Reprinted from Civil Arab
In 2008, we said, "This is the most important presidential election in a lifetime." We were wrong.
In my role as a surrogate for Bernie Sanders in his presidential run, I get to talk to voters about why they should cast their ballots for the senator from Vermont. Last week, I joined a few other Sanders' supporters to talk to students at a college on Long Island. Actress Shailene Woodley told the crowd that she's supporting Bernie because she's worried that she might never see another candidate like him in her lifetime. She's 24.
When many of us progressives voted for Barack Obama in 2008, we hoped we were electing a transformational figure. Surely, in some ways, he has been. He has talked about race in ways that no other president has (or could). He has some signature legislation to his name. And he has showed that, under certain circumstances, our country is capable of electing an African-American guy with a funny name to be its president.
On the other hand, when it has come to ending wars and altering the culture of corporate greed, President Obama, from either a lack of ability or will, has failed. As Professor Cornel West put it, we thought we were getting John Coltrane and we got Kenny G instead. In a few years (or decades maybe), when he writes his memoir, we will know the true story of the Obama administration, especially to what degree he was unable to achieve his true goals. In my dreams, the whole book is in Arabic.
But here's the thing. When Obama came around, we put our faith in him. We were optimistic he would undertake the initiatives, spoken or unspoken, that we voted him in for. We were optimistic he would change things. It might have been foolish, but it was fun. It was whimsical. It was imaginative. It was hopeful.
With Bernie, we don't have to hope. We don't have to have faith. If you like the things Bernie says, well, you're in luck, because he has been saying them for 50 years. This is perhaps the most important distinction between that 2008 campaign and the campaign of today. Bernie has always been on message, hearing and bearing the political attacks all along the way. And he hasn't wavered. When it comes to American politics, that's quite unheard of.
Many of us voted for Barack Obama because we hoped he would say and do the kind of stuff Bernie Sanders has been doing for decades. Bernie is already the Obama we hoped Obama would be. If you still believe in the things that led you to vote for President Obama in 2008, then there is only one direction today.
And when you look around, you see that Bernie engenders the same enthusiasm, passion, and diversity as Obama did in 2008. Perhaps even more. Young voters are being drawn to the political process in even larger numbers. Bernie's rallies are drawing record-breaking numbers. The sense of solidarity is real. Last Saturday, I, a Palestinian Arab American with a Christian dad and a Muslim mom, was rallying a room full of mostly Bengali Muslim Americans in a synagogue in Queens, New York, to go out and volunteer for a Jewish guy, who just met with the Catholic pope, to become president of the United States. That can only happen in America. And in 2016, that only happens in one campaign.
As I've said before, we've had a Muslim president for eight years. Now it's time for a Jewish one.
At the end of that event on Long Island, an older silver-haired gentleman, looking to be in his sixties, rose to speak. After we had spent an hour rallying up students to volunteer and canvass neighborhoods (quite successfully, I might add), he told us all, "In the beginning, Shailene told you all that she might never see a candidate like this again. Well, I've been doing this for a long time, and I'm supporting Bernie because I've never, ever, seen a politician like this."
It turns out Shailene is probably right.