The race for the White House is on. Heavyweights mix with welterweights. And then, there is Bernie Sanders, an Independent Senator from Vermont.
Sanders is by no means a household name but, following his announcement to run for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton, he managed to raise $1.5m in donations as well as the support of 100,000 people who pledged to volunteer on his campaign, all within the first 24 hours. These are pure, solid grassroots numbers that the Clinton behemoth – even Obama in 2008 – could only ever dream of.
In the days of a billion-dollar campaign and a Republican ticket that could be bartered and paid for by a handful of wealthy magnates – the Koch Brothers a prime example – many in the US are teetering on the risk of disengagement. It seems that the nominees has already been chosen and the race is fixed. The road to 2016, similar to the build-up to the UK General Election, feels flat, lacklustre and hopelessly predictable. Those engaged with politics seem to feel there is little hope to change the revolving-door system that the US political landscape has become; those in politics freely switch places with big business and vice versa.
Enter Bernie. Born in 1941, Sanders became politically active during his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, taking part in the famous 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – the largest ever demonstration in US peacetime history; an estimated 250,000 people lined the Lincoln Memorial to show their solidarity with the movement. This became the turning point for civil rights in the US and was host to Martin Luther King Jnr.’s famed ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
Over the last 50 years, Bernie Sanders had stints as the Mayor of Burlington, Vermont (VT), as an Independent Congressman, and now, finally, as a US Senator. He is a strong proponent of civil rights, equality and LGBT rights and often refers to himself as a Socialist Democrat – often fighting against big business, for-profit healthcare and financial inequality in the US; he most recently spoke out against the culture of the ‘Too-Big-To-Fail banks’ and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Sanders is often seen as the Independent equivalent to the Democratic Senator of Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren, in terms of policy and values; Sanders and Warren recently co-signed an open letter to Barack Obama to push legislative action on raising the minimum wage in the US to $15/hr. His 2016 campaign, however in its infancy, appears to have reinvigorated the US Presidential Election race, especially when set against the backdrop of an overly cautious media campaign by Hillary Clinton. Clinton has been repeatedly under fire to explain donations to the Clinton Foundation and how these contributions may go on to influence and hold sway over Clinton’s policymaking if she makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue next year.
The Clinton campaign often appears to be too political, too cautious; unable to formulate a clear campaign strategy. Tragically, the Clinton Foundation may well grow to become the straw that broke the camel’s back, with many eschewing the fact that the United States could have it’s first female President in just over 12 months time. Hillary may be trying to woo the female vote, but many are indifferent; yes, it would be ground-breaking for a woman to run the most powerful political office in the world, but many question whether she would the right person for the job following the recent scandals.
The race to the White House is far from over, but if Sanders continues to ride this wave of media attention, public support and campaign contributions, the billion-dollar campaign that Clinton has been fine-tuning for the last 18 months may well all be for nothing. Americans are slowly beginning to regain the hope and faith of positive change that Obama encapsulated so well with his election campaign, back in 2008.
Whether this will translate to a fair fight between Bernie and Hillary is the question that remains firmly on everyone’s lips.