SP leader on Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution

21 February 2018

SP leader on Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution

Tuesday Lilian Marijnissen received the first copy of the Dutch translation of Bernie Sanders' book, a publication for which she wrote the foreword. SP monthly Tribune spoke to her about the book and its author.

You were asked to write the foreword for Bernie Sanders' book. What do you think of Bernie?

It's extraordinary to be asked to write a foreword for a book by a man who's a source of inspiration to people not only in America but here too. He may not have got straight into the White House, but he certainly changed the political relations in the US. Indeed, as he says himself in the book, this was only the start. Bernie has been engaged in the struggle since the year dot, but has been more visible in recent years. I followed him of course during the presidential elections, with their appalling outcome in the form of Trump in the White House. I was in the US in person in the summer of 2016 and was able to watch things from nearby.

What's the book about?

Sanders begins with his own history and with the story of his campaign. He also gives an analysis of the situation in the US and explains his alternatives. His story, of course, is exceptional. It begins, actually, quite crazily, and he takes you to that start in the book. Small halls with a hundred or so people turn into two hundred and so on to eventually become gatherings of 20,000. He took up the cudgels against the Clintons' power, against the power of big money I found it shocking in his account how elections can simply be bought. But that's only one of the battles he has fought, for democracy and against the reality that capital,the people and the corporations with the most money can buy the most influence. It takes courage to go against the current and demand your dreams.

Why is it called Our Revolution?

That's also the name of his movement, the movement he has built and continues to build. But if you read his book you can see that he made his campaign into a revolution. That a socialist stands up in the country where commerce, the power of big capital and neoliberalism have gone furthest, that's revolutionary. As also is an old socialist who appeals to many young people. In the primaries more young people voted for him than voted for Clinton and Trump added together.

How would you explain this success with young people?

I think they're just fed up with the whole sick system. Bernie comes along with a completely different alternative, one under which power no longer lies with the people with the most money. It speaks to young people that a socialist stands up and offers them a future. That there's a real opposition, not someone who bounces back and forth with the flow, a bit more of this and a bit less of that. He says 'we are going to organise things so that everyone who needs health care will get it.' That actually doesn't sound all that radical, but in the US it's very much so.

What do you relate to in Sanders' struggle?

I think that for the SP too, the task is to offer some prospects in people's lives, so that they see that tomorrow can be different from today – and better. In Sanders' message there's always optimism and hope. I also relate to his radical agenda. Our ideas have also been called radical, but my response is to ask 'what's so strange about that?' What's so strange about health care for everyone that needs it? What's so strange about thinking that we should all pay our taxes fairly? There's nothing radical about any of this and we shouldn't allow people to say that there is, especially people who have every interest in dismissing our ideas as unachievable, unrealistic and unaffordable.

What can you learn from him?

So much. The book is full of inspiring ideas and examples. I hope that we will be inspired by his optimism and his tenacity. And learn how he built his movement. On that point the SP is well under way, with our neighbourhoods campaign, actions in 135 localities, everything being built from below, just as Sanders does too. Something quite different is his style. He writes about his speeches, how they last easily an hour, taking his time to explain things. So not soundbites and one-liners and ten minutes later he's on his way. With this he's amassed a great deal of credit. People want to come and listen to him. They find it good when someone takes the time for instance to explain the crisis, where it came from, what have been its results, what his solutions are. What a relief! The spirit of the times tells us that if you can't say it in 140 characters, then you haven't done well in the debate. He's the polar opposite. Every PR person would advise against, but I love how he simply does things in his own way.

Are you yourself that opinionated?

That's what they sometimes say, yes! But that fits with the man and his political message. This separates him from other politicians. That fits with the content, namely that you're offering an alternative. And it also fits that he is so close to the problems of ordinary people. In the end it boils down, for example, to this: if you have a job, you should be able to live on your wages. Wherever you live, wherever you come from, whatever language you speak. That's the essence.

Did you have to write a really long foreword?

No, I had to keep it very short. I talk about the Fight for Fifteen, the campaign to double the minimum wage. I was in the US in 2016 to study this campaign. That continued throughout the election campaign. Bernie supported this campaign, as did Hilary, later, under some pressure. They're fighting for a minimum wage of $15 an hour and he goes back to it in the book. The first reaction in America was 'you're completely crazy, you'll never get it.' But they're fighting for each other. One state or city after another is already on board, New York City, Los Angeles too. When I was there I spoke with people who couldn't pay the doctor's bill, or who had a 40-hour a week job and lived in their car, because they can't afford to pay for a roof over their head.

We're on our way there in the Netherlands.

Especially among young people, with their insecure contracts. It's the new normal for a whole generation, that you just have to hope that you'll have enough money to get through to the end of the month, because at the start of the month you don't know. We have to nip such a society in the bud. In the US the multinationals pay people so little that even working people have to be kept afloat by subsidies in the form of bonuses and aid from the state, which means that the state is paying for the low wages paid by big firms. The world turned upside down.

Who is this book for?

Whoever wants to be inspired should read it. This man gives you so much courage. If he can succeed in the United States, then we can surely succeed here.

This interview was first published in the SP monthly in February, 2018. Bernie's book is of course available in English, though without Lilian's foreword.

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