Skip to main content

I felt the Bern

Published 5 years ago
By Forbes Africa

The highlight of my six-month long journalism fellowship in Jersey City, New York, was waking to the madness of the US 2016 election primaries. As an African socialist in New York, the campaign of 76-year-old Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party’s unlikely socialist candidate, alongside Hillary Clinton, had me glued to my television. Sanders had chutzpah as well as frailty. Downtown Jersey City was the hub of electioneering, with youthful socialists of all skin hues, LGBTQ, mavericks and hippies, wearing Sanders badges and wrapped in flags emblazoned: Bernie 2016: Feel The Bern (with red fire). Until the late hours, in beer-fuelled jamborees, we danced in the streets to Fire Is Ours, a song by Hawaiian-musician, Makana. It was also Sanders’ anthem. I want to believe the first four lines got me hooked to the noble campaign. It reminded me of a song back home: “My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy…”

I’ve been lied to. Misled.

Built up by what they said,

Lifted only to be let down,

I’ve been taken for a ride.

Sanders is an odd creature. I don’t give a fig about politics outside my motherland – Africa – but I couldn’t resist the charm of a man who showed the corporates the middle finger. My Zambian friend, Sam, who had been in the US for seven years, gave me a crash course on this Vermont senator. “Bernie will not be dictated to. This campaign is free of corporate influence,” says the man from Lusaka.

Apparently, our man refused to set up a political action committee that allows corporations and businesses to fund candidates and influence them. I was told Sanders had been a thorn in the posterior of big businesses and Wall Street, as he opted for faceless independent voter’s funding.

On June 7, a cold Tuesday, it was primary elections. I watched Sanders’ supporters accosting and hollering at voters from Grove Street train station, downtown Jersey City, from 6AM to 8PM. From my vantage point, there were no Clinton people in sight. But the opposite was true in other parts of the State of New Jersey – Clinton thumped Sanders by 63.2% to 36.8%. That was the end of his campaign, but the fire didn’t die. In subsequent rallies, Clinton got burned by aggrieved democrats who thought the elections were rigged. Sam from Lusaka was convinced Clinton was an evil politician, hence he never supported her in the first place. He thought Sanders was robbed, I didn’t. It was unthinkable that US elections can be rigged – that’s an African thing, I thought.

Fire Is Ours fizzled out. Now the spotlight shifted to Clinton and Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, whom I knew as a businessman who steadfastly refused to disclose his tax returns. I heard he was not legally bound to do so – but that’s something candidates had done in the past nine elections. Sam and I loathed the two candidates from the comfort of our street corner bar.

I was still unconvinced by Sam’s assertions about Clinton, because her husband, Bill, the former president, was a friend of South Africa and was here at the dawn of our democracy.  When he hobnobbed with Nelson Mandela, Hillary was in tow. But it took a Democracy Now! television interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, saying something about emails, to give me a change of heart.

When Assange was asked who was the lesser evil, he retorted: “Well, you are asking me, do I prefer cholera or gonorrhoea?”

Sam and his peers found the reply apt. Both the diseases and the c

Sign Up for Our Newsletter Daily Update

Get the best of Forbes Africa sent straight to your inbox with breaking business news, insights and updates from experts across the continent.
Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about about our products and services. By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
Related Topics: #Democratic Party, #Fellowship, #Hillary Clinton, #Jersey City, #Journalism, #November 2016, #US 2016 Elections.