With California and other late primaries in view, Democrats face a fateful choice, whether to plunge ahead with status-quo Hillary Clinton or turn away at the last minute and go with hope-inspiring Bernie Sanders, as Lisa Pease urges in this open letter.
By Lisa Pease
Please don’t commit suicide by nominating Hillary Clinton. Allow me to explain. I have been a Democrat since birth. My first political memory was Robert Kennedy’s assassination. I remember thinking that perhaps the best politician that ever was had died and being terribly sad from that thought.
I will never forget the election of 1972, watching as state after state chose Nixon instead of McGovern. “How can they all be so wrong?” I remember thinking as a young girl. Ignorance and selfishness seemed the only answers.
I suffered through Nixon and Ford before enjoying, briefly, the interruption of Jimmy Carter for a term. Then it was another 12 years of Republican rule under Reagan and George H. W. Bush. From my childhood to adulthood I had seen 24 years of Republicans and only four years of Democratic rule. The country felt profoundly unfair.
It’s the money in politics, I realized somewhere along the way to the 1992 election. So when Jerry Brown, the past and future governor of California, said he would only take $100 campaign contributions because money in politics was corrupting America, for the first time I walked into a campaign office and volunteered. Getting money out of politics profoundly inspired me. I wanted to join the cause. I fell into my first political love affair.
The antagonist in that election, as you well know, were the Clintons. They came as a package. But there was something about them, their love for pomp and circumstance and money, that set me on edge from the beginning. That said, when I heard fellow “Brownies” might be voting for Perot if Brown lost, I argued vigorously the Democrats are not the problem. The Clintons may be, but don’t blame the party.
No matter how much we hate the Clintons, we have to suck it up and vote for the Democrats. Yes, I really had those conversations. And I lived to regret them. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
During my time on the Brown campaign, I saw how completely biased and inaccurate the media was. I would go to an event with 3,000 people in attendance and see it dismissed as “a small handful” of supporters. I thought, if the media is this wrong about something I have firsthand knowledge of, what else are they wrong about?
I started reading many more sources than the typical mainstream ones. I didn’t rely on television news for information. So as the debate for North American Free Trade Agreement was going on, I found myself drawn to C-SPAN, where I could hear the Senators argue for and against the trade agreement without a filter.
It was clear to me, listening to both sides, that those who opposed NAFTA were correct and those who supported it were incorrect. I was so incensed I promised myself that I would volunteer in 1996 for anyone who had opposed NAFTA. I reached out to Rep. Dick Gephardt’s office, as he had led the opposition to NAFTA, but sadly, he declined to run that year. The Democratic Party had failed me yet again by offering no principled opposition to a president who could best be described as “Republican Lite.”
And it wasn’t just NAFTA. I was not impressed by our “humanitarian” efforts in Kosovo once I learned how a photograph that appeared to show people inside a fence in a modern-day concentration camp really showed people outside a fence looking in, among many other lies. Having learned from Mark Fineman’s Los Angeles Times story “The Oil Factor in Somalia,” which was one of Project Censored’s top stories from 1993, that George H.W. Bush’s “humanitarian” efforts in Somalia were run out of the oil companies there in the hopes of securing the oil that studies had indicated were underground there, I learned to be suspicious of “humanitarian” excuses for attacks on other countries.
Rumors abounded that our efforts in Kosovo were also more oil than a humanitarian effort, and specifically, an oil pipeline. The mainstream media chimed in many times to tell us these were simply “conspiracy theories,” that no pipeline was planned, that our efforts were simply to help the poor people of Kosovo. But that wasn’t true. This pipeline is now in existence. As George Monbiot spelled out in The Guardian of Feb. 15, 2001:
“During the Balkans war, some of the critics of NATO’s intervention alleged that the western powers were seeking to secure a passage for oil from the Caspian Sea. This claim was widely mocked. Robin Cook observed that ‘there is no oil in Kosovo.’ This was, of course, true but irrelevant. His discovery was repeated by an eminent commentator for this paper, who clinched his argument by recording that the Caspian Sea is ‘half a continent away, lodged between Iran and Turkmenistan.’
