“From the very beginning I kept thinking, Young people please! Take all this to heart. This is not just fiction. I keep waiting for the younger generations to wake up. I was hoping that young people seeing these films would become inspired to become politically involved. Obviously, this is just a movie, but there are powerful themes here. I would love to see young people catapulted out of their chairs and away from their computer screens and devices and games, and do something politically. I hope they will increasingly go out and vote! I hope they would see this world is dying and they will die right alongside it, unless they do something to change the planet.”
-Donald Sutherland, http://www.ew.com/article/2015/10/01/ew-cover-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-2
On November 19th Bernie Sanders gave a nationally-covered speech in Washington, D.C. about why he is a democratic socialist and what it means to him. On the very next day, the fourth and final movie in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part Two, was publicly released and seen all around the country.
I’m sure this was a coincidence, but what a coincidence! There are very real similarities between Sanders, a man who has been standing up on behalf of working people and justice for his whole adult life, and the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of the Hunger Games series from beginning to end.
For those who aren’t tuned in to popular culture in the USA, the Hunger Games book and movie series are a major cultural phenomenon. According to Wikipedia, as of 2014 more than 65 million copies of the three books have been sold, and turnout for the three movies prior to Mockingjay Part Two was similar. The books have been translated into 51 languages, so they are having an international impact.
The star of the books and the movies is Katniss Everdeen, an attractive and vivacious young woman in her late teens played by attractive and vivacious Jennifer Lawrence. Over the course of the books she becomes the inspirational leader of an eventually successful revolution against a severely repressive and corrupt government. This takes place in a country, Panem, whose origins and reality are described by author Suzanne Collins in this way in the first book, The Hunger Games: “Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained.”
At first thought, the idea that Bernie and the Mockingjay are similar is laughable. Bernie is in his early 70’s, balding, wears glasses all the time and has never been an excellent archer, if an archer at all. Katniss Everdeen, as played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a passionate young woman and a skilled archer who risks her life constantly. She does so first in a “hunger games” elimination-to-the-last-person-standing competition and then on behalf of the revolution once she plays a central role in launching it.
And yet, there are a lot of similarities:
-Both are outspoken and determined in their opposition to a violent, repressive, corrupt and poverty-creating economic, political and military system.
-Both came from families where life was not easy, where economic challenges were part of their lived reality.
-Both believe in family. Katniss is shown as a loving, if sometimes difficult, daughter and sister and, at the very end of Mockingjay, the third book, a devoted and loving mother. Bernie has been married since 1988 and has four children and seven grandchildren.
-Both have galvanized a critical mass, a huge mass movement, in support of the objective of a “political revolution,” as Bernie describes his historic project, and the overthrow of dictator President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland, in Katniss’ case.
-And finally, both must contend with a strong woman leader who shares some of the same ideas and commitments but who is ultimately much less committed, not truly committed, to government of the people, by the people and for the people. To advance that cause both must defeat their respective female nemesis. Katniss does so in Mockingjay Part Two in a way that Bernie definitely will not be doing with Hillary.
There is another difference. Bernie is not a leader of an armed revolution. He is taking a more traditional route for those seeking social and political change, attempting to achieve victory via the ballot box.
However, he has also said on numerous occasions that if he is elected he will be a different kind of President. During an interview with Katie Couric on June 1, he explained how he would do things differently than Barack Obama:
“The mistake that he made is the day after he was inaugurated. . .he said thank you very much for helping me get elected. I’ll take it from here. I can sit down with John Boehner, and I can sit down with Mitch McConnell. I can sit down with the Republicans. We’re going to negotiate. We’re going to work it out. Well, guess what? From day one, they never wanted to negotiate.
“My view is that the only we can bring about an agenda that works for working families is if millions of people are actively involved in the political process. If a million young people march on Washington they say to the Republican leadership, we know what’s going on, and you better vote to deal with student debt. You better vote to make public universities and colleges tuition free, that’s when it will happen. We’re already seeing that with the minimum wage. Do you know why the minimum wage is going up around the country? Because workers are going out into the street, so we need a political revolution, in my view, where people begin to stand up and fight and take on the big money interests. If we don’t have that, no president, not the best president in the world will ever be able to accomplish anything.”
It is amazing that someone who has a definite chance of winning the Presidency and who would use that office to advance a mass-based political revolution just gave a major speech about socialism. The spirit of the Mockingjay is beating strong within the heart of Bernie Sanders.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.