As millions of us head home for the holidays, Briahna sits down with Bernie and former sparring partner Peter Daou for lessons on talking across our rancorous political divides.
Peter on Twitter: https://twitter.com/peterdaou
Briahna Joy Gray: It's autumn, which depending on your latitude, means dry leaves rustling beneath your feet, patterned sweaters by the fireside, gatherings with friends, and the polite knocking of Bernie canvassers on your front door. It also means, Thanksgiving, that most uniquely American holiday, an entire day dedicated to taking stock of one's blessings, giving thanks and arguing with relatives. Now, if you're lucky, maybe the fights will remain confined to the subject of whether pumpkin versus sweet potato pie reigns supreme, but for many of you, the conversation will inevitably and perhaps painfully lead to politics.
Difficult turkey talk has become such a stereotype that every year we’re treated to articles about how to talk to your confederate flag sporting uncle about the border wall or nine arguments that prove that climate change is real.
News Montage: Thanksgiving can be stressful this year. Beyond the cooking, hosting and traveling, there's politics.
Liberals are much more likely to be concerned about principles like care and equality. Conservatives put much more emphasis on things like patriotism, loyalty, and purity,
Briahna Joy Gray: But this year the stakes are higher than average. It's an election year, with a little over two months until Iowa, a new billionaire attempting to buy the election with a self-funded ad buy that eclipses the total fundraising haul of more than half the field, and private healthcare dollars funding a massive misinformation campaign against Medicare for All. It's important that we all be able to make an effective case for Bernie over the holiday. That's why this week we spoke to some experts on bridging the divide. First, I was thrilled to catch Bernie Sanders, the man himself, as he dropped by headquarters late last week.
Bernie Sanders: Don't ask me hard questions.
Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs] I promise I'll go easy on you.
No one in this race has higher favorables among Democrats and independents than Bernie, a notable fact after 2016, which featured two candidates with the lowest favorability ratings of all time, and no one is more respected on both sides of the aisle. That's why I was excited to ask Bernie for advice on holiday table talk.
Next, I spoke to Peter Daou, a strident supporter of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries who co-founded Hillary Men, a group focused on analyzing the gender barrier in 2016. Peter is someone who came to be closely identified with the more establishment lane of online discourse associated with Hillary's candidacy, and he ended up in some pretty heated Twitter exchanges with, dare I say, most online leftists at the time, including yours truly.
But, and one of the most notable turnarounds in my political memory, at least, Peter has become one of the most compelling voices on the left for solidarity and progressive values, criticizing the donor class and recently tweeting, “for voters seeking foundational, systemic change, only Sanders is advocating for it.”
He's also recently tweeted that, "He's had extremely intense and negative exchanges with people on the left who are now friends and allies. It's taken time, but my outreach to Bernie supporters has largely been met with open arms."
Peter is a model of grace for us all, but before we move on to our guests, let's start by arming you with some key points on electability to take home for the holidays. I call this segment, we're all press secretaries for progressivism: lessons in making the case for Bernie's electability.
Step one, you can confidently tell your family members that Bernie is the most electable candidate because he's leading in the polls. Something they may not realize due to the Bernie media blackout. He's tied for first place with Joe Biden, both nationally and in Iowa, and he does better than any other candidate in the crucial Rust Belt states we needed to win in 2016, including Michigan, which Bernie famously won by a landslide. Bernie leads overwhelmingly with Latino voters, which is crucial in early states like Nevada and also in delegate-rich states like California. And importantly, in head-to-head match-ups with our current president, only Bernie beats Trump.
Now, sure, the polls are good for us. Great for us, in fact. But we like to look beyond statistics to indicators of real grassroots enthusiasm. Beating Trump and his army of committed supporters will acquire a candidate who can generate a similar level of enthusiasm. Someone who can fill stadiums, inspire door knockers, and lead in fundraising. That person is Bernie Sanders.