“For the past few weeks, a freelance researcher called Keith Fisher has been doggedly documenting a project which has, as far as I can discover, yet to be reported in any British, European or US newspaper. It’s called the Trans-Balkan Pipeline, and it’s due for approval at the end of next month. Its purpose is to secure a passage for oil from the Caspian Sea.”
Both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton were provably liars and, when they left office, thieves. (They did eventually return the items they had stolen from the White House.) Yet the other side was still worse. I wasn’t one of those who voted for Ralph Nader, though I believed Al Gore was a weak candidate who was too conservative for my tastes in many ways. He was a far superior candidate to the alternative, George W. Bush.
That’s also when Hillary Clinton began her political climb. It was clear that the only reason Hillary stood by her man was that her own ambition outweighed any sense of propriety. I knew it would be only a matter of time before she would run for president. Hillary Clinton, however, had no credentials. So, in 2000, she ran for Senate in New York State, a delegate-rich and cash-heavy cow that could propel her to the White House.
Then 9/11 happened. That day began the worst period in my life. I saw the Bush administration construct an obviously false narrative about WMD in Iraq, obvious to any of us who knew enough to doubt the mainstream when they all started talking with one voice, indicative of a hidden force shaping the narrative.
The Iraq War Carnage
I knew there were no WMD in Iraq. I knew Bush’s excuses were all a pretense to invade. I knew Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks on 9/11. I knew this, alone in my apartment across the continent in Los Angeles, reading only open sources, without the staff and resources Sen. Clinton had at her disposal. So when she voted to give Bush permission to conduct unilateral war, any chance of her becoming my president died in an Iraqi grave that was eventually filled with more than 1 million innocent bodies.
That vote made me vow never to elect as president anyone who had voted to authorize the Iraq War. Sen. Dianne Feinstein had to go for the same reason. Sen. Barbara Boxer had the courage to speak out against the war. Rep. Nancy Pelosi had the good judgment to vote nay. Rep. Rush Holt, an actual “rocket scientist” in Congress, voted nay. A state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama spoke out against the war and said he would have voted against it. And, pertinent to the present moment, Bernie Sanders, the famous independent from Vermont, had not only voted against it but spoke out vigorously against it.
As the war progressed, and the media droned on the same false justifications for the war, I turned increasingly to C-Span, where a common sight was Rep. Bernie Sanders speaking to an empty room, decrying the crimes not just of the Bush administration but of Bush’s Democratic enablers.
That war affected me profoundly. When others hurt, I hurt. When my country kills people who never attacked us, that is about as profoundly upsetting as it can get, for someone of my emotional makeup. I knew that what Rep. Sanders and a few brave others were saying was true: that the war would make us less safe, not more.
Deep in 2003, I shook off my despair and sought action. There had to be some Democrat who could beat President George W. Bush, who could put an end to this miserable crime we were perpetuating. I went to a Democratic Party meeting in which different tables showed different videos of each of the candidates running for president. I’d listen to a couple of minutes of platitudes and then move on to the next table. But when I got to one table, I heard something that gave me a hope I hadn’t felt since 1991:
“What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the President’s unilateral intervention in Iraq?
“What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting tax cuts, which have bankrupted this country and given us the largest deficit in the history of the United States?
“What I want to know is why the Congress is fighting over the patient’s bill of rights? The patient’s bill of rights is a good bill, but not one more person gets health insurance and it’s not 5 cents cheaper.
“What I want to know is why the Democrats in Congress aren’t standing up for us joining every other industrialized country on the face of the Earth and having health insurance for every man, woman and child in America.
“What I want to know is why so many folks in Congress are voting for the President’s Education Bill ‘The No School Board Left Standing Bill,’ the largest un-funded mandate in the history of our educational system!
