The weekend that the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act – itself a reined-in version of President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Act – during a marathon voting session, while most Senate Democrats were preemptively ready to celebrate the bill’s passage, there was a notable naysayer amongst them.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the former presidential candidate, spent the voting session introducing potential amendments to the IRA, including reintroducing the child tax credit, adding further climate provisions, and taking away some of the free gets in the bill for fossil fuels, all of which were resoundingly voted down. Many Senate Democrats had already committed to rejecting any potential amendments to the bill to avoid jeopardizing its passage through a gridlocked Senate. (Headlines noted that Sen. Sherrod Brown [D-OH] was caught groaning, “Come on, Bernie” during the back-and-forth.) Photos later emerged of Sanders resting on the Capitol Building steps, leading, as Bernie photos are wont to do, to memes.
In the time since the bill’s passage (it was signed into law by Biden earlier this week), Bernie’s been honest about why he held up the process, calling the final version “extremely modest” in an interview with the Guardian. “I worry very much … that people are giving up on democracy because they do not believe that their government is working for them,” he said in the same interview. But he’s not stuck on the IRA; instead, Sanders is hitting the road this weekend with union leaders Sara Nelson and Sean O’Brien for rallies in Philadelphia and Boston.
Teen Vogue interviewed Sanders about the upcoming rallies, which he says are headed to more cities in the fall, and where the progressive movement is headed.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Teen Vogue: Tell us about the rallies you have planned for this weekend, and what you hope to accomplish.
Bernie Sanders: The rally is going to be held with Sean O’Brien, the new president of the Teamsters, one of the largest unions in the country, and Sara Nelson, head of the Association of Flight Attendants, one of the more progressive unions in the country. So we have two progressive union leaders who are going to be there with me. And the message is pretty clear, and that is that these are very, very difficult times for working families in Pennsylvania, in Vermont, and all over this country. Last month, we held a rally in Chicago. On Sunday, we’ll be in Boston, and Saturday we’ll be in Philadelphia.
At a time when corporate profits are soaring and we’re seeing an unprecedented level of corporate greed – in the sense that for example, if you fill up your gas tank, or you go to a gas station to fill up, you’re paying very high prices for gas at exactly the same time that these oil companies are enjoying record breaking profits. Food companies are enjoying record breaking profits while the price of food goes up. And we have today more income and wealth inequality in America than we’ve had in 100 years.
So the nature of the economy – and we don’t focus enough on this, and we need to that’s what we’re trying to do – people on top are doing phenomenally well. Middle class, working class, are falling further and further behind. And what we’ve got to do is bring working people together, whether they’re black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, straight, gay, whatever they may be, to stand up and fight for an economy that works for all of us and not just the people on top. We’re taking the show on the road in Chicago and Philadelphia, Boston, and probably other cities in the coming months.
TV: Headlines keep saying that progressives are losing at the polls. Where are we seeing progressive gains this year?
BS: We are seeing good victories for progressive candidates running up against enormous corporate opposition. In Pittsburgh for example, as you know, Summer Lee won against millions and millions of dollars of billionaire super PAC money. We’ve seen victories in Texas, victories in Illinois, victories in Vermont, actually. They’re winning. In January, I suspect, there will be more strong progressive, often people of color, young people of color, [in office] than we’ve ever had in the modern history of this country. So that’s a pretty good thing. And we do that despite the enormous amount of money that super PACs are spending against our candidates. So that’s number one.
Number two, at a time when working families are falling further and further behind, I think more and more workers see unions and the opportunity to engage in collective bargaining as a means by which they can earn decent wages and decent benefits. So we have seen in recent months an extraordinary victory, Amazon in Staten Island, and we’re seeing young people organize at Starbucks shops all across this country. And again, in both cases, once again, they are taking on enormously powerful corporate interests. Jeff Bezos is the second wealthiest guy in the world. And Howard Schultz is a multi billionaire, the guy who owns Starbucks.
We are seeing now maybe an unprecedented wave of union organizing, which, to me is very, very important, because we’re not going to rebuild the middle class in this country unless we have a strong union movement. We’re beginning to see that right now. So those are some of the things that are taking place out there that make me feel pretty good.
TV: What would you say to young people who are maybe involved in or at the forefront of the movements you just named, but are skeptical they’ll see change at the ballot box?
BS: What I would say is that real, underline, politics is not instant gratification. Real politics is struggle, and you don’t win major struggles overnight when you’re taking on some of the most powerful people in the world. So it’s important for people to understand what they are up against. And what we are up against right now is an incredible concentration of ownership at the top, where you really have this country moving to an oligarchy, a handful of huge corporations controlling our economy; a corporate media, which often deflects attention away from the real issues facing working people; and you’re seeing super PACs buying and selling politicians. That’s a lot to take on.
Anybody who knows anything about history, going way back from the struggle of the abolitionists, struggle to end slavery, struggle for women’s rights, the struggle for workers rights, these are not easy struggles and they don’t happen overnight. But right now, given the crises that we’re facing – economically, where the rich are getting richer; and also everybody else is getting caught with a struggle that we’re facing with climate, where the future of the planet literally hangs in the balance; or the struggle that we’re facing in the fight against bigotry of all forms – it is absolutely imperative that people continue to be engaged and stand up for economic justice, social justice, racial justice, environmental justice. You can’t back down. Now is not the time to give up, now is more than ever the time to be involved.
The overall struggle that we are engaged in is not complicated. It is to struggle for justice in the deepest sense of the word. A struggle to make sure that in the richest country in the history of the world, half of our people don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck, that we do not remain the only major country not to guarantee health care to all people. That it is absurd that millions of people go deeply in debt because they want to get a higher education, that we have 500,000 people who are homeless in America. All of these issues are issues that can be resolved when you have a government that works for all and not the few. And what the struggle is about is to bring people together, to keep your eyes on the prize, to remain focused, and to fundamentally change the priorities that currently exist in Washington.