Bernie held the biggest rally of any candidate to date in Queens last month, and he continues to draw the largest crowds in the race, just as he did in 2016. No other campaign has 1 million committed volunteers. And no campaign in American history has ever gotten as many individual donations as Bernie has at this point in the race. 4 million so far. Last time around, it took until March for Bernie to get this many individual donations. And because Bernie relies on recurring small donations of about $18 on average, he not only leads in fundraising, he's able to maintain that advantage through the primary.
You see, while other campaigns reliant on big donors have donors who max out and can't give again, Bernie's small donor army can keep giving and giving through the general election. The best part of all? Because Bernie is the only candidate who has committed to refusing corporate PAC money both during the primary and the general, he's the only candidate who has remained unflinchingly committed to big-idea, popular issues like Medicare for All, canceling medical debt, and canceling all student debt. Remember he's the only one. The OG. No substitutions. No middle ground.
This is Hear the Bern, a podcast about the people, ideas, and politics that are driving the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and the movement to secure at dignified life for everyone living in this country. My name is Briahna Joy Gray, and I'm coming to you from campaign headquarters in Washington, DC.
Now, without further delay, the man himself, Bernie Sanders.
I'm so glad to be joined once again on Hear the Bern with the man himself, Senator Bernie Sanders.
Bernie Sanders: The Bern of Hear the Bern.
Briahna, thank you so much for the great work you are doing as part of our campaign. We appreciate it.
Briahna Joy Gray: Well, thank you. It's a real pleasure to have you here. The people have been clamoring. They want to know what you've been up to, how you're feeling and how you're feeling about the last few weeks of the race, which have really felt from our perspective like you're on fire.
Bernie Sanders: I think we're doing great. And let me take this moment to thank people all across this country for their love and their concern and their well wishes and their prayers when I was ill.
As everybody knows, I had a blocked artery. I got two stents put in. And it's nice to have three arteries that all working well. I recommend that to everybody. Got out of the hospital in a couple of days, and we're going full blast right now. We're running a very vigorous campaign. We'll be on the plane tomorrow morning going to California and Nevada and you know, we're running all over the place.
So, what we feel really good is in the last few weeks as you know, we've gotten some great endorsements from some of the outstanding members of the Congress. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, all three, just doing an extraordinary job in fighting for justice. And we've had rallies with all three of them. So, we're feeling really good, and we think, you know, as we head into the Iowa caucus, we have just the tremendous amount of volunteer support, a great organization. We had the same thing in New Hampshire. So, I think we're going to be doing just fine.
Briahna Joy Gray: Well, it's interesting you bring up those three Congresswoman because they've been asked a lot over the last couple of weeks, you know, what this endorsement means to them. But I'm curious, as someone who has inspired them and inspired them to run in the first instance and inspired their politics, what do those endorsements mean to you?
Bernie Sanders: You know what it means? I'll tell you why I like those endorsements. I like those endorsements because it shows that at the end of the day there is a common humanity which brings us together. So, it goes well beyond age differential. You should know, I am few years older than Alexandria. And it goes beyond religious backgrounds. And you know, Alexandria, her family comes from Puerto Rica, and Rashida's comes from Palestine, and Ilhan was born in Somalia actually. And my family, my father emigrated from Poland. So what? You know, so what? Those are the superficial differences.
What brings us together is a common belief in justice. And I got to tell you something and you know, this is simply the truth, is that people will say, "Well, these are young women, women of color, you know, you feel comfortable with them?" I feel more comfortable with them than I do with most of my colleagues that I've known in the Congress for, you know, 200 years.
Briahna Joy Gray: [Laughs]
Bernie Sanders: Not to say there aren't other great people in Congress, there are, but these three really have deep feelings about the communities that they serve and what it is to fight for the kind of justice this that is long overdue in this country. Whether it is economic justice, racial, social, environmental justice. They are there. They are there, and it's been a pleasure working with them.