“As Paul Wellstone said, as Sheila Kuehl said when she endorsed me … I am Howard Dean and I am here to represent the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
Finally! Someone was calling out not only George Bush’s crimes, but the enablers in my own party! I was in. I immediately began volunteering for “People-powered Howard,” eventually joining his national paid staff in his Burlington, Vermont headquarters. There, I heard not just about Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, but even more about the amazing Congressman Bernie Sanders.
The Vermont Vibe
I have never felt as well represented as I did in Vermont. Both its Senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and former Republican James Jeffords, who had the conscience to leave his party to prevent a Republican majority under Bush, had both voted against the Iraq War. I felt safe. I felt certain my party would be in good hands.
But Howard Dean was not the “chosen” candidate that year. John Kerry was. John Kerry had voted for the Iraq War. How could I support him?? After Howard’s loss in the primaries, I returned to Los Angeles. (It depresses me to no end what a sell-out Howard Dean has become by backing Hillary Clinton.) Why campaign for Kerry when he promised to be as bad as Bush? I couldn’t do it. But Bush was so completely horrible it was clear where the lesser evil lay, so I held my nose and voted for John Kerry.
I nearly quit the party altogether the morning after the election, when Kerry failed to contest what to me seemed obvious election fraud in Ohio. I remember literally screaming in my car when I heard that, a string of expletives directed not at Bush, whom I expected to be evil, but at Kerry, whom I had not expected to be so cowardly. I watched in the next few days as the Democrats rolled over as they had so many times since the assassination of the top four leaders of the Left in the five year span of 1963-1968.
I didn’t think I had another campaign left in me. I was so disgusted with politics I turned my full attention to exposing what really happened in the 1960s. I needed to share with others what I was learning about the evidence that the CIA was involved in killing both Kennedys and not only got away with it, but had cowed the Democratic Party and anyone who sought to investigate the spy agency in the process.
I thought I was done. The Democratic Party had raided my emotional cupboard and left it barren. The Democratic Party was becoming the Republican party. But then a miracle happened. That young, charismatic State Senator who had opposed the Iraq War, now U.S. Senator Barack Obama, decided to run. Having had my political heart broken several times, I had little faith.
I also really didn’t know if my country was ready to elect a black president. His mixed-race heritage had no effect on me, but I feared its effect on others. But I promised myself, if he can win Iowa, I will volunteer for him. If he can win over that nearly all-white state, that will be the sign that he can win it all. I desperately wanted to oppose Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards had always struck me as a phony RFK-wannabe poseur.
The only one I could stomach was Obama. And the more people attacked him, the more I wanted to defend him. I knew from the start he was not as liberal as Jerry Brown, but I also knew he wouldn’t flame out like Howard Dean. He espoused the sentiments I believed all Democrats were supposed to share: that we are all deserving of a decent life, with health care for all, fairness and justice.
Even so, I volunteered for Obama not so much to help him as to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming our president. I phone-banked for him every weekend during the primaries. As soon as he had the nomination, I stepped back, knowing that others would finally step up and do their part. I knew from long experience that Obama would likely disappoint. He had told anyone who was really listening he would govern from the center. That was troubling. But his principled opposition to the war in Iraq gave me hope.
I was incensed that Obama made Clinton his Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, she gave out arms deals that followed or were preceded by significant contributions to the Clinton Foundation, given the strong appearance of “pay for play.” It was Whitewater and Travelgate all over again. Hard to prove, but easy to see.In Haiti, she fought to lower the minimum wage, which was already profoundly inhumanly low, to help American businesses. She crassly called Iraq a “business opportunity.” And she supported a coup in Honduras (which reeked of a CIA operation) that saw the unseating of a popular progressive who had been democratically elected. She and Obama should have lost their Democratic credentials in that moment.
At times, however, Obama tried to stop major catastrophes. He kept us from bombing Syria by his smart move of throwing the vote to the Republican-ruled Congress, who loved to complain but didn’t want the blame if things went south there. But I had serious problems with the way Obama has enabled the growth of the worst excesses of the national security state.
