomes. Trump wasn’t acceptable, but for those who truly believed in Sanders’ principles, neither was Clinton.
All we could do was focus on restructuring the rules of the game.
Because while Bernie is a great catalyst, this entire experience made me realize that political parties are not the vehicle for change. They all have a stake in enacting only the reforms that will benefit their side, but a true democracy should have electoral systems in place that benefit the people, regardless of their party affiliation (or lack thereof).
The political revolution has to come from outside -- from the true independents.
We need election reforms that will decrease the power of the duopoly and increase competition while leveling the playing field for those running as independents or third-party candidates. We need our primary election process to serve the public, not just the two major parties, and we need to allow independent voters a voice in the primaries, not just in the general election.
Now there are many Berners still dedicating their time and resources to getting him to run again or to advancing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. And I understand why: many of us invested a lot in the movement and some may be finding it hard to quit.
I did. As an author, I just wrote a book about strategic quitting. And as I wrote the book, I began to realize maybe myself and the other Bernie die-hards could benefit from yet another strategic quit.
We have to quit thinking that Bernie can fix a political system that is rigged against true independence.
Now this doesn’t mean we should quit supporting the reforms he champions, like open primaries, campaign finance reform, and working outside the two-party system.
It does mean that we should work toward fixing the system that the two parties have rigged in their favor so that in the future, candidates that don’t fit into the two-party mold, whether a Bernie Sanders or a Ron Paul, don’t have to pick a team to be taken seriously.
If we really think that partisanship is a problem in the country, the first thing we need to do is quit partying. Stop putting our confidence in the two parties. Stop taking it for granted that our tax dollars should pay for their primaries. And most importantly, we need to stop thinking that good ideas come from only one side of the political aisle or the other.
What I’ve found out since I quit partying is that I’m able to learn from more people with widely varying viewpoints -- more people with whom I can hold a political discussion. And I’ve had less anxiety from the false narrative that one side of America is at war with the other.
I’ve also found comfort in the fact that I don’t need to know the answer to every political woe. And I’ve found an appreciation for the fact that government itself isn’t supposed to be made up of men and women who hold all those answers, but of adults who can sit down at a table, talk to each other, and try and figure them out together.
I was sick and tired of partisan politics. So I quit. Maybe you should too.