During last year’s primary season at the University of New Hampshire, a few other friends and I started Students for Bernie on our campus. Eventually, what started out as a fun side hobby became a full-time commitment. Classes and academic responsibilities were secondary to me — most of my time was spent phonebanking, clipboarding, or going door-to-door with other volunteers. In those chaotic months, nothing else really seemed to matter besides getting him elected. Our hard work paid off when he won in New Hampshire by double digits. My spirits and energy were high; I’ve never felt more motivated, and my heart never felt as full.
It sounds cliché, but the whole experience was life changing. Although I didn’t know it at the time, his campaign would eventually act as the catalyst for my future activism and involvement with issue based organizing. He reawakened my passion for social and environmental rights, for being the voice for the voiceless. His campaign was a prime example of how powerful people can be when they stand together and demand change. In this sense, I owe so much of my heart to Bernie. Without the campaign, I wouldn’t be where I am today, nor would I feel as empowered.
When the primaries came to an end, though, it was clear that not everyone in the country was feelin’ the Bern. When he officially lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, I was crushed, borderline devastated. I was even there when he endorsed Hillary at a rally in Portsmouth, NH. I didn’t realize how emotionally invested I was in his campaign until his endorsement left me with a lump in my throat, a pit in my stomach and tears streaming down my face. The man who inspired an entire generation to participate in democracy again gracefully bowed out, steering his revolution in another direction.
Berners’ then had two choices: follow Bernie’s lead or choose another path. At first, I felt angry — not at Bernie, but at the system. I couldn’t seem to come to terms with the fact that we lost. I was deeply conflicted. I could either let emotions cloud my view or, take a step back, breathe, and analyze the situation objectively. I then realized that this election was never just about Bernie — it was about us. He could never change the country all on his own. It’s our job to fight for justice every day.
You see — and this is the critical truth we must accept — there’s a reason Bernie stood behind Hillary. He understands what’s at stake for our country. He understands that to create REAL systemic change, you need to start from the inside out. With the help of Bernie and his team, the DNC adopted one of the most progressive platforms in modern history, which will serve as the foundation for Hillary’s presidency. This is why I am voting for Hillary in November –- with all of us on the frontlines and Bernie and other progressives in the Senate, we can continue the revolution that Bernie started.
So let’s work and organize like our lives depend on it — because they actually do. Go out there and get out the vote. Phone bank, clipboard, canvass, not only for presidential candidates but local and state level elections, as well. Find the issue you care about most. Whether it’s the environment, women’s rights, immigration reform, or anything else, start helping out local organizations that help your cause, that push politicians to make the right decisions on those important issues. Nothing will change unless we’re willing to put in the work for it, no matter who is president. Don’t rely on a protest vote for a third party candidate, or any candidate for that matter, to save you. Because no president can singlehandedly save us, and democracy is NOT a spectator sport.
If you love this country and believe in Bernie’s revolution, work with me to get progressives elected up and down the ballot this November, and work with me afterwards to hold elected officials accountable. I know times are tough. I know it’s frustrating, sad, and scary, but together, we can and will get through this. We can work for the country that we’ve always wanted. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Let’s show our government what people power is really all about. #VoteThenGetOut
Inspired? Go to 350action.org/GOTV to help phonebank during the final stretch of the election.
Athena Valkanos is a 350 Action fellow in New Hampshire.