It was, and still is, difficult to understand how Trump’s election was possible. How can a civilized, educated country want to return to the middle ages? How could it choose a leader who has enforced a democratic system based on the division of power with disastrous effects for the planet, especially regarding urgent ecological issues? How is it possible for someone who considers journalism “a form of manipulation” and scientists “people who terrify children with their horror stories”, to be permitted to run for presidency? Who voted for Trump? How and why?
Lionel Rupp and Michael David Mitchell offer some elements of a possible answer in their documentary A Campaign of Their Own, which will be screened as part of the competition program in the upcoming festival Vision de Réel in Nyon, Switzerland. The filmmakers followed men and women who wanted to return to the fundamental values of the American ideology: fighting racism, discrimination of women, segregation, defending freedom of thought, speech, and social justice, reclaiming a completely new method of profit distribution, a sincere effort to overcome the constantly growing abyss between rich and poor in the States. One man encompassed all of this in his program: Bernie Sanders. A Campaign of Their Own follows Sanders’ supporters during the decisive election weeks.
An astonishing fact the film reveals at the outset, is that independent voters (voters who do not align themselves with a political party) struggle just to get the permission to vote for their Democratic candidate during the pre-selection process. They are requested to cast their vote six months before the final date. It has been estimated that around 3,2 million people in New York State alone were excluded because of this restriction. Furthermore, postal votes are not allowed. The parties decide who can and cannot vote. This is the first shocking revelation in A Campaign of Their Own. Another point to be considered is the fact that voters must pay 27 dollars in order to take part in the voting process, thereby excluding the marginalized population. In short: Obama represented hope, Sanders stood for clear, concrete steps towards a social revolution.
This was the challenge, but the National Democratic Committee (NDC) played a dirty game, breaking the rules to suit its interests, as revealed by WikiLeaks. The Committee’s interests in another candidate undermined the importance of the Democratic National Convention’s proceedings. Delegates could have been more active, visible and decisive when it came to supporting Sanders. He won the highest support from independents, around 8 million dollars and 13 million votes, but things went terribly wrong.
Perhaps the most crucial and disappointing fact for Sanders’ supporters was to witness how Sanders himself confronted his defeat. Instead of standing his ground, reaffirming his ideas and values, insisting on a continued commitment to his beliefs for a fairer society (like when he would have exclaimed, “we have lost the battle, but not the war”) he handed this responsibility to his adversary, Hillary Clinton, saying that she would now move forward with his intentions for the American people.
In the living room of Jonathan Katz and his partner, up to now fervent Sanders supporters, the film makers remark upon their deeply shocked reaction to Sanders’ new rhetoric speaking of “achievements”, when they were, in fact, facing the loss of everything they had been fighting for. What they expected from their candidate was, at the very least, to maintain his position. Instead, he delegated it to a figure who, for hundreds of thousands of Americans, represented the reincarnation of governmental power games and manipulation, a politician who favored the ‘Happy few’, victors of capitalist interests, a figure who had never shown any concern in defending the suppressed and underprivileged. Clinton represents a politics of grotesque social inequality, including inacceptable minimum wage and excessive tax deductions favouring the wealthy. In short, she is the incarnation of Wall Street, not to forget her 1990s statements against Afro-Americans.
Sanders, however, gives up on the revolution. Stylistically following direct cinema tradition, Lionel Rupp and Michael David Mitchell follow Sanders’ participants in their rallies and meetings. They capture their feelings of enthusiasm and, later on, their worry, viewing themselves as a ‘lost generation’, only this time a generation encompassing all ages. We follow those who chanted, “Trump beats Clinton but Bernie beats Trump”, the ones who declared to have been woken up by Sanders, singing traditional Indian songs, and all those who are now falling into profound disillusion. Some are even more cynical in their comments, resuming that people who want a real change have no chance in the system and that perhaps Sanders played a fatal strategic role to deliver votes. Was he a conscious accomplice? Of course, the suspicion of manipulated votes is also included.
The belief in the possibility to fight a government that fights its people has now been eliminated for a long time. Facing this traumatic experience, it seems understandable that the ‘losers’ will vote against the one who destroyed their hopes, and not, unfortunately in this case, against the puppet who no one took seriously.