Alya Mehrtash staff writer
As they decide the future of this country, Generation Z will deal with the repercussions of current political decisions more than anyone else able to vote today. That prospect can be intimidating, but alumnus Sam Bernstein (‘19) used it as motivation to become as politically active as he could.
In 2019, Bernstein began working on the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign as one of the first 15 members of the campaign’s national email desk. Members of the campaign dealt with inquiries related to policy, event planning and volunteering, while also receiving and responding to direct messages on Sanders’ campaign Twitter and Facebook pages.
Despite his high levels of political participation, Bernstein understands why many young people seem to be apathetic to politics.
“Politics are depressing. I give full credit to any young person who is able to stick it out and stay politically active right now,” Bernstein said. “It is so hard to stay motivated when it feels like the whole world is against you. For me, and for many others, we just have to be the change we want to see in the world because nobody is going to do it for us.”
Despite acknowledging the difficulty of staying politically active, Bernstein also referenced the activism of young people, like Greta Thunberg, a 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist, and the ability they have to impact the world. Bernstein sees Thunberg as “incredible and an amazing role model,” yet feels that young Americans should not “idolize her,” but rather “emulate her.”
“While she’s certainly spectacular, and this is not to discredit her work, any motivated kid could go out and have the impact that she’s had on the world,” he said. “It is Generation Z’s responsibility to be the positive change we so desperately need going forward, and it is absolutely imperative that we stay politically active and motivated despite all the setbacks we have to face.”
Bernstein’s political journey truly started when he joined his parents in volunteering for Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. This experience “kick started [his] passion for progressive politics,” which continued throughout high school and college.
After his time on the campaign help desk, Bernstein then became the Vice President of Students For Bernie Santa Monica College chapter. As VP, he participated in daily tabling, where members of the organization interacted with SMC students and aimed to inform them about Sanders’ platform in hopes of convincing them to throw their support behind the candidate; canvassed around Santa Monica; helped organize surrogate appearances, most notably actor Josh Hutcherson from the Hunger Games; participated in “Get Out The Vote” drives and ran day-to-day operations. In fact, during his interactions with Hutcherson, the “coolest part” for Bernstein was watching the 27-year-old actor “sway a bunch of [SMC students] to go straight to the campus voting center and vote early for Bernie.”
Campus Corps Leader and Students For Bernie SMC President Justin Alvarez reflected Bernstein’s sentiments when it came to young voters and the importance of their political participation.
“It is super important to have the young people involved because it matters most to our futures. We have the most at stake in this election,” Alvarez said. “Turnout may not be to the levels we want, but students are subjected to the longest lines for voting and being purged from the voter rolls and being given provisional ballots that may not even be counted. Many in our generation feel discouraged by the system; however, we need to encourage students that we are the largest voting bloc and if we come together we can actually make a difference in this nation.”
Alvarez feels that Bernstein’s involvement in Students For Bernie SMC has enhanced the experience for members of the organization.
“His presence is always welcoming and having him around makes the stresses that inherently [are] there from the campaign go away,” Alvarez said. “What stands out about Sam to me is that he is very knowledgeable, not only on Bernie’s policies and current events, but the sports world as well which is a great way to get our minds off the campaign.”
Bernstein identifies as a “policy first, personality second” voter, and felt that Sanders excelled in that realm.
“Bernie hands-down had the best policy platform of the field despite the optics,” he said. “There was no other candidate in the field prepared to create the revolutionary change we desperately need in this country like Bernie is.”
Working on a presidential campaign taught Bernstein many things that he could not learn anywhere else. Aside from his new enriching experience with campaign operations, his increased knowledge of domestic policy gave him an upper hand in his academic career as well by making him a “more well-rounded political science student.”
“Being inside a presidential campaign gave me a unique perspective that I would not have gotten inside the classroom. I could not more strongly recommend taking a similar path as I did if you are considering majoring in any political field,” he said.
Bernstein, who hopes to pursue public health law, felt that his time working on Sanders’ campaign also helped him in that respect. Part of his job included learning the “ins and outs” of many of Sanders’ policies, including Medicare for All, which “sparked [his] deeper interest into the subject” of public health.
“The United States is the only Western democracy without a nationalized healthcare system; we are so behind the rest of the developed world on this issue,” Bernstein said.
Some of Bernstein’s goals for the future of America include “extending the American dream to undocumented people” and “saving the planet” by protecting many natural resoures and making it sustainable for all forms of life. His goals primarily revolve around Sanders’ campaign slogan “Not Me, Us,” and around the idea of a more unified and universally supportive society.
“Knowing the work I’m doing every day is meaningful to someone has kept me afloat this past year,” he said. “The campaign slogan is ‘Not Me, Us’ which, for me, has embodied the spirit I’ve felt as a part of this movement. It truly feels like I’m doing something actually important, which I hadn’t felt prior to this experience.”