Senator Bernie Sanders is a deeply influential politician to many young people like myself. He’s been able to bring progressive ideas into mainstream political discourse in recent years during his presidential campaigns.
It was so impressive to me how Sanders managed to bring so much energy to his speeches and campaigns that motivated and inspired many teens like me. So much so, that he's now the reason many teens are so progressive in the first place. But when the next presidential election comes around, he’ll be in his early 80s. And I highly doubt that he’ll be willing to run again.
So the question becomes: What is the future for progressive presidential candidates? Basically — who will be the next Bernie? Before I say who I believe will be “the next Bernie,” it’s important to understand what made him so popular in the first place.
Anyone hoping to follow in Sanders’s footsteps must be in support of a majority of his positions. That means universal healthcare, hardline climate reform, significantly higher taxes for the wealthy, $15 minimum wage and college debt relief. These obviously don’t encompass the entirety of his platform. But these are the ideas that seem to be the most popular.
TIO BERNIE CHARISMA
In both his speeches and his social media presence, Sanders has a certain power to his words. His speeches are able to imbue a sense of hope even for someone as jaded as I am. He rarely tries to be cordial and subtle when speaking about other politicians — often calling them out and flat out flaming them.
What I’m also looking for in a candidate for “the next Bernie” is someone who follows Sanders’s legacy of running a grassroots campaign. He was able to raise tens of millions of dollars entirely from individual donations from the American people. Sanders isn’t beholden to any corporate interest or wealthy donors. So any candidates hoping to follow in his path, need to adopt this same style of campaigning.
THE MAN IS CONSISTENT
Since his first political position as mayor of Burlington, Sanders’s views have been consistent. He began protesting for civil rights in the 60s and was even arrested for it. He opposed the Vietnam war in the 60s and the Iraq war in the 2000s. He was a vocal proponent of gay rights in the 90s. What I need from the “next Bernie” is for them to not flip flop on me.
DRUM ROLL PLEASE...
For me, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents the same strengths as Sanders perfectly.
She introduced the Green New Deal, a comprehensive and aggressive plan to combat climate change, in 2019. Ocasio-Cortez is also a vocal proponent of Medicare for All. And has been consistently fighting for a higher federal minimum wage, as she has significant experience working minimum wage jobs. She has also proposed a 70 percent marginal tax rate for the wealthy, and continually rails against student debt — which she herself is saddled with.
In terms of charisma, Ocasio-Cortez is no-nonsense with an incredibly sharp wit, using social media platforms like Twitter to reach a larger audience. And the fact that she is very young compared to some of the dinosaurs in the government, makes her feel more relatable to a ton of Gen Z and Millennials — the next voting block presidential candidates need to persuade.
The thing is, in terms of consistency, Ocasio-Cortez has been in politics for far too little time to judge that. She's only in her second term. But like Sanders, she's known for her grassroots campaign style and fundraising around small donor dollars.
There are many other political figures that embody these qualities, like Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Cori Bush and Rep. Jamaal Bowman.
But Ocasio-Cortez has already accumulated a monstrous audience of over 12 million followers on Twitter and 8 million on Instagram. This gives her a major advantage because she already has a massive platform. And if she chose to run for the presidency, she would be an established and known candidate, giving her more media coverage and recognition, which allows her to reach out to older audiences who may not have considered voting for her before.
Young people can see themselves in her — I know I can. And as Gen Z goes through our own political disillusionment with police brutality, COVID and climate change, there is a massive group of young, politically-motivated and frustrated voters that are looking for a future presidential candidate that can bring about real change. And if that candidate looks like them, talks like them and relates to them, Ocasio-Cortez could easily be as popular — if not more popular — than Sanders.
In the end, nobody really knows. Hey, maybe Sanders could become a cyborg and run again. But until we figure out how to do that, we do have a new generation of progressive leaders ready to change the world.