Reaching Out to Bernie Supporters: A Primer

Now that the Democratic National Convention is over and Hillary Clinton has officially accepted the party’s nomination, millions of people are celebrating the historic event. But not everyone is #WithHer. There are millions more people who still #FeelTheBern and are feeling rather burned by actual proof that the DNC never treated Bernie Sanders fairly. (First tip: Don’t argue this point with Bernie supporters. Even Harry Reid admits this is true. If you’re short on time, scroll down and scan the numbered list for more tips, but I hope you’ll read the whole thing.)

DNC Protest - Photo by Michael Flanagan

Photo of Bernie Sanders supporters at the DNCC by Michael Flanagan

And yet there has been a mass shaming of Bernie supporters who can’t feel excited about Hillary’s nomination. We’ve been called – and I’m pulling all of these phrases from people I’d chosen to follow on Facebook and Twitter because they were supposed to be my friends – sore losers, rowdy frat boys, delusional, crybabies, spoiled brats, uninformed, ridiculous, whiners…I could go on, but I really don’t want to. It’s been eye-opening to see how arrogance and condescension can change someone you thought you knew into one of the people you start to feel harassed by. They may not mention you by name, but you know they’re talking about people like you in a completely insulting manner.

Some people claim we should have “gotten over it” by now because we’ve had since June 7 to process it, but these people don’t understand just how much Bernie supporters had their hearts and souls behind this man and everything he stands for. Admittedly, some people legitimately didn’t understand how the nomination process works, and they thought there was a chance that the roll call vote could tip to Bernie’s favor at convention. Before you start thinking of these people as stupid, remember that most people aren’t as politically informed as our readers here are. Even those of us who did know understand how the nomination process worked, we held out a shred of hope for the slim chance that Hillary might be forced to drop out of the race. Some people believed she should have dropped out after the FBI findings were revealed, indictment or not. More people believed she should have dropped out after the #DNCleaks began to be revealed. Again, arguing this point will get you nowhere.

There is a spectrum of Bernie supporters, but if you decide to be reductive, you’re going to push even the most reasonable people away. I consider myself a reasonable person, and I have resigned myself to voting for Hillary despite my deeply held issues with her, but make no mistake – I am still a Bernie Sanders supporter. I’m just following his lead.

Rules for Productive Interactions with Bernie Supporters

  1. Stop pointing out how much of a disaster Donald Trump is. Most of us are perfectly aware of the dangers of a Trump presidency. We don’t want reasons why Donald Trump can’t win; we want reasons why Hillary Clinton should win. But also be aware that your “pros” may be our “cons.”
  2. Stop referring to any criticism of Hillary as “sexist” or a “right wing talking point.” Many of us have completely legitimate reasons to criticize Hillary. Most of us know that Benghazi was a manufactured scandal whose blame really lies on Congress’s failure to adequately fund embassy security, among other things. Some of us have voted for her in the past and changed our opinions in recent years after looking more closely at her record. Again, your pros may be our cons. That does not make us sexist or brainwashed by the GOP. We just have different priorities and perspectives.
  3. Understand that we are grieving a real loss. You know how proud you felt when you witnessed Hillary accepting the nomination, because it was the culmination of everything you’ve been hoping for over the last year? Think about having all of your hopes and dreams sucked out of your very soul instead, and that happening only days after learning that the people with the power did absolutely everything they could to ensure your dreams were crushed. And you’re being told that you aren’t allowed to talk about it, to mourn, to express your sadness, to express your anger, to just “get over it” and get behind a woman you don’t like and don’t trust. Which leads me to the next point…
  4. Understand that many of us will never like or trust Hillary. You may not care about Hillary’s Wall Street ties, but millions of people do. You may not think it was a big deal that Hillary’s surrogates told us we weren’t “real feminists,” that we were going to hell, or we were just following Bernie because that’s where the boys were…but that was highly offensive to many of us. And it’s not something we can forgive or forget. You cannot make us like Hillary or trust her. Many of us who have already decided we will vote for her are going to spend a great deal of time and energy calling her out on what we perceive as her shortcomings, to “hold her feet to the fire” to ensure that the compromises she and Bernie negotiated are more than worthless words on paper. We are going to hold her accountable to ensure she follows through, that she doesn’t try to block or undermine the platform changes we won. If we’ve admitted that we’re voting for her, don’t chastise us for trying to keep her honest.
  5. Remember that there is a great privilege divide that initially separated the two campaigns. Socioeconomic status is a primary source of conflict between Hillary supporters and Bernie supporters. Things like #FightFor15 and single-payer healthcare are not merely academic issues for us; a lot of these ambitious progressive goals may literally be life or death in the next 4-8 years for us or for someone we love. But socioeconomic status isn’t the only demographic difference. There is a real concern about intersectionality that requires more than a handful of people from a minority group used as stage dressing during the convention. (That’s going to be a separate post.)
  6. Acknowledge that Bernie and his supporters got a raw deal. Especially if you ever accused us of being conspiracy theorists. Or naive. Or any other form of denigration. Apologies would go really far. I’m hoping some of my friendships can be mended, but I need some people to admit they were unfair in their judgment of us, in their accusations laid against Bernie supporters in general, in buying the manufactured media narrative about Bernie supporters and holding it against us.
  7. People need time. We’ve got all of August, September, and October for Bernie supporters to wrap their heads around political reality. The newly politically active among us may take longer to weigh our idealism with our pragmatism. Preaching the Gospel of Hillary can wait. And honestly? Most people will come around on their own, and many bristle at being told who they “should” vote for, no matter how awful the Republican nominee may be.
  8. Not everyone can be convinced. And yet…there are those who will not be swayed from their #NeverHillary stance. Those who vote for Trump in protest are those who can never be “converted,” as they were supporting Bernie more as a rejection of the Establishment and less for his message of love and lifting everyone up. I will never understand them, and you shouldn’t try to. Others will vote for a third party candidate or write-in Bernie’s name. While it’s not what I would do, it is not for me to judge them for it. I’m angry, too: at the DNC, at DWS, at the members of the media who were complicit in ensuring Hillary’s coronation. Some people feel like voting for Hillary, no matter how pragmatic, would be rewarding the DNC for being corrupt. I’m not convinced they’re wrong about that, but I’m trying to keep my eyes on the bigger picture.

Remember that no one owes their vote to any given candidate, no matter who they’re running against. Voting is voluntary, and every vote must be earned. And it’s not just Democrats heading to the voting booth in November. While some of the tips I’ve given may sound “harsh” or “entitled” to you, it’s reality. I’m telling you from what I’ve felt in my heart, what I’ve heard from various Bernie communities online, and what I’ve been told by Bernie supporters in real life, by protesters, by other attendees at the DNC, and by actual Bernie delegates themselves. Work with us where we are, not where you want us to be.

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Author: Christina Gleason

Christina Gleason is a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. She is also a Corporate Neurodiversity Consultant, offering video courses and consulting to businesses who employ people with autism and other neurodivergent conditions. Her personal blog can be found at WELL, in THIS House.

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