Briahna Joy Gray: When they talk about their endorsements, it's really heartening to me to hear how policy-centric their comments are. And you also hear that when you're talking to folks at your rallies, people I meet on the street, when you ask, "Why Bernie Sanders?" Some people remark on your personal charisma, but for the most part the conversation is about what their personal needs are. And to that end-
Bernie Sanders: I thought that they were saying, "We need a 78-year-old guy in the White House. Time for an old white guy." That's not what they're saying?
Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs] There, is, is a similar frame.
Bernie Sanders: [Laughs]
Briahna Joy Gray: Something like time for an old white guy, perhaps the opposite. [Laughs] But the thing is, this, is the least white coalition of any, any major candidate, right? And the reason that is I think is because folks who are from a working-class background, who are disproportionately black and brown, they don't need you to explain to them why Medicare for All is also a black and brown issue. They don't need you to explain to them that black women have more student debt than any other group, et cetera, et cetera. So, I'm curious, people are about to head home for the holidays and they're about to have some of these tough conversations that happen across the Thanksgiving Day table, et cetera. And I wonder as someone who is known for being so well-respected across the aisle and having these difficult conversations, if you have any advice for our listeners about what tact they should take, about why they should come on board to progressive politics?
Bernie Sanders: I think at the end of the day, Briahna, despite what media may say, there is a lot more commonality of belief in America that some people think. I'm not going to tell you it's universal. I really am not. There are issues which are very divisive. That's the way it is, but if you are going home and getting nervous about arguing with your mom or your dad or your aunt or your uncle, I think the point to be made is that, what we are fighting for, the values that we are fighting for are really not new values. I mean, they go back literally thousands of years. Justice, you know, you read about it in the Bible, don't you?
Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.
Bernie Sanders: The idea that we treat each other the way we want to be treated. Not a Bernie Sanders idea. It's an idea that's been around in every religion, major religion on earth. And I think people, if you talk to them, understand that. Or they're going to have a hard time explaining why it is okay for three people to own more wealth than the bottom half of America, and why some of these corporations pay nothing in taxes. There are some people who'll defend it. Not many. Okay. Should healthcare be available to all people as a human right? You know what? A lot of people believe that. Should you pay people a living wage and not have people work for starvation wages, eight, nine bucks an hour? People believe that. And I'll tell you another issue where we are making huge progress, but not fast enough. People are now seeing with their own eyes the ravages and destruction that climate change is bringing. And I got to tell you something, Briahna, I am just reading some stuff now which scares the hell out of me.
And what the scientists are telling us is they underestimated the severity and the speed at which climate change is impacting this planet. And we got, we are literally on the line, literally fighting for the future of this planet and for our kids and our grandchildren. And the only program that's out there that can begin to address this crisis is the Green New Deal. That's the only one. I mean, I think if you explain that to your friends and your parents…
And the other thing I think, the point to be made, and I try to make this often, it's not just that I disagree with Donald Trump on virtually everything, but that most people are not proud that you have a president who is a pathological liar, somebody who thinks he's above the law, on top of being a racist and a sexist and a homophobe and a xenophobe. I, I think, there are a lot of decent conservatives out there, you know, that's what they are, they are conservative. They believe you treat people with respect, and they're a little bit embarrassed about this president.
Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. Well thank you for that. And that's really good advice. You know, I think I read a stat recently that showed that climate change is perceived as something that only young, younger people care about disproportionately, but the group that cares the most about it is apparently an older age demographic. So, there is a lot of room to draw on empathy there and people who are caring about the next generation. And as you asked of us at your New York rally with AOC, to care about others the way you would care about yourself and fight for your neighbor the way that you would fight for your own family. So, thank you for that leadership, and it's always so great to have you here at HQ.
Bernie Sanders: All right, and I'll be on the show again if you allow me to be on this show.
Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs] Thank you. I'll hold you to that.
News Montage: No pivoting by Donald Trump this cycle. He had a strategy to amp his base and amp it strongly, and it was successful. So, I don't see any trend lines… There's media, money, et cetera, but voters are voting in a much more polarized way. And I think we like to blame members of Congress or senators, et cetera, but what's really happening is, people are voting in this manner. and that is the challenge we face.
