Commentary  “Not Me, Us,” Includes You, Too

On the Potential of Senator Bernie Sanders

This piece presents an individual perspective, and does not constitute an endorsement, formal or informal, by the Daily editorial board.

McGill often touts its reputation as a diverse university with a student body comprised of students hailing from dozens of different countries. However, when I speak with my international and Canadian friends alike, I usually find that they’re blissfully unaware of anything happening outside of the McGill bubble; apparently, our exposure to the rest of the world’s affairs stops at the Roddick Gates. Despite the international notoriety of the current American president, most Americans I know are clueless about the process of voting abroad. These claims about the lack of political advocacy in McGill’s American student body are not founded solely upon anecdotal evidence: according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s 2016 Overseas Citizen Population Analysis Report, only about half a per cent of Americans abroad in Canada vote. McGill boasts a large chapter of Democrats Abroad (DA), with almost 1,000 likes on their Facebook page. However, given the historically low voting turnout of Americans abroad in Canada, it seems unlikely that this organization alone is potent enough to encourage expatriates to participate in the political process. Because DA is not meant to endorse any particular candidate, they can do little other than urge Americans abroad to vote – hardly a compelling argument for students preoccupied with midterms, paying bills, and general university-related stress.

It is through no fault of DA that voter turnout is so low; it is just that, by the nature of its noncommittal stance, the organization doesn’t have the persuasive leverage to mobilize voters abroad in an effective way. DA is a valuable resource insofar as it organizes American expats into a collective group, and provides readily-available information concerning how to vote from abroad. But this alone is not sufficient infrastructure to get out the vote. Students should be motivated by candidates first, and their political agency second: this is why the group Montreal for Bernie exists: to provide an alternative to the traditional get-out-the-vote efforts of DA. It is possible to work within the framework of DA and make use of its wealth of resources, but this must be done in conjunction with a motivation to elect a candidate one cares about – otherwise, voting from abroad will be relegated to one of many tedious, menial tasks that already weigh on McGill students.

There are a number of reasons to be invested in the Sanders campaign from abroad, not the least of which is a general sense of empathy for our southern neighbours. While Canada is by no means a perfect country, it does a better job at providing many citizens with basic needs such as healthcare. It seems to me that those who enjoy the privilege of universal healthcare ought to feel that everyone deserves such a basic right, regardless of their nationality.

Given the close relationship between Canada and the U.S., Canadians are often drawn into American politics whether they wish to be or not. Let’s consider, then, the many facets of American politics which do impact Canadian lives, and the ways in which a Sanders presidency could influence Canadian politics as a whole.

It is possible to work within the framework of DA and make use of its wealth of resources, but this must be done in conjunction with a motivation to elect a candidate one cares about – otherwise, voting from abroad will be relegated to one of many tedious, menial tasks that already weigh on McGill students.

First of all, many issues transcend borders; climate change, for example, is clearly an international issue. Anyone who claims to be concerned about the catastrophic results of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels should put their support behind politicians committed to reducing the effects of climate change – Sanders’ Green New Deal and his endorsement from the Sunrise Movement are clearly a testimony to such a commitment. The Sunrise Movement is an
international movement led by youths with the goal of pushing environmentally-friendly policies to be implemented across the world, so this endorsement speaks to the universal nature of environmental politics. It is also worth looking at warfare politics: the United States has been occupying the Middle East and funding war for almost my entire life (I was born shortly before the 9/11 attacks), and Sanders is one of only two candidates who have taken a strong anti-imperialist stance against these endless foreign wars.

However, it is valid to criticize the argument that one should be invested in American politics solely due to the country’s economic and military power. If your only reason for being involved is that you fear America, you have essentially been bullied into your political views. This is why it’s important to consider the ideological influence which the U.S. holds over the world, particularly given the Labour Party’s recent loss in the UK. Having a socialist in one of the most powerful offices in the world would create the ideological space for other leftist parties to gain more credibility in the context of electoral politics. The pervasive idea that the left has no appeal to voters will persist so long as there’s not a clear show of support for such politics. The advantage to Sanders’ campaign in this regard is that it has inspired a mass movement: Sanders has a unique ability to mobilize working-class voters, and this same mobilization should be extended to elsewhere in the world.

