Bernie Sanders rally in the Bronx on March 31st.



Bernie Or Bust: Why His Diehard Supporters Are Throwing Away Their Votes

On an unusually warm and sunny day last week, 18,500 people went to see the first presidential candidate speak at Saint Mary’s in the South Bronx since Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. The candidate in question was the wild-haired, 74-year old Jewish Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, who came to the neighborhood to rally his supporters and appeal to his skeptics. Sanders had gone from averaging four percent in the polls a year ago to amassing millions of dollars in campaign contributions without a Super PAC and, more importantly, igniting a political revolution in his fight to win the Democratic Party’s nomination against Hillary Clinton.

The surging energy within the park that day was unmistakable as people of all genders, ages, sexual orientations, races, and ethnicities came together to see him give his speech. As we moved through the crowd, we talked to people about everything from how great Rosario Dawson and Spike Lee were going to be when they gave their speeches before Bernie, to how absolutely positive the rally was compared to the horrors we’ve seen from Donald Trump rallies. But we weren’t there for all of that. The question that was on our minds that day was one that has splintered the Democratic Party’s core foundation under its heavy weight.

If Sanders doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, what happens?

Rosario Dawson speaking at Bernie Sanders’ Bronx rally.

This is the question that nobody could’ve imagined would come up for left-leaning voters. Historically, the obvious choice has always been to support the Democratic nominee—no matter who it is. Yet that all seems to be changing with this election, because Sanders and Clinton have come to represent the most divisive split in democratic ideals in decades. Sanders has energized young liberal and independent voters with his anti-establishment message, while Clinton has secured the vote of older liberals, becoming the face of the establishment. For many of the people riding Sanders’ political revolution, the mere mention of her name elicits a vitriol and distrust usually reserved for Republicans. That’s a problem, because for about a third of Sanders’ supporters (including Susan Sarandon), this negative sentiment has led them to join a new movement called Bernie or Bust.

The movement, as you may have expected from the name, proposes that if Sanders doesn’t get the Democratic Nomination, voters will turn their backs on the party and not vote for Clinton. That’s important, because without their support, the nightmare scenario of a Trump or Ted Cruz presidency could become a reality. So when we heard that Sanders was kicking off his first campaign stop in New York City before the New York primary on April 19th, we set out to learn the stories and opinions behind such a fascinating (if terrifying) movement. These are the responses we received about the Bernie or Bust movement.

(L) Debby Kleinberg. (R) Amir Khafagy.

Debby Kleinberg

I totally stand with Susan Sarandon. She never said that she would support Trump because, like me, she never would. I saw some tweets that [claimed] Susan Sarandon said she would never vote for Hillary. She didn’t say that either.

Listen. After 44 years of watching the Democrats move to the right, knowing the damage that Bill Clinton did, I will never. I’m done being a Democrat. We’ve tried to save them from themselves every election, every single election. And every election they take the wrong message. So I will not vote for Hillary. I am tired of choosing the lesser of two evils. I’m going to write in Bernie. If they don’t let me, I’m sorry, I’m going to bring the biggest effing pen that I can find and I am going to take up the whole damn ballot and put “Bernie.”

Amir Khafagy 

I wouldn’t vote. I’ll bust. I would write-in [Bernie]. Why not? If I vote for Hillary, all of this effort and this momentum we built—we built a movement. To go and vote for the establishment? No. I believe we’re independent thinkers and we should stay independent. Not just because of this label as a Democrat. We should write him in or we should push our own candidates. Go back to our communities and build on the momentum of this new way of thinking.

(L) Bilali Drame. (R) Loris Jones-Randolph

Bilali Drame 

I wouldn’t vote for Hillary and I have two main reasons why I wouldn’t. First, Clinton has been in the administration for many years and she hasn’t done much for a lot of people—specifically the black fellas like us. The second reason is that at the time Bernie was arrested for fighting for civil rights, she was out voting for [segregation advocate] Barry Goldwater. It’s Bernie or bust.


We’ve tried to save them from themselves every election. I am tired of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Loris Jones-Randolph

Fuck. I mean, I would love to be able to vote for Kasich or someone kind of sane, but there’s no other candidate for me besides Bernie. You know? It’s really difficult to be put in that situation because it’s like, do I vote for someone who’s blatantly telling me every single day they’re not for me, or someone who’s slyly telling me every single day they’re not for me? I’d probably, honest to God, move. I know that sucks. I don’t want to have to leave my own country because this is my home, but there’s not a leader that’s really going to stand up and do what needs to be done.

(L) Kevin and Catherine Kossi. (R) James Giannoni.

Kevin and Catherine Kossi 

C: Not Hillary. I don’t feel like voting for Trump would be any more responsible. I’d vote third party. I did that when George Bush ran.

K: New York is Democratic anyway so if he doesn’t get it, Hillary will get it. It’s not that critical that everybody votes but a lot of people should make a statement that we’re not happy with her point of view.

James Giannoni

I’d write him in. I’ll absolutely write him in. Shillary? She’ [who] shall not be named. [Laughs] A Donald Trump presidency?  It will be the DNC’s fault for stacking the deck against Bernie.

(L) DJ and Francesca. (R) Shani Small and Ash.

DJ and Francesca 

F: I haven’t decided yet. I might write him in. I voted for Jill Stein last election so I might vote for her again, but if I was going to do that I’d just write Bernie in instead.

DJ: I’m not sure at this point. I wouldn’t vote for Trump. Between her and Trump? She’s the lesser of two evils.

Shani Small and Ash

S: I would vote for Hillary. I’m actually on the fence and came here to listen. I’m kind of leaning towards Bernie. I don’t know but I definitely would make sure that a Democrat wins—either one of them.

A: I mean I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I would support Clinton.

(L) Chris Gabrels and Rebecca Vitale with a friend. (R) Wendi Carlock and Ronny Wasserstrom with a friend.

Chris Gabrels and Rebecca Vitale

C: I mean, I’m not a fan of Hillary, but if she gets the Democratic nomination, I’d rather she be president than Trump.

R: I haven’t watched the Susan Sarandon piece yet, but I read the bullet points about it. I think it’s a really compelling argument. Up to yesterday, I was thinking that I would support Hillary and now I’m like, actually maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe third party.

Wendi Carlock and Ronny Wasserstrom

R: I think that’s the wrong question to ask right now. People are concerned about winning this primary. We’re going to throw her votes right now? I’m trying not to see that [dilemma] right now because my heart is invested in Bernie. How people view [Hillary] since he came along has changed so much. It’s not like I’m even looking at her as an individual. She’s a member of a broken system because there was no other person like Bernie Sanders who has ever come along. It makes it harder, especially knowing that he might not have a chance.

W: I would probably write in Bernie or hope that Bernie could change his mind and realize that he has so much support behind him and there has been so much cheating in this election. I maybe would have voted for Hillary if all of this crazy campaign fraud hadn’t happened—all of the voter suppression. I would’ve voted for her but now there’s no way. Hopefully the whole movement would galvanize around him as an independent and finally we would be done with this football game of two parties.


Stay tuned to Milk for more divisive election coverage.

Photos shot exclusively for Milk by Andrew Boyle

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