Even with a bad cold and a toothache, I wasn’t about to miss Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorse Bernie Sanders across the street from the public housing project she saved from Jeff Bezos and Amazon back in 2018. So I got on New Jersey Transit in Westfield, New Jersey, then the 7-Train at Times Square, and road out to Queensboro Plaza in Long Island City. I’m no stranger to Long Island City. My very first apartment away from home was in Sunnyside Gardens a few stops east on the 7-Train, but I was shocked by the number of new glass towers that have gone up in the past 10 years. Was I in Queens? Or was I in Dubai or Singapore. It was then that I realized that the Amazon headquarters wouldn’t have been the beginning of the gentrification of western Queens. It would have been the final nail in the coffin.
After walking the 6 or 7 blocks from the 7-Train to Queensboro Park, I joined the line. To be more accurate, I tried to find the end of the line, which went on for so long that I finally despaired of ever seeing it this side of Greenpoint, so I did a very unsocialist thing and discretely cut. The wait wasn’t too bad, only about 20 minutes. Bernie’s security people seemed to know how to keep things moving. Just about the only thing not allowed into the event were water bottles. I’m not exactly sure why. In any event, I made it into Queensboro Park by one oclock and waited for the event to begin. To my disappointment, I also realized that the park was already three quarters full, and there was no way I’d ever get close enough to the stage to actually see any of the speakers. Oh well, I decided, I’ll at least get to hear them.
First up was Jane Sanders. Her speech was short, and to the point. She did, however, make an interesting connection between her own ancestors (who fled poverty and the English genocide of the Irish) and her husband’s (who fled poverty and antisemitism). To me, it’s important to make the connection between what happened to Irish Catholic peasants in 1847 and what happened to Polish Jews in 1942. The Holocaust didn’t come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of the long history of European capitalism and imperialism, of using people as objects and discarding them when they were no longer of any use. The Irish were sitting on land English capitalists wanted. Polish Jews were sitting on land German Ayran supermen wanted. In any event, I’m drawing it out far more than Jane Sanders did. She merely remarked that her ancestors fled poverty and famine and Bernie’s fled poverty and antisemitism.
Next up was Michael Moore. Even with his famous girth, I was still too far away from the stage to make him out. His connection with Bernie goes back to 1990 when Bernie asked him to speak at a rally for his campaign to become Vermont’s only Congressman. “Couldn’t you have gotten any of the big stars,” Moore remembered having said, pointing out the shallow and ultimately disposable nature of celebrity, “like Crocodile Dundee, Milli Vanilli or Vanilla Ice?” It was the standard leftist stump speech Moore has been giving for years, but it was effective, and centered on Sanders’s being 78-years-old. “I’m glad he’s 78,” Moore said. “He can remember things the rest of us can’t, like pay raises, and pensions.”
Moore was followed by Tiffany Caban, who recently lost a bid to become the Queens District Attorney, and long-time Sanders’s spokesperson Nina Turner. Turner is a polished, and effective speaker, Caban a bit less so, but it was Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who really connected with her audience. Well, at least she connected with me. By the time she took the stage, my toothache, a molar with a gigantic old filling that finally came out and, was knocking on the inside of my skull like a sledge hammer. As she recounted her old job as waitress, I remembered having had a similar, low paying customer service job when I was exactly her age. I also remembered having a toothache I couldn’t afford to get fixed, a molar that finally abscessed and put me through days of torture before I was finally able to find a dentist willing to do a root canal and wait for payment.
I wondered why I had put off going to the dentist for so long for the current toothache, even though I have the money to pay for another root canal out of pocket and I realized that it comes from the same kind of paranoia that leads people with broken legs to refuse an ambulance. There is always the fear that a simple medical procedure will become an endless sinkhole that swallows your savings, that it won’t be a few thousand dollars to get a tooth fixed, but twenty or thirty thousand dollars. I realized why Bernie’s call for Medicare for has become so popular, even with people who do technically have “good” insurance. The health care, or to be more specific, the health insurance industry is not about healthcare. It’s about wealth extraction. My mother, fortunately, and yes I use the word “fortunately” tongue in cheek back in 2017. Had she lingered on for years physically and mentally disabled, long term nursing home care would have destroyed several generations of family savings. That’s the cruelty of the current American health care system, a wealth extraction monster that leaves you feeling relieved your mother died now rather than later.
As far as Bernie’s health is concerned, don’t listen to the media. He spoke for over an hour with a great deal of force and passion, a man old enough to be my father wearing out my ability to stand in one place with my tooth pounding away inside my skull. I don’t know if it was a great speech, but it was a necessary speech. Everything Bernie proposes would, in any kind of sane country, be considered common sense. End cash bail, stop police from killing innocent people, forgive usurious student loans, bring our health care system up to the same level as Canada’s or the UK’s, bring back the kind of free public higher education we had at the University of California or City College back in the 1950s, tax Wall Street at the same rate we tax Main Street, all Bernie is really proposing is to bring back New Deal America, the kind of society we had when American wealth and power was at its height. Trump may say the words “Make America Great Again” but Bernie has an actual plan for us to get there.
Will we listen?