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IN HONOR OF BERNIE SANDERS
by Anna Wrobel
ON TUESDAY November 29th, on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman broadcast her interview with Bernie Sanders, who was relaxed yet animated, analytical and warm, serious and funny, a fully human mentsh displaying his usual coherence in his presentation of economic and social principles. Whether these principles be obvious or complex, Bernie speaks in terms comprehensible and digestible.
Consider the political miracle of a Brooklyn Jewish guy (with the accent to prove it) going from rural town to rural town, garnering the trust and admiration of even conservative Vermonters. He spoke their language: not Brooklynese, but the universal tongue of Maslow’s hierarchy –- basic material and social sustenance for families and communities that free us, as individuals and groups, to pursue creative and meaningful lives. Bernie built much common ground with the sort of people who, in other states, would vote for Trump. At work was not magic, but empathy, analysis, evidence and kindness.
During the campaign, Sanders was educator-in-chief, enlightening millions of young people,
a generation no longer enthralled to Reaganism and with little dread of a word “socialism.” Today Bernie is elder-in-chief, a template for those of us who passed 21 some time ago. Bernie has vanquished the notion of a generation gap and the absurd Sixties adage to trust no one over 30. What many young people want for themselves is what loving adults want for them. The “kids” want us and need us. Take up Bernie’s challenge -- to forget the lumbago and commit to peaceful, direct and continuous engagement.
The following three poems are unapologetically political. Ranging from 1995 to 2013, I present these backwards in time to demonstrate how long we’ve been mired in reactionary economics designed to distract and diminish the many in order to aggrandize the very few.
FULL TO EMPTY
Written in 2013, this poem preceded the revitalized interest in American history stoked by Hamilton. As an American historian, I chose to use a key figure as metaphor for our collective need to consider and rebel against the unfathomable damage done to our earth and our communities by deep
earth mining, especially in the age of fracking, fossil fuel pipelines (think North Dakota), and
toxic heavy metal mining for the billions of cyber devices that crowd the planet, our brains, and our oft degraded political ‘discourse.’
I am afraid to do what Alexander Hamilton did --
predict the future almost to the day
He observed what was around him
calculated along the nexus of an agenda
and pulled foresight from the mixture
Revere him or despise him
I must report that he got it right
But I am afraid to do as Alexander did
to see down the road
to clinically tally
Now do we neither see nor tally
in his once vast ocean of potentials
the very world itself drained of blood
its spleen for growing anew
cracked to crystals
extracted like a tooth
pulled bare from the cradle
It must stop!
I am afraid to do as Hamilton did
and cannot predict the future
not knowing what to count
He didn’t live to see his vision
and neither may I . . .
but that is not the point!
I will have one up on Alexander
for I think I know what duel to fight.
Written in 2012, this poem addresses our desperate and collective need to recreate and
revitalize our nation’s resources for the sake of economic and social commonwealth, with
the understanding that the liberties of ALL individuals are best guaranteed by widespread
and democratic prosperity.
I ride the train once more and
note that despite all talk of youth
we are not a young country anymore.
Corroding rails, decaying walls and
much garbage strewn along the way.
Even ancient China and medieval France
have risen newer than we with
trains as swift as cheetahs and
windmills of the future
while we still argue “freedom”
in terms so vague, so abstract,
so commercial that cars and
cookies and nouveau cuisine
boast of the “choice”
we once reserved
when ‘gravitas’ and ‘civitas’
defined young republics
before prize and power
presumed unquestioned empire.
Far from our own heart we transfuse
our blood into the veins of others,
their own blood pooling into platters
for evaporation and for drinking.
We World Bank them
and IMF them
and Stock Exchange them
and sweatshop work them
and GMO monopoly seed them
while children there and children here
lament futures absent
hungry and relentless.
We are not a young country anymore.
How can we be when bitter old men
get to call the game
make the rules
and fool young men
into flying their flags
defending their wealth
and dying their
GO FROM HERE
Written in 1995, this poem is a painful reminder that issues raised here, as well as
retreads like Newt Gingrich, are still with us more than two decades later. The fact that as a
nation we have sunk even lower than what is described herein pains me enormously, but
I will not give in to despair, for with the advance of two decades, we have also witnessed
(finally) a voice for a people’s prosperity in the very beloved person of Bernie Sanders.
Sanders often reminds us that his surprising reception by young Americans as well as
working class and progressive Americans, is not about him, but about the fact that
economically toxic forces have so brazenly revealed themselves for who and what they
are. With Trump, we will likely see a resurgence of a Gingrich-style “Contract for (on)
America.” But today we are not so much a nation of Reagan worshippers, wherein even
Democrats threw in the towel and drank the neo-liberal global capitalist Kool-Aid.
Today, progressives are trying to retool the Democratic Party. Whether we count
ourselves as ‘Democrats’ or not, this is a time for joining in struggle, not for sleepwalking.
Where do we go from here?
To Warsaw ghettos everywhere?
To starving homeless children
and scarlet-lettered mothers?
This is a more modern age.
We won’t use hand-carts to collect the dead
but pile them high in refrigerator trucks
dump them in Staten Island landfills
where shabby modular units are built
for those who take oaths of allegiance
and can still get a mortgage.
Burn the books.
Stop the art.
Take over all lines of communication.
Government as private property.
Banks and Wall Street.
Corporations and high-tech industry.
Weapons and artillery.
Bolster them all with T.V. religion,
the wretched to feel they are paradise-bound.
Keep people divided by race and creed
so we cannot see we are of the same class
the un-rich caste.
And no matter how tight we grasp their tails
they will not share their goodies with me.
Not we or us.
And those who scream end aid
to the sick and hungry
will find themselves
without health, without food.
And those who scream for
the blood of state murder
will be the one in five
needing to die -- a sacrifice to
the capital crime of being alive.
So where do we go from here?
I am still naïve and I still believe
government can be, must be
of the people
by the people and
for the people.
I am still naïve and I still believe
that governance is ours to use
not theirs to abuse.
So where do we go from here?
We vote with our feet.
We’re out in the street
as many times
as many miles
as we need.
We build the house of our freedom
from the ground to the sky.
Some will join early in
the foundation laying.
Others will enter on
first and second floors.
Some will come later
hanging to chimneys but
we will welcome them in
through windows and doors.
Anna Bat-Chai Wrobel, a contributing writer to our magazine, is the author of Marengo Street: Selected Poems (2012, Moon Pie Press). She recently retired as a history teacher.