John Lewis Was Right: Where Was Bernie?

As a staunch progressive, I freely admit that I have appreciated Bernie Sanders' contribution to the dialogue of this presidential campaign. I'm inspired by his crowds and delighted that there appears to be real political muscle on the progressive left in America again. But, I'm supporting Hillary Clinton -- energetically, enthusiastically and unapologetically -- here's why:

For thirty years I've been a professional advocate on the front lines of America's most pressing social problems, working side-by-side with the organizations that have led the charge for solutions to the most challenging issues facing our country. And I can honestly say that not once in those thirty years has Senator Sanders been a champion, partner or even an able ally. To be sure, he's always been a reliable vote, but never a leader or even an effective supporter. Now, I understand that members of Congress can't be all things to all people, and most members have causes they spend special time and attention to. The problem is Bernie hasn't been a leader on any of them. Not AIDS; I know, I ran the national AIDS lobby. Not anti-tobacco; I know, I ran the public health coalition that brought the tobacco industry to its knees. Not disability rights; I know I was a co-chair for the ADA coalition. This list goes on but I'll stop there.

As human rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) so aptly put it a few weeks ago: "he never saw him [Bernie]" at any of the critical moments of the civil rights movement for which Senator Sanders claims to have been an early young student leader. The same story rings true when you examine all of the important issues that have been debated over the twenty-five years Senator Sanders has been in Congress. Unlike his colleague, the senior Senator from Vermont Patrick Leahy -- who is also supporting Hillary and has been a champion for the middle class, civil rights, and in the global fight against poverty for over four decades -- Senator Sanders has been largely absent. How can someone with such a weak record of results in public service promise so much to liberals and progressives on the campaign trail when he doesn't have anything to show for it? Maybe he's been saving it all up for this big moment in the spotlight. This rings hollow in my ears, though, because my eyes did not witness it when it would have actually mattered.

I'm especially troubled that his appeal to millennials is seen as his particular strength. I hope that millennials are wise enough to look behind the hyperbolic messages and ask themselves "can this guy change that?" Sadly the answer is if he really wanted to change things, shouldn't he have at least tried over all these years. A new face, a new voice, a new more bombastic message may grab attention, and it has; but it is not a substitute for deeper evidence of whether that candidate is truly capable of bringing change.

And even during this campaign cycle I've continued to see the same inattentive behavior from Senator Sanders. Despite multiple and repeated attempts on a broad range of issues, his campaign has steadfastly refused or been painfully slow in responding to the efforts and outreach of major non-profit organizations that I continue to work with every day. What candidate for President refuses to meet with advocates for our country and the world's most vulnerable citizens? The answer has been Bernie Sanders. Only Donald Trump compares in his aloof dismissal of requests from the nonprofit community to engage. While many of us appreciate Senator Sanders' articulation of the problems these organizations are trying to fix, I find it bewildering that he has not demonstrated any interest in learning about how change-making work is already being done by those on the frontlines. There is something very troubling about a crusader who champions problems but has no time for solutions.

Juxtapose Bernie Sanders' history to the track record of Hillary Clinton. When groups I worked with have needed a champion she is almost always first in line to take up the banner and get solutions moving forward. This is true when she was First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State and now candidate for president. Unlike the Sanders campaign, when we have approached the Clinton camp not only have meetings always been scheduled immediately, her senior staff have always been in attendance, often staying in the room for more than an hour to hammer out ways she could help lead. I'm too cynical to be impressed by "check the box" meetings; instead these meetings were serious, respectful, and results oriented sessions by people committed to real change - not just cursing at the darkness. In short, on the front lines of the issue campaigns that have mattered most, Hillary Clinton has always been there, rolling up her sleeves to help.

If I were to close my eyes and just listen, there is so much of what Senator Sanders says that I can agree with. He has very clearly identified many of the biggest evils within our political system. The problem comes when I open my eyes and I see a guy who, despite all his great rhetoric, has never championed causes that mattered most and won. He's right on what's wrong but he's absent on what's right. Progressives and liberals are in resurgence but creating excitement isn't the same as achieving results and that's why my vote goes to Clinton. I want a leader who can take the new majority to a place where issues matter, solutions are expected and political cynicism is replaced by sustained civic engagement. I thank Senator Sanders for the inspiration but I'll count on Hillary Clinton to get the work done.