Briahna Joy Gray: Peter, I want to talk to you because I am so fascinated and so, genuinely heartened by folks like yourself who have, I don't want to say evolved, I don't know. How do you, how would you characterize your transition from kind of where you were politically in 2016 to now?
Peter Daou: You know, I mean, evolved is fine. I, I…lately, I've been using metamorphosis. I feel like I'm changing to something else, drawing on a lot of my experiences. But you know, I've evolved, I'm evolving. I'm learning, you know. I'm growing.
Briahna Joy Gray: So, I think that what's so interesting, and so curious to folks, is the question of what motivated that metamorphosis, because on some level, you know, in 2016 the stakes were, were in some ways very similar with what they are today, right? There were, you know, now there's a whole crew of candidates, but back then there was basically someone who represented the more establishment status quo wing of the Democratic Party, and then Bernie Sanders, which offered this kind of novel alternative and put a lot of issues on the table which weren't on the table at all. Issues like healthcare for every single American free at point of service. Medicare for All. Issues like a $15 minimum wage was a big fight back in 2016, which is now kind of accepted as the norm. You know, Bernie Sanders didn't support the death penalty, Hillary Clinton did. I mean, there was issue after issue after issue, which is largely the same case today, where we have a left wing of the party with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and then a bunch of moderate candidates who are occupying that space. And this time around, you've been so such an amazing strident voice online about the value of backing progressive candidates. And so, I'm curious what has changed between 2016 and now?
Peter Daou: Well, here's the thing. It's, it's sort of a long process. If, if you look back at, at my career, you know, I was really late coming to American politics. I'm an American, but I grew up in Beirut. My dad was Lebanese. So, the first part of my life, up until I was 18, I really didn't even study American history. I grew up in Lebanon, studied Lebanese history and middle Eastern history, you know, speaking Arabic almost as much as I spoke English. And then I was dealing with war for 10 years. Right? So, then when I finally came to go to NYU here, you know, back to my mom's hometown of New York, you know, I was just trying to get my mind out of war, and I just got into the music business. I was a trained musician, and I spent 10 years in music. So, I really didn't get into deeper political thinking about US politics until my thirties, until Bush was elected or selected, I should say, not elected.
And then I dove into message boards and forums and just got, you know, became part of the netroots. And for me, it was really just like a musician-turned-activist. And I just wanted to speak out about Bush. So, at that time I got to know all these different people who are starting these things called blogs. And of course, you know, a lot of them turned into very large sites and have big followings. So, I got into that whole netroots thing, and at the time I was an antiwar activist. I had been through a war, so I was basically protesting Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rove and all those people. For me, the Democratic Party that was going along with Bush at the time, and that included Hillary Clinton and many other Democrats, I saw as weak and incapable of generally speaking… that establishment wing of the party is too weak to confront the GOP as it had to become.
So, so, to your question, in 2016, it was sort of a long period from around 2004 to 2009 where I'd worked for John Kerry for his campaign, that I worked for Hillary Clinton, where I thought, okay, if I sort of bring this ethos of the netroots and the progressive community inside the political establishment, I can really build that bridge, bring more progressive voices in, because at the time, you know, a lot of people who I deal with now, weren’t really in politics at the time. You know, people who are younger than I am, but at the time that progressive netroots were really on the outside of the party. Yeah. They were complete outsiders. And I thought, wow, I'll be the guy who goes into to the Beltway, into the belly of the beast and bring that in there.
So, 2016 was just a continuation of that momentum where I thought, okay, you know, elect Hillary Clinton, first woman president, you know, I'm part of this system where we're going to defeat Republicans by sort of just electing Democrats. And I wasn't thinking so much of the overall fundamental sort of root problems.
