Progressive students are divided on presidential race

Junior Caitlin Mussak has been supporting Bernie Sanders during the primary election and plans on voting for Joe Biden in the general election. Photo Submitted by Caitlin Mussak

In April, Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out of the 2020 presidential race. Sanders’ departure left many progressive students feeling jaded about electoral politics and betrayed by the Democratic Party for another election cycle.

In the months before, progressive Georgia State students across several political organizations actively organized to support Sanders’ campaign. They were optimistic that the policies they cared deeply about were resonating widely with Democratic voters.

Caitlin Mussak is a junior and a member of the Georgia State chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. Like many leftists, she supported Sanders during the primary election because his policies were the most progressive.

“Especially in this year’s primary, he was the most genuine,” Mussak said. “He has been consistent for decades on his policies, so I felt like he was trustworthy in the fact that we knew what we were getting in supporting him.”

Georgia State students who supported Sanders said that his Medicare for All, student debt cancellation and bold climate action policies resonated with them most, as those issues affect their lives personally.

The students agreed that Biden’s campaign represents none of those policies and, at most, advocates for a much weaker version of them but disagreed on who to vote for in the general election.

Senior Brian Daniels is involved in YDSA GSU and leads the group’s book club. He has decided to vote third-party, either for Gloria La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation or Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, because he agrees with nearly all of their policies.

“[Joe Biden’s] candidacy and career are the absolute opposite of everything that I have been looking for politically,” Daniels said. “His entire existence in this political arena is to move this country right and to carry out the will of those very powerful interests who make decisions for him.”

Junior Malcolm Green is a communist who helped lead Our Revolution GSU, a student organization that advocated for Sanders’s campaign on and off campus. Like Daniels, Green is also voting third-party. He believes that Sanders’ campaign was the last opportunity to push the Democratic Party to the left.

“I think that over the past 40 years, they’ve taken the position of moving further right to win over moderates or moderate Republicans,” Green said. “And you have former Democratic leaders coming out and saying, ‘We know that people in the left are going to vote for us because they have nowhere else to go.’”

Junior Gana Kukkala is a leader of Sunrise Movement Atlanta, which focuses on climate change activism and advocates for the Green New Deal. He considered voting for the Green Party, but after the mass protests in response to George Floyd’s murder, decided that voting against Trump by voting for Biden was necessary. 

While Kukkala disagrees with Biden’s policies, he said there are notable differences in how Biden could address climate change and healthcare.

“These next four years are very crucial, especially for climate change,” Kukkala said. “Because if we don’t do anything these next four years and make it worse as Trump is doing, there is no return. There’s no way we can go back to how the earth is supposed to be.”

Mussak is also voting for Biden in the general election. She believes Biden is better equipped to handle critical issues and will be more receptive to pressure from progressives than Trump.

“It’s less about choosing who we want to make all the best decisions and more about choosing who [we’d rather] be protesting against for the next four years,” Mussak said.

These students agree on the value of down-ballot voting or voting on local races and ballot measures.

Daniels plans to vote for Senate candidate Jon Ossoff and Georgia 6th Congressional District candidate Lucy McBath, despite being disappointed with their willingness to appeal to Republicans.

“I’ll be voting for those two largely because I believe that if you are going to make any kind of concession in electoral politics, it’s really only worth it on the local level where your personal pressure that can be applied on that person actually matters,” he said.

Mussak thinks people should focus their attention on organizing support for local leftist candidates. They often struggle to raise funds because they reject money from super PACs and corporations.

Despite their disagreements about the presidential election, these leftist students continue to advocate for the progressive policies they believe will improve everyone’s lives.