’I’ve been silent’: Harvard’s Clinton backers face life on a pro-Bernie campus
As students across the country voice support for Sanders, Hillary Clinton backers say they contend with anger and accusations: ‘You’re evil’
Walk around any college campus and Bernie Sanders’ popularity is immediately apparent. Depending on the climate, you’re likely to see Bernie T-shirts or Bernie sweaters or Bernie hats or Bernie scarves.
You’re less likely to encounter Hillary Clinton memorabilia. In a setting where students are meant to be rebelling against the status quo, to be wearing berets and hanging Che Guevara posters on their walls, supporting Clinton just isn’t cool.
It turns out this is even true at Harvard University – hardly known for revolutionary politics.
In April, Sam Koppelman, a 20-year-old government student at Harvard, wrote a letter to the New York Times lamenting that his support for Clinton meant that on campus he “might as well be Pat Buchanan”.
“At Harvard, admitting that #ImWithHer is nearly tantamount to boasting ‘Make America Great Again’,” Koppelman wrote.
The letter was a coming out of sorts for Koppelman, who told the Guardian that despite having written frequently about politics for his student newspaper until 2012, he stopped this year for fear that it would “cast me as an outsider, cast me as someone who’s more conservative”.
“The 2016 election I’ve been entirely silent, save for a few snarky tweets. And I think that’s definitely emblematic that I’m trying to avoid these conversations,” he said. He made a conscious decision – until last month – to not write about his support for Clinton.
“If you’re a Hillary supporter, you’re kind of in this happy medium. Or really an unhappy medium,” Koppelman said, “where, by voicing support for Hillary Clinton, you’re at once alienating college Republicans – who still view her basically as the antichrist – and you’re alienating Bernie supporters who view her as this remnant of a time when Washington was extremely corrupt.”
Koppelman, who grew up in New York City, has spent his time at Harvard engaging in leftwing activism. He is involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and started a group called “Harvard can’t breathe”, after Eric Garner died while being arrested in Staten Island, New York City. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, but a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who arrested him.
Koppelman is still involved with those groups but said he had been conscious not to announce his support for Clinton to his fellow activists.
“If you’re engaged in activism and you’re a part of the campus left, and then you choose to support Clinton’s campaign … that’s almost a traitorous act,” Koppelman said.
Not all Harvard’s students are as reluctant to admit their support for Clinton. As a member of the Harvard for Hillary group, Janet Ho canvassed for Clinton during the Massachusetts primary. Ho, a 19-year-old freshman, is an open advocate for the former secretary of state, but admitted that being a Clinton supporter can be difficult.
“Do I feel more challenged by Bernie supporters? Yeah. Do I feel more challenged in general? Yes, I do,” she said. Ho said she felt she had to “justify” her backing for Clinton to Sanders fans.
“They see the Hillary supporter as someone who doesn’t really want as much equality as they do.“Like: ‘What do you mean why don’t you want free tuition for everyone? It’s not fair. Why don’t you want equal pay for everyone? Why don’t you want to tax the rich? What’s wrong with you?’ Like: you’re evil.”
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