After seven years, my disenchantment with the party was nearly complete. At the start of the campaign, the path was prepared for Hillary Clinton’s coronation. A woman who makes my skin crawl at the mention of her name was to be the Democratic nominee for president without even the façade of a competitive race.
I had all but dropped out of politics when a miraculous thing happened. Bernie Sanders, that iconoclastic congressman who had the foresight to predict the tragedy that Iraq would become, entered the race. When I heard Bernie Sanders was running I was both thrilled and surprised. I loved him, but could he win? On a weeknight last August, I heard that Sanders would be speaking at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on the USC campus that night.
Working not far from there, I thought I’d pop over to see him. I was not prepared for what I encountered. In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have imagined 25,000 people in Los Angeles had even heard of Bernie Sanders, much less were coming to see him, standing in unbelievably long lines. There was no band playing music. This was a purely political event.
And on that August night, Bernie made me a born-again Democrat. I heard things I had begun to despair that I’d never hear coming out of the mouth of a Democratic Party national candidate again. Free public college. Health care for all. Tax the wealthy and employ the poor. Education, not incarceration. All my core values, wrapped up in a single speech. It was almost like an out-of-body experience.
Where has he been? Where has my PARTY been? Why am I only just now hearing all the things I’ve expected to hear since Robert Kennedy died? When he ended with a call to “political revolution,” I was nearly shaking. That was exactly what we needed, but who had ever had the guts in my party to state it as such?
A Principled Outsider
I knew right then and there that not only was something profound happening, but that the ground had already shifted. I realized that as we lost more money and cut expenses, many of us gave up cable and were therefore impervious to the “conventional wisdom” propaganda promulgated through MSNBC and CNN.
These people knew Bernie because they Googled. They watched his speeches online. They saw him as the principled outsider, not the corrupted insider. They didn’t need the media to tell them who to vote for. They saw a problem and set about researching how to fix it. Bernie was their candidate of choice. And in a flash I realized, of course they are right.
I know how impossible in the current climate it would be to get any of his programs passed. But I also know that great ideas have a gravity of their own that pull down the opposition and make way for its supporters. Just by voicing loudly certain ideas, such as that Americans have the right to universal, single-payer health care, Americans come to believe and demand such.
As I watched him in the months that followed, I learned that Bernie Sanders was an excellent debater and a genuine fighter. My one fear was he would be too nice and it would be easy to attack him. But he’s not and it isn’t. He’s been subjected to brutal attacks from Republicans for decades, none more so than in his Senate race. He’s been vetted. I did my own oppo research, too. I didn’t want to “fall in love” and then learn of some fatal flaw. But the things I found didn’t rise to any level of concern.
I have had my heart dashed early too many times. If he wins Iowa or New Hampshire, I’m in, I told myself. And he nearly won both. (Joe Scarborough has said on numerous times he and others were certain Iowa had been rigged. As someone who has studied election fraud for more than a decade, I think the party owes us more transparency.)
On issue after issue, Bernie Sanders has spoken more to the roots of Democratic Party values than Hillary has. He was for gay rights long before she was. He was getting arrested for civil rights when Hillary was a “Goldwater girl,” even after having seen Martin Luther King, according to her own statement. I don’t want to vote for someone who has had to change to meet the expectations of the moment. I want to vote for someone who has ALWAYS been for fairness and justice for all.
Donald Trump could well be the first accidental dictator this country has seen. The media could not, cannot, stop covering him, even when they are enabling his worst excesses of hate speech and idiocy. The man cannot form coherent sentences often, but when he does, it is usually to form some ethnic, sexual or religious slur against a large number of people.
Given my history, you’d think I could suck it up and accept Clinton as the lesser evil. But her record as Secretary of State was truly abominable. She made the world less, not more, stable. In supporting the decidedly undemocratic, fascist coup in Honduras instead of backing the democratically-elected leader, and in the killing of Gaddafi (and then joking callously and very unpresidentially, “We came, we saw, he died”), I saw the hand of the CIA, Henry Kissinger, and all the forces of evil in foreign policy I’ve spent my lifetime opposing.
