The “Political Revolution” Must Include Women And Minorities
If Bernie Sanders wants to be the champion of the 99%, he should start with the issues affecting those in the greatest need
On Bernie Sanders’ official website, it states that America is standing at a fundamental crossroads. The citizens of this country must answer one of the “most important questions of our time.”
“Do we continue the 40-year decline of our middle class and the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, or do we fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides healthcare for all? Are we prepared to take on the enormous economic and political power of the billionaire class, or do we continue to slide into economic and political oligarchy?”
Sanders ran on a platform of economic revolution, which served to galvanize a demographic of voters who had previously been apathetic towards the general state of American politics. In 2015, three-quarters of Americans cited the economy as a top political priority — with its well-being directly correlating to executive favorability ratings. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the economy has been at the forefront of American minds, and the concept of economic revolution has seemed highly appealing. Sanders’ passionate zeal and expressive rhetoric capitalized on a very real need for the changing and restructuring of the current political system. However, impassioned idealism can often get in the way of actual revolution, especially when it fails to take in the grand scope of policy ramifications.
On Senator Sander’s website, racial justice isn’t mentioned until his eighth topic, while women’s rights are knocked down two more pegs, ranking at number ten. A quick pass through his Twitter reveals copious opinions on economic discrimination, but very little mention of such inequality when in comes in the form of sexist or racist policies.
During a 2015 Rolling Stone interview, Bernie Sanders classified abortion as a social issue:
“Once you get off of the social issues — abortion, gay rights, guns — and into the economic issues,” he says, “there is a lot more agreement than the pundits understand.”
Sanders does a disservice to the fight for actual revolution by leaving those who are in the most need of dire change out of the conversation. Racial justice and women’s rights are economic issues in the most real sense, and without canvassing these topics, any conversation of radical change is merely hot air.
The intersection of racial injustice and economic oppression has a long history. From slavery to segregation, financial manipulation has been used to create systematic racial discrimination for the better part of the last few centuries.
When the housing market crashed in 2008 causing the largest economic recession since the 1930s, it was in part because of the implosion of the subprime loan market. Subprime lending is the practice of lending money to consumers who are considered high risk — for reasons such as poor credit or high probability of defaulting. This practice became popular in the 1990s, when mortgage backed securities gained traction. These securities allowed lenders to pool loans on the secondary market — essentially capitalizing on the discrimination running rampant in the housing market.
These mortgages, while in and of themselves only partially corrupt, have gone “disproportionately to Hispanics and African Americans” over the last decade or so. In 2008, according to the Economic Policy Institute, these subprime mortgage rates for Hispanics and African Americans were nearly double those of white consumers.
Sanders has a long history of railing against Wall Street and the big banks. On January 11, 2016, Robert Reich issued a press release on “Bernie’s Plan to Bust Up Wall Street.” While the statement discusses many aspects of the way Wall Street essentially screwed over millions of people in the early 2000s — with the kind of impassioned language Sanders’ campaign became famous for — it never once mentions the systematic racism that allowed predatory lending to cause such a disastrous crisis.
Given that racial prejudice was the basis from which the majority of subprime lending was able exist upon, it seems that the topic would merit some discussion. Like a poorly researched book report, the analysis of a problem falls apart when situational context is not taken into consideration.
There is simply no way to disentangle reproductive rights from economic issues. When considering policy, especially in campaign rhetoric, the conversation generally revolves around government oversight — who should be allowed to get an abortion, to what degree states should be allowed to regulate the procedure, and what funding is involved. However, this leaves out a large swath of the electorate; the 1.3 million women each year who actively seek to terminate a pregnancy.
The majority of women who seek out abortion services do so because of economic concerns — they simply cannot afford to have a child. Be it medical bills, child care, or lack of paid parental leave; the inability to cover the costs of raising a child factors greatly into the decision.
Additionally, women who seek out abortions and fail to acquire them are three times as likely to fall into poverty as those women who successfully terminate their pregnancy. On the other hand, women who are able to end an unwanted pregnancy are more likely to follow through on education and career plans, leading to a higher rate of re-entrance into the workforce. According to the National Women’s Law Center, being able to plan if and when women want children allows for the greatest amount of professional and educational advancement. Essentially, by creating the ability for women to successfully family plan, we can both champion reproductive rights and promote sustainable economic growth.
Preventing unplanned pregnancies before they begin is even more closely tied with economic reform.
When the public’s access to birth control is limited, by means of costly insurance premiums or lack of attainable family planning, the burden of financing an unintended pregnancy falls on the taxpayers. In 2010, 68% of unplanned pregnancies were “paid for by public insurance programs, primarily Medicaid.” Only 38% of planned births were publicly funded.
It’s worth remembering that Sanders’ heath care plan could have potentially increased costs for around 14.5 million Medicaid beneficiaries.
In 2013, publicly funded contraceptive services helped prevent nearly 2 million unintended pregnancies. Preventing a pregnancy is significantly cheaper from the taxpayer’s point of view, and creates less financial burden on the mother. While these issues affect women of all socioeconomic classes, it is important to note that unintended pregnancies place the greatest burden on minority groups and those living below the poverty line.
Essentially, reproductive rights cost money, whether or not Senator Sanders discusses them. His lack of emphasis on women’s rights in general speaks to an idealistic view of the economy, which lacks the sociocultural context to create lasting impact.
The last election cycle has undoubtedly shown the necessity for some form of political restructuring in this country. The electorate has become divided and disillusioned with those in power. Bernie Sanders ran a campaign that resonated with a large demographic and capitalized on emotional frustration.
This emotional frustration is real and needs to be addressed. However, Sanders’ approach to this issue falls short when it comes down to actual revolutionary policies. On the surface, his proposals sound enchanting, going rogue with rhetoric that seems to speak to the anger currently felt by so many Americans.
When explored in greater detail, he seems to forget the members of our society that are often most harmed by predatory policies and political self-interest. He does not discuss the intersectionality of economic issues, which makes one wonder whether his ideas are actually sustainable in our real, complex republic.
Starting an economic revolution in order to help those in need seems admirable enough, but when those in need are left out of the conversation we must ask ourselves who this revolution is actually for. Those at the top, who gain points by the numbers that show up at their rallies or their Unity tours, or the minority groups who are so often forgotten as soon as elections have been won?