To be sure, the level of support which Sanders has outside of the U.S. is already remarkable: as of now, he is the only candidate who has an official group of supporters in Montreal. It is worth considering why he has garnered such interest from expatriates and non-American citizens. Sanders presidency would be beneficial in some way to those outside of the United States.

I believe that Sanders has earned the valuable time of so many activists abroad because his campaign presents a strong opportunity to exercise political agency both within and without the electoral systems. Sanders himself often characterizes his campaign as a “political revolution,” and while I often shy away from such dramatic rhetoric, it is certainly clear that the campaign is about much more than electing one man to a political office. What Sanders embodies is not the result of some tired calculations of electability done by innocuously liberal technocrats, but rather the potential for significant, lasting political change.

I believe that Sanders has earned the valuable time of so many activists abroad because his campaign presents a strong of the opportunity to exercise political agency both within and without the
electoral systems.

Granted, there are plenty of leftist movements independent of electoralism, but such movements could gain far more mainstream influence if they were taken to be reflective of the interests of the electoral body. While grassroots activism is effective, it still requires the continued lobbying of elected officials to get any policies put in place. For groups whose goal is to pass legislation pertaining to their cause, having an elected official who shares their values in office would provide more direct, effective support for their cause. Were the American election to shift the Overton window left, it is quite possible that many elected officials, or candidates for office, would come to embrace the leftist policies that these organisations work so hard to get governments to adopt. The ideals that are currently characterized as radical could be realized in a direct, timely manner if they found their way into the White House, Canadian Parliament, and beyond.

America is usually to the ideological right of Canada. If a candidate who identifies as socialist could succeed there, it would open up any number of possibilities here in Canada. If such a candidate fails, however, it will almost certainly be taken to be a confirmation of the belief that the left will inevitably fail in democratic elections. What we are presented with in the 2020 American election is not simply a choice from a series of stale candidates virtually indistinguishable from one another; we finally have a viable alternative to the status quo, quite possibly the last anti- establishment candidate which the left-of-center will see for a long time. It is imperative that you concern yourself with this election if you are invested in promoting the interests of the working class and marginalized groups.

What Sanders embodies is not the result of some tired calculations of electability done by innocuously liberal technocrats, but rather the potential for significant, lasting political change.

Americans abroad have a great deal more political agency than they seem to realize, and other McGill students likewise have the capability to enact considerable change by promoting a movement which can build a foundation for a political movement that puts the interests of working-class and marginalized voters first.

Montreal for Bernie is a means to not only get out the vote abroad, but also to create a network of activists which can later serve the interests of progressives here in Montreal.

While I sympathise with other students, for whom voting is just one of many burdensome concerns, it is clear that Americans at McGill have a great deal of political agency which we often fail to exercise.

While I sympathise with other students, for whom voting is just one of many burdensome concerns, it is clear that Americans at McGill do in fact have a great deal of political agency which we often fail to exercise. I like to think of myself as someone who can help to change the world, and I suspect that many McGill students have a similar self- image. If you’re serious about enacting change, this is your opportunity; you can either be part of a widespread movement seeking to create lasting political change, or you can keep your place as a student rooted firmly in the McGill bubble. If you’re an American, of course, you should vote: you can vote in the global primary or cast an absentee ballot on March 3 at Hurley’s on Crescent Street. Anyone is welcome to volunteer for the Sanders campaign – Montreal for Bernie organizes weekly phone/text banking events, and recently took several trips to New Hampshire to canvass in the U.S., but it’s also possible to volunteer on your own. The infrastructure for enacting serious change is being built around you. But whether you choose to take advantage of it, or stay complacent, is solely up to you.