This woman is a neocon through and through. That the Democrats in my own party can’t see this is so completely upsetting and disturbing that it feels my only choice will be to leave the party altogether. This time the Democrat is not the “lesser” evil. She is only the “other” evil.
Rallying for Sanders
I am a woman in my 50s. I work fulltime at a job that takes nearly all the energy I have. And I have a book I am writing on the side that is time-critical. No one but Bernie Sanders could have gotten me to stop writing the book to work on this election. No one else would have been worth it.
But Bernie’s call to revolution was so sincere, so necessary, and so timely that I responded. Not only have I donated and phone-banked and canvassed, I’m now a canvassing captain, leading others, training other captains, helping in any way that I can. I’m taking vacation days before the primary to help. I already have my flight and room booked in Philadelphia. I am as all-in as it gets.
So, dear Democrats, surely you see where I am going with this. I am not alone. There are a million of us working for Bernie Sanders every day. He is powered entirely by our donations. He has called us to serve and, by gosh, we are out serving. That is what a leader does. That is how a leader leads.
What has Hillary ever led on? Seriously, you cannot name one progressive issue where she took a difficult, unpopular stand and said I am right and the rest of you are wrong. Bernie Sanders has, and history has proven his stance right time and again. Hillary always checks the polls before taking a stance. Bernie never does. He only has to poll his own moral compass to come to the right choice. On several major issues in recent years, there’s a video of Bernie saying the right thing and one of Hillary saying she “made a mistake” for taking the wrong step.
The Democratic Party has disappointed me more this year than in any other. This should have been a fair fight. Bernie Sanders was not just a message candidate. He is THE STRONGEST AND MOST DEMOCRATIC candidate running. Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz buried the debates so they were easy to miss. Seeing Hillary’s performance, there’s no mystery why this was the case. The more people see and hear her, the less they like her, period. The states he lost in were the states that knew him least.
I’m upset at the Democratic Party for not raising a stink about an issue new in this election that reeks of a Clinton campaign tactic: the mysterious flipping of voter registrations from Democrat to Republican so that those people could not vote for Bernie. In Brooklyn, where a potentially election-altering 100,000 voters were removed from the rolls, the party has been too silent.
That New York voters had to declare their political affiliation in October 2015 even though the vote wasn’t until April 2016 bespoke an effort to deprive people of their chance to vote for Bernie Sanders, not encourage it. In Nevada, when the rules were changed before the Bernie Supporters could vote in such a way that disenfranchised a number of Bernie supporters made me think the party’s named should be changed to the Autocratic, not Democratic, party.
For Rep. John Lewis to stab in the back the only person in the race to have chained himself to a black woman to prevent her from being taken away in a protest, the only person who stood with the Congressional Black Caucus when they decried the widespread voter roll purges that unfairly disadvantaged black voters in Florida in 2000, to insinuate that Bernie Sanders was lying about his civil rights record, turned John Lewis – for me – from a hero into a monster.
Bernie Sanders is used to being attacked. The more he is attacked, the more I like him for persisting in doing the right thing. He’s not in this for himself. If he had an ego, he would hold for the applause lines, use the word “I” as frequently as Hillary does, and talk all about himself, as Hillary does.
But Bernie doesn’t care two cents for that. When the crowd starts chanting “Bernie, Bernie” as it has at the numerous rallies I’ve watched, Bernie just keeps plowing ahead, sometimes telling the crowd to stop because it’s not about him, it’s about us, and what we can do together.
A Time for Decision
So what’s it going to be, Democrats? Are you going to become entirely the party of Wall Street at the expense of the working people? That’s the path Hillary Clinton has laid out for us. Or are you going to be the party of the people, whose New Deal programs need not only rehabilitation but expansion?