In 2015, I was praising Bernie Sanders because Bernie was the type of person I was looking up to in my early days. Right? It was Paul Wellstone, it was Bernie Sanders, and people like that. So, in 2015, I was writing all these positive things about Bernie. He's bringing inequality to the fore, all of these issues that I cared so much about he was raising.
In 2016, it became more about defending Hillary Clinton's character. So, anybody who questioned or attacked her character, I fought back. And as I said, Briahna, I just took it too far. Sometimes I tell people, in a family fight, even people you're aligned with or you love, you can have really bitter and vicious fights. You get angry and things spiral out of control.
And so, after 2017, 2018, I thought, I need to take responsibility for how toxic things became. I can't put it on everybody else and just keep blaming others, because I look back on myself, I thought, yeah, okay, it's good to defend Hillary Clinton if you want to advocate for her, but not to the point where I'm now seen as a person alienating progressives and, and I have to say, the part that pains me the most is, you know, I never used “Bernie bro.” I hated that term. And I always fought against it. I thought it was way too sort of derisive a term and also painted with too broad a brush. But I did contribute to this idea that white, angry white males were somehow more aggressive or angry than other people. And that really erased a lot of people of color, of women who were Bernie supporters.
So, anything I contributed to doing that, I apologize for, and I felt really bad about after the fact. At the time, I just thought, I'm advocating for my candidate, but looking in hindsight like wow, I just lost perspective in 2016. So, that's how it ends. It's a long answer, but I wanted to give you the context.
Briahna Joy Gray: No, I really appreciate that. You know, I have no interest… You know, it feels weird to, you know, "re-litigate" 2016 and I have no interest in digging the past up just to be digging it up, but what I find to be so amazing about your story is how it can perhaps provide a kind of pathway or a way, a path to understanding what was motivating folks on the kind of different sides of that ideological divide in 2016, because there are people who still embrace the stereotype of who constitutes Bernie Sanders supporters despite the fact that this coalition is the least white and the least male of any in this race and the most working class, importantly, right? To those people, you know, I am sensitive to the value and kind of the emotional value, the historical value, the representational value of identity.
And I never want to be someone who on the other side says, the symbolic value, the emotional value of having the first woman president and what that means or the first black president. You know, I don't want to ever feel like I'm discounting that legitimate concern, but I do want to ask you, you know, given that representation does matter as a lens that affects and impacts how we see the world, even though it's not dispositive, right? Even though it doesn't dictate how we see the world, which is why we have black conservatives and female conservatives, et cetera, et cetera. How do you manage that now? You know, how do you look at a field where the two most progressive candidates are white? One of them is a white man, and some of the more conservative candidates have more identity markers. How do you negotiate that and what do you say to people who you were kind of side by side with in 2016 who might still be having concerns about voting for an old white guy or an old white woman?
Peter Daou: Well, here's what's happened, Briahna. For, for me, part of this evolution or transformation that I'm going through is really questioning a lot of my assumptions. So, I think the most basic one is, how did we get here and how do we get out of it? So, although you're right, and I feel that the people who believe representation matters are right, it does matter, it matters to have the first woman president. In fact, it matters to have the first Jewish president as somebody whose mother is Jewish, right?
Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. Absolutely.
Peter Daou: These things, they do matter a lot. For me personally, so I can't really speak for others. What is happening in my mind is, I'm just looking back and thinking, okay, I've been in politics of 20 years. I accidentally fell into politics. I never studied it. I grew up in a different country. I was a musician. I was a music producer doing house music, right? And playing jazz. So, for me, being in American politics was a matter of necessity for me. I thought, okay, I have to become active here if I want to change the society I'm in. So, my question now is, after 20 years in politics, what do I have to show for my activism? What do I have to show for my years of working within the Democratic Party? You know, I think the perception of me as some DNC insider is very far from the truth. Like, I was a progressive activist who got hired by Hillary Clinton to reach out to progressives. My role was the outreach guy. So, I was the bridge, you know. Of course, you get sucked into the system, right? But it's not like I was some long-time DNC or establishment operative. I was a complete outsider.
