Feminism isn't just about women's rights anymore. It's developed into an approach of identifying, analyzing, and seeking to dissolve various forms of oppression. This is what we mean by intersectional feminism, and it incorporates not only the struggles and needs of women, but people of color, people in poverty, and the LGBT community as well. This approach enables us to see how different forms of oppression can overlap, and how people who have a certain amount of privilege in one respect may also be subjected to harm in another. Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders gets today's feminism.
Sanders has been in political office since 1981; he served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont until 1989, won Vermont's at-large seat the House of Representatives in 1990, and was then elected the Senate in 2006. His political career, as with his current presidential campaign, is best known for its message of economic justice, involving wealth redistribution and a host of policies to lift the lower and middle classes (on the dime of the richest, of course).
Throughout his career, and his time as an activist beforehand, Sanders has done more than just focus on class. His record also features strong showings of support for minorities, LGBT individuals, and women.
Sanders on Racial Justice
Sanders released a statement in December following the Texas grand jury's ruling of no felony charges for those who were working when Sandra Bland died in custody:
Sandra Bland should not have died while in police custody. There's no doubt in my mind that she, like too many African-Americans who die in police custody, would be alive today if she were a white woman. My thoughts are with her family and her loved ones tonight. We need to reform a very broken criminal justice system.
Sanders had a rocky start with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement early on in his campaign in 2015. Many BLM activists felt that Sanders was reducing racial injustice to economic injustice, failing to see the unique role race plays in the criminal justice system. But he's come around.
Sanders continues to discuss the fact that blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by unemployment, but he has incorporated more discussion of racism into his speeches. Another quote, from a speaking event at the University of Houston:
I wish that in the year 2015, I could tell you we have eliminated racism in this country. But you all know that is not true. Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, and many, many others ... If there's anyone here who thinks this has not been going on decade after decade, they'd be very, very wrong.
His racial justice platform reflects his expanded understanding of the issue.
Sanders on LGBT Rights
Sanders marched in the gay pride parade as Mayor of Burlington in the '80s. He caught a lot of flak from angry community members in local papers, according to Seven Days VT, but his support for the gay community was unwavering. In 1985, he wrote:
It is my very strong view that a society which proclaims human freedom as its goal, as the United States does, must work unceasingly to end discrimination against all people. I am happy to say that this past year, in Burlington, we have made some important progress by adopting an ordinance which prohibits discrimination in housing. This law will give legal protection not only to welfare recipients, and families with children, the elderly and the handicapped — but to the gay community as well.
Sanders has more recently been part of efforts in the Senate to include both sexual orientation and gender identity as federally protected categories against housing, employment, and credit discrimination. He tweeted in September 2015:
In many states, it is legal to deny someone housing for being transgender. That is wrong and must end.
Also, check out Sanders wiling out on a fellow representative in 1995 for using the phrase "homos in the military":
Now, my ears may have been playing a trick on me, but I thought I heard the gentleman say something about quote unquote homos in the military ... Was the gentleman referring to the many thousands and thousands of gay people who put their lives on the line defending this country? Was that the group of people the gentleman was referring to?
Sanders on Women's Rights
After fellow Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy led the effort to renew the Violence Against Women Act in 2012, Sanders released the following statement, saying that he wants efforts to go further:
The act has been extremely successful in Vermont and across the country. While we are reducing the incidence of domestic violence, much more has to be done. Too many girls and women are still suffering from domestic violence and sexual abuse and that must end. I applaud Sen. Leahy for leading the effort to reauthorize this extremely important law.
And Sanders has been a staunch supporter of reproductive rights. He tweeted in August 2015:
When you tell a woman that she cannot control her own body, that's extremism.
He has also highlighted how his economic proposals will help women be more economically self-sufficient and balance the responsibilities of work and family:
You're looking at somebody who's made a cornerstone, a key part of my campaign, the need for at least three months of family and medical leave; somebody who is fighting to raise the minimum wage over a two year period to $15 an hour, which will benefit everybody, but women actually more than men; somebody who regards it as enormously important that we fight for pay equity for women; somebody who believes that our child care system is a disaster today and that we need to have the best childcare/pre-K system in the world, making it universal and affordable.
In both policy and word, Sanders has shown support for those subjected to various forms of oppression throughout his political career. The term "intersectional feminism" may be fairly new, but its spirit has shown through Sanders' politics for decades.
Image: Tina Gong/Bustle