Are we going to be the party that welcomes neocons like Hillary into our midst? Are we going to be the party of “No, we can’t” think big enough to talk about free public college and single-payer healthcare? Are we going to be the party where only the designated nominee is allowed to win and the people’s choice be damned? Because mark my words, had Bernie Sanders gotten a fair deal, he might have had a lead in pledged delegates by now. Had Sanders gotten the media coverage that Trump has gotten, there’s no doubt in my mind he would be leading in the “popular vote” as well.
And the party should not allow anyone to talk about the “popular vote” when the caucus states’ voters weren’t counted and the populations that didn’t caucus but supported Sanders weren’t counted. That’s not a fair measure at all.
If any super-delegates fall for that argument I will believe they are too politically illiterate to govern. I do care who wins the pledged delegate count. But neither Hillary nor Bernie will have won the pledged count by the end of the primaries.
I understand why the super-delegates came into being. But I think it is a completely undemocratic way of choosing candidates in the so-called “Democratic” party. I don’t mind giving a free ticket to the convention to the super-delegates. Just don’t give them a vote. Let the people decide, or stop calling this the Democratic Party.
I’m glad to read that party leaders are considering replacing Debbie Wasserman Schultz. But that is only a first step. The next step would be to ask all the networks not to call the race over before the biggest state, California, has even finished voting. In fact, the party should issue statements to the networks reminding them that the primaries are not the vote that selects our nominee. Only the delegates select our candidate (as undemocratic as that is).
The whole process was stacked not just against Bernie Sanders but against any progressive through the frontloading of the Confederacy states. I don’t buy the narrative that Bernie can’t win minorities because I’m surrounded by minority volunteers who are supporting Bernie Sanders all over Los Angeles. That’s a false and destructive narrative, and one the party leaders have repeated.
The State Department’s IG report on Hillary’s email server wasn’t needed for me. My gosh, I can’t think of any employer on the planet that would let you, as an employee, conduct the company’s business from your own private server. That would, in the private sector, have been a firing offense. I would hope that in a government, it would prevent such a person from running for President!
That Hillary could possibly pretend that was okay shows she was either ignorant, in denial, or a liar, and none of those are qualities I want in my next president. The IG report should be the nail in the coffin of her candidacy. If Hillary didn’t follow the rules of the State Department, what other rules will she break? I, for one, do not want to have to find out.
Bernie or Bust
As a Democrat I am telling you as plainly as I can, I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton. Give me Bernie Sanders, and I can support the Democratic Party this fall. Give me Clinton, and I cannot, in good conscience, vote for her. Trump is a nightmare that would be short-lived and will destroy what’s left of the Republican Party. Hillary’s presidency would also be short-lived and would destroy what’s left of the Democratic Party. I know the Supreme Court is at stake. But millions of lives around the globe are at stake as well, and believe it or not, as an American, that really matters to me.
You have a choice between the past and the future. Hillary Clinton represents the worst parts of our past – horrendous votes that costs millions of innocent lives, endless scandals, lies, and a dangerous dependence on Wall Street funding. Bernie Sanders represents the best part of our future – bringing new, young, energetic and progressive people into the party who are fully willing to fund the candidates so they do NOT have to be dependent on Wall Street, so long as the candidates truly serve the interests of the people and not the big money donors who are corrupting our process.
With Bernie Sanders leading the ticket, I would be so proud to be a Democrat. With Hillary Clinton, I will literally be running out to change my party registration in protest to show that I cannot support a party that would put a spineless liar on the ticket.
And I am not at all alone. If the polls show that 70 percent of Bernie’s voters would vote for Hillary, then I guarantee you the other 30 percent are out campaigning for Bernie. After many months, I have met precious few Bernie supporters who could ever vote for Hillary.
I’ve been volunteering as many hours as I could so my party would not have to make this mistake, so I could remain a Democrat and support the Party’s whose history I have loved since I first understood it. Please don’t make me hate my own party. Please don’t make me leave it. Please don’t make me campaign against it.
A lifelong Democrat who may no longer be able to say that after the convention,
Lisa Pease is a writer who has examined issues ranging from the Kennedy assassination to voting irregularities in recent U.S. elections.