Everybody needs a helping hand now and then. We live, as ever, in a society — and shouldn’t some perks come along with that? A couple years ago, going through a rough breakup, working too many part-time jobs, and pretty damn near broke, I got a parking ticket for $73. The thought of scraping that money together and living on tap water till my next paycheck was too depressing. So I logged on and started a GoFundMe that explained my predicament, asking for people to chip in what they could. To my surprise, they did. Within hours, the ticket was paid.
If I felt a shadow of embarrassment over this little stunt, it was because so many people these days have to crowdfund life-or-death expenses. They can’t afford a necessary surgery or medicine; they’re about to be evicted or lose their small business; they’ve struggled to provide for a family of multiple and complex needs. But as bleak as that sounds, this massive, patchy network of peer-to-peer aid has also, in some ways, helped to destigmatize the act of asking for charity. Amid the ruins of late capitalism, we’ve grown used to an ad hoc redistribution of wealth. And perhaps no one was better poised to represent this new reality than Bernie Sanders.
In a late-December campaign video timed to the 2019 FEC fundraising deadline, Bernie walks down a nondescript street, straight toward the camera, in his winter jacket and trademark mittens, and makes a request for donations in direct, humble terms: “I am once again asking for your financial support,” he says. If you’ve given to Bernie or engaged with his social accounts, you’ve definitely seen this video in the past month — for me, it’s there every time I open Instagram. It’s so appealingly on-brand for the man: no frills, no flattery, just recognition of what it will take to beat rivals taking cash from ultra-wealthy donors. Can you spare a few bucks?
Of course you can. In his regular-guy mode, Bernie conjures all who have ever hit up friends, family and internet strangers for money. And so emerged a meme to drive that idea home:
In the video, Bernie mentions that he’s received “more individual contributions from more Americans than any candidate in the history of American politics,” which is quite a feat. Rather than dampening further contributions, however, this has energized his base — the vocal Bernie folks I know are opening their wallets for him almost daily, at any reminder of how important it is, how far their candidate has surged on the strength of their trust. Giving to Bernie now feels like dropping your change in a big jar labeled “SOCIALISM,” the rainy-day fund that will, in the long term, pay our way to a long-needed overhaul of the U.S. economy.
On that score, then, we’re practicing what Bernie preaches about the common good, and undercutting right-wingers who try to scare us by saying that he’s going to take all our hard-earned money. The truth is, we’re already sending it to him, in the hopes he’ll pry some taxes out of less generous (yet much wealthier) individuals and corporations. Call it a loan with the aim of a big return on investment.
As the meme demonstrates, most causes aren’t so grand or just as Bernie’s — again, sometimes you’re just crowdfunding a parking fine — but it doesn’t matter, because we’ve all asked for dough, and we’ve all shared it. Why be so precious when we do? The point of social policy proposals like a Medicare for All is that when the chips are down, you can count on universal support, and when you’re riding high, you can afford to put dollars toward that safety net. The success of Bernie’s campaign to date is proof of concept: financial solidarity wins.
Speaking of which, it looks like we’ve got another FEC deadline tonight…