But now, the reason I moved away from, you know, the question you're asking, and am starting to go to much more systemic questions is because I'm looking at my 20 years in politics and realizing, wait a minute, things have gotten worse, not better. Yes, certainly, you know, Obama was elected, or we had the blue wave. Democrats win occasional elections, policies become less draconian. They do things that are better than Republican policies or things like the ACA, but the ultimate trajectory is things are getting worse in my mind. We have white supremacists running the country. The Supreme Court has moved completely to the right. I could give you, and we all know, a litany of the pain and suffering that's going on around us, unnecessarily so. People crowdfunding, their healthcare. The children being tortured, literally tortured - you know, ripping families apart is torture. You see all these terrible things happening. I started asking, okay… I did a very root level, you know, questioning ideas of capitalism, questioning the idea of the two-party system and democracy. Is this really still functioning as a democracy? Was it ever? Because this country has a pretty ugly history if you look back in terms of how people of color had been treated, et cetera.
But I look at Bernie Sanders and I think, wait a minute, you know, he is going to the very root questions of uprooting this entire system and replacing it with something better, and no other candidate is doing that. So, I needed to put aside whatever anger, frustrations, scars from 2016 and just look at the man, look at the movement, look at the people around him and say, you know, this is really special. Bernie Sanders is a transformational figure. I cannot hold on to old fights and the bitterness that happens after you fight with people. I simply just have to wake myself up, reboot and reach out and reconnect. It's sort of a tangential answer your question, but I'm no longer looking at things from the perspective, okay, first woman president. Yes, that's critically important. I'm now looking at, the entire system is broken, and there's only one candidate sparking a movement to address it at the root, root level. And that's Bernie Sanders. So, that's why I'm here. That's why I'm talking to you right now.
Briahna Joy Gray: I got to say Peter, it is so… it takes a lot, you know, it takes a lot, like a really big person to be able to talk so openly about that kind of a transformation. And so, I really do appreciate you speaking with us because I do think it provides a real model for folks to do what… I heard AOC once refer to it as “the golden gate of retreat,” right? Like sometimes you can get so balkanized in our corners that we don't actually, we don't have an interest in kind of coming together and moving forward as much as we do as kind of vindicating our prior positions. And I just want to reiterate again how appreciative I am, and I want to ask you now, we're going into the holidays and a lot of us will be going home to families and breaking bread with folks who we don't necessarily ideologically align with. And I wonder, have you been in the position where you've had to have these hard conversations with folks who you were aligned with previously, that maybe aren't anymore? And what strategies do you use to get across people who perhaps aren't on the other side of the aisle but might be at very least on the other side of a dining room table?
Peter Daou: It's a really good question. And yes, I do. And since I've been publicly online for many years, long before Twitter… a lot of people know me through Twitter, but I've, you know, I've written thousands of blog posts and was involved in message boards and chat rooms from the early days of politics. You know, I've canvassed. I've been out in the world of politics. I go on the media. So, my past 20 years has been talking to people, and many times, people who disagree with me, sometimes vehemently and angrily. I'm always in that position.
What I would ask is, try to bring about the change in yourself that you're looking for in others. That's what I've tried to do here. In other words, look at my own views and opinions, try to put myself in the position of other people. I think that's the beginning of it. So, if you're talking to someone, try to understand where they're coming from. Try to see the world through their eyes, if only very briefly.
I will say, Briahna, there's one important point. In my outreach and reaching out and in sort of self-reflection, I think probably the single most powerful reason I am where I am here, and you know I'm very positive about Elizabeth Warren as a candidate and very positive about Bernie Sanders. What has pulled me so much to the Sanders movement, to the “not me, us” movement, is the behavior and the welcoming from the movement itself, from people I had bitter, bitter disagreements with. That led me to see that there's something very special about what Bernie Sanders has sparked. To me, it's about much more than just the man. It's the movement. What I'm interested in right now is people. I look at all these young candidates who have been inspired by him, who are running, and I look at all the people who have welcomed me and my wife, Leela, who we previously fought with, and I see this solidarity, and I see a certain focus and determination and seeking justice. So, this movement is special.
