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Hear the Bern: The Long Road to Reconciliation

By Sung Kwang Oh
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Soon after Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced that he will drop from the 2020 Democratic primary race, he endorsed the newly minted presumptive Democratic nominee — former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Since the race has narrowed, Harvard political groups have been publicly divided on whether to support Biden’s candidacy. One group, Harvard College Students for Bernie, took to Twitter to publicly announce that the group will not endorse the former Vice President.

Harvard for Bernie has established itself as a durable organizing body, with considerable life outside of the confines of the 2020 election. Its activities have extended to organizing panels on the future of socialism post-Bernie and launching a “pressure campaign” under the Harvard for Bernie moniker to pressure Harvard into providing its workers with adequate paid sick leave, hazard pay, and personal protective equipment, or PPE. Additionally, Harvard for Bernie has remained remarkably steadfast in its stance despite severe criticism. In the aftermath of their decision, the group faced opponents such as Harvard College Students for Biden who suggested that the lack of an endorsement is akin to “sidelining this election” and “a vote for Trump.” Rather than back down after receiving this criticism, Harvard for Bernie pinned the tweet — an example of the staunch, nonconforming, and likely enduring politics Bernie’s progressive ideas have animated in many of his supporters.

What we find most interesting about this exchange — rising above the circumstances of any specific Twitter beef or even the philosophical and tactical debate around when to coalesce around a given candidate — is the lesson that the unwillingness of these organizers to endorse Biden should teach establishment, center-left groups, both on campus and nationwide. The profound level of disaffection the progressive left feels with politics as usual and their dedication to changing this paradigm will not disappear overnight.

That disaffection came through in the Democratic primary, but it has shown itself a powerful force behind expressions of discontent closer to home, as embodied in the activist spirit of the Harvard-Yale divestment protests.

Come November, many supporters of Sanders uncertain now may ultimately end up voting (perhaps begrudgingly) for Biden. But, as Harvard for Bernie’s refusal to endorse Biden illustrates, their support is not a given. Constructive dialogue between these two factions of the Democratic Party — the center-left and the progressive left — must occur between now and the general election if the two groups are to be reconciled.

Maintaining any expectation that progressives will by default fall in line, given evidence that this is just not the case, will only prove disastrous for the Democratic Party. A conversation about the soul of the party awaits, and failure to engage with the Harvard for Bernies of the political landscape seems doomed to perpetuate existing divisions.

Even beyond the campaign trail, recognition of the progressive left’s lasting appetite for activism and contestation has implications for political dialogue on campus, too, once we return. Though our time sharing a physical space has been interrupted, activist fervor in our community — from seeking better working conditions to fossil fuel divestment — remains undimmed.

Just as it may on the national political scene, failure to seek reconciliation, engagement, and genuine compromise with activist and progressive forces may leave lasting divisions, with lasting consequences.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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