I've seen a lot of candidates spark waves, like Obama built a massive wave, but it wasn't as much a movement as what Bernie Sanders has done. Similarly, Howard Dean, if I look back to 2003. There've been a number of candidates over the past 20 years in politics who have sparked big waves of interest and hope, but the Bernie Sanders movement is the people, and the people themselves seem to have their heart in a place where it's all about helping one another, having each other's backs. That's very important. So, going back to your question about, you know, how to talk to people. I think what's important is we keep a moral compass and that moral compass is what is right and what is wrong and being willing to say what it is. Caging babies is wrong. It happened under Democrats, too. Now granted, Donald Trump and Stephen Miller and others took it 10 steps further by literally ripping families apart, which is torture. It's a crime against humanity, but no matter who does the wrong, we have to be willing to call it out.
It's another reason I love this movement because, you know, I remember, Bernie Sanders said something a couple of months ago that was something that even his own supporters were critical of. I think it was a misstatement or something he said that was interpreted a certain way. And I thought, wait a minute, here are his supporters attacking him in threads, questioning him, calling him out, demanding better from him. And I thought, okay, that's integrity, that's principle. These are people who are principled, who will call out their own favorite candidate if he does something that they disagree with. So, I could go on, but a lot of this is about connecting with people.
Briahna Joy Gray: I think that's a really insightful point, and I think it's part of why some folks were frustrated back in the day when some Bernie supporters were kind of accused of, you know, having a cult-like fascination with the Senator and, you know, just loving him because he was our new favorite white man. You know, these kinds of things, because ironically, I do feel like Senator Sanders is… it's a weird thing to say on a campaign podcast perhaps, but you know, if he were to change, take up a position or two differently, then he would see a massive defection, right? [Laughs]
Peter Daou: Yes. Absolutely.
Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs] You know, millions of us to say, "Oh never mind, this isn't what we signed up for." [laughs] You know, whose politics are better aligned? And if there were somebody to pop up who had his exact same ideology and kind of history of commitment to these ideas, and who we trusted in the same way to follow through in his promises and who also was more diverse or younger or female or all of these things, we would be like, great, that person instead, and I think Senator Sanders would also be like, "Great, I don't have to run." [laughs] So, I do think that your point about it being so issue focused and ideologically focused is right.
And to your point also about how you have been embraced because of that. You know, I noticed, I've been watching on Twitter. There have been some moments where you have been critical of the establishment or you have gotten some ire from the more establishment wing of a party. And it's been really fascinating to watch you negotiate what it feels like to be on the other side of it, because I think one of the most frustrating parts of being, you know, kind of the Bernie bro mythology is that Bernie supporters are the only kind of like mad online folks. And when you're out there saying things like, "Well, you know, excuse me, I think that healthcare is a human right," and you're getting, you're being told, "Oh, that's a personal attack," right? Like us advocating for policies was perceived as somehow attacking the character of other candidates. And that's what happening in this race too, right?
We've seen, I think Joe Biden and some others say, "Well, you're saying that there was only one way to go about healthcare and if I don't believe in your way, then I'm a bad person." Well, you know, if you, if you want to take it to perhaps its moral logical conclusions, then yes, backing a policy that will absolutely result in the deaths of thousands of people has moral stakes to it. Yes. But to frame things moralistically, and then pretend that it's a character attack instead of a defense of the rights and integrity of human beings, and then be accused of being the one that's kind of being overly aggressive just because you're defending the rights and integrity of human beings, it's a weird kind of gaslighting and I, and I wonder, how does that feel to you? How does it feel to you to be on the other side?
Peter Daou: It's an excellent question. I mean, look, I'm used to being on the outside because I started my political career that way. I mean, back during the Bush, Cheney days, I was the outsider from the Democratic Party, criticizing Democrats for voting for the Patriot Act, for voting for the Iraq War resolution. So, I know the feeling of having the establishment look at you like you're a troublemaker. Now, of course, as I say, I decided to go inside the system and I thought I could do what I could to change it from within, but I couldn't. I, you know, it was naive in some ways to think, you know, just some young musician activist is going to somehow change the Democratic Party, but I did reach pretty senior levels, right? Because I was working with top presidential candidates, with all the people around them, a lot of the people who are major public figures today.
So, I did get to see the system from deep inside it. I laugh, Briahna, because I've been welcomed by 95% of Bernie Sanders supporters, but I keep having people say, oh, you know, he's grifting or he's being opportunistic or he's got some… and I laugh because I keep saying, you don't grift to the left, right? [laughs] You know, if you want to be opportunistic about politics, all the money's on the right, in the center, et cetera, and in the establishment. It's certainly not going for grassroots activism, and the Bernie Sanders movement, right? For me, this is as true to myself as it gets, right? If I am completely shunned by the Democratic establishment, and frankly, I don't know if I have or not. I know I'm attacked online. Who knows? I mean, I'm not in contact with the Democratic establishment. I'll go on the media every now and then, but I don't really care, to be perfectly honest. I have to do what I have to do for my family and for my future. And so, if that means getting heat from people like Nancy Pelosi or the Schumers or the Clintons or the Obamas, if I'm critical, so be it.
I'm in my fifties now, right? And I have a family. So, for me, the only thing I can do now is my very best to make it a better world for them and for the people I care about, and for the people around me and for the world - to leave something better in the world. And if that means being attacked and shunned by people who once thought I was their ally, so be it. And it's true. To your point, here's the irony. I don't want to rehash, right? But I'm just going to say this. I was one of the people who said Bernie Sanders supporters are super aggressive and, you know, they're meaner than other candidates' supporters. Well, as soon as I started reaching out, building these bridges, sort of returning to my progressive roots, connecting with the Sanders movement, some of the people who were in the trenches with me in 2016, lobbed the same really, really personal attacks against me and my wife that they were accusing Sanders supporters of doing. And I confronted them with that, and I said, "Look, you're doing to me what you're saying Sanders supporters did to you. That's completely hypocritical."
And that's where I started reaching the point where, you know what, there's going to be a subset of every candidate’s supporters or anybody in politics, not even candidate’s supporters, who are going to be really obnoxious on social media. And many of them are anonymous. And some, you don't know what the agenda is, but by and large in terms of solidarity and love and focus and commitment, the Sanders movement is incredible. Really, I don't even call it the Sanders movement. What Bernie Sanders has sparked among young people, people of color, women, older Americans, younger ones, every single type of background is magical. It's powerful, it's beautiful, and it's critically important. And to move into something even a little bit more, maybe a little darker and more realistic.
I'm worried about where things are headed to the point where I want to be part of a movement that's ready to fight. I don't mean violently, but I mean ready to fight, because I, I'm… Yes, we're having impeachment, and people may feel sanguine about the future, "Oh, we're going to defeat Trump. He's going to get impeached." As far as I'm concerned, we're moving further and further to the right, and I want to be part of the movement that will fight encroaching fascism. And I have to repeat, nonviolently and lawfully. I would never want to stoke violence in any way, but the solidarity of this movement, if darker times come, this is where I want to be. I want to be in this family and these millions of Americans who care so passionately that they will stand on principle. So, that's how I feel right now.
Briahna Joy Gray: Well, thank you, Peter. I'm certainly so glad and heartened to have you in the family and to be a part of this bigger movement as well. I mean, you do such an amazing job of articulating exactly why I think so many of us are in this movement, and I just want to say again, thank you for using your platform to advance progressive politics and for being such an amazing voice and model online, and I look forward to continuing this conversation and being together in this battle going forward.
Peter Daou: Thank you so much. It's really great to talk to you.
Briahna Joy Gray: Same here.
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