Book review: ‘Our Revolution – A Future to Believe In’, by Bernie Sanders

Our Revolution – A Future to Believe In is the book written by Bernie Sanders at the end of his campaign to be the 2016 Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States. For his supporters, the months leading up to his eventual loss to Hilary Clinton in July that year were a time of exhilaration and heartbreak. 

As someone whose own election campaign for the presidency of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation was launched just a month before Bernie’s, I count myself among that group. During those rollercoaster months in 2015 and 2016, I was one of the millions around the world who felt a strong connection to Bernie and his “democratic socialist” campaign.

This book is a product of that time. But until there’s a sequel, it remains – like the campaign itself – valuable for the world today. 

Our Revolution is really three books in one. The introduction and chapters 5 and 6 are an account of his bid for the Democratic Party nomination. The excitement and the incredible enduring impact of that bid leapt from the page. For me, a seasoned activist myself, it contained useful tips for anyone running a grassroots campaign. 

Chapters 1 to 4 are a political autobiography. It’s short and inevitably glosses over a lot, but I felt I knew Bernie better for reading it and my convictions were only strengthened as a result. 

But the bulk of the work – the last two thirds or more – comprises Bernie’s detailed manifesto. Titled “An Agenda For a New America”, it was interesting. But with a few exceptions – like the section on “real family values” (pp.235-239), where Bernie’s burning passion shines through – most of it just wasn’t that exciting. 

Part of the problem for me was the proliferation of graphs, tables and long excerpts from old news stories. I got the sense that Bernie understood, in places, that the details of his manifesto wouldn’t be inspiring to most readers. “Let’s face it”, he says while tackling the growing ability of very wealthy people to buy elections, “campaign finance reform is not exactly a sexy issue” (p. 201). 

Another part of the problem was an over-reliance on policy solutions from the past, rather than answering the question, “what is to be done?”, through a rigorous analysis of current conditions. “I know that I’m a bit old fashioned”, he admits (p.346). Bernie also seems too keen to stress that many of these past solutions come from the Republican Party. 

But at a more fundamental level, Bernie’s solutions seem (to this reader in New Zealand) to be very moderate, nationalistic (especially the chapter on higher education, which seems to be mainly about how to make US companies more internationally competitive) and simply not up to the job. 

The issues he describes are huge. And too many of Bernie’s solutions don’t get to the root of the problem. 

“Defeating oligarchy”, he says in chapter 1 of his manifesto, means ending “the power of money”. His key policies to achieve this (p.204) are to limit the amount that an individual or corporation can spend to promote a candidate or party, to make public disclosure of campaign donations mandatory and to make public funding available to finance political campaigns. These are all worthy policies, to be sure. But they would hardly make a dint in “the power of money” in America. 

Bernie acknowledges, in passing, that “the political power of the oligarchs goes well beyond their campaign contributions and ability to influence elections. As a result of their ownership of media, think tanks, university chairs, and political front groups, they influence American public opinion and domestic and foreign policy in ways that few realise” (p.190). But Bernie offers no solutions to this problem. And even this list only scratches the surface of “the power of money”. 

The closest Bernie comes to the root of the problem is in chapter 3. “A handful of billionaires on Wall Street wield extraordinary power over the political and economic life of our country”, he says. “Congress does not regulate Wall Street, it is Wall Street that regulates Congress” (p.297). And yet, Bernie’s very moderate solutions to this problem – disincentivising financial speculation, breaking up monopolies and regulating interest rates – rely entirely on the notion that Congress can regulate Wall Street. 

If Bernie’s “democratic socialism” is to mean anything, it must mean taking back the power over the political and economic life of the country. It means democratising the economic decisions made in boardrooms and on the trading floor, securing that economic and political power in the hands of the majority. 

Bernie really only has one policy to address this issue – expanding the number of worker co-operatives. “These ventures don’t need to be small, niche companies”, he says, but then announces his plan which focuses on “small- and medium-sized businesses” (p.262). With federal assistance he says, an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 SMEs could be sold to the workers who helped build them. 

To put that in perspective, that’s about half the number of SMEs in little New Zealand and less than one percent of the SMEs in America. Even if Wall Street “allowed” Congress to pass Bernie’s plan, which seems unlikely, it would have no effect on the “extraordinary power” of the six huge corporations which he says control 60 percent of America’s GDP. 

I give Our Revolution four stars. Unlike many of the books churned out by politicians, this one clearly wasn’t produced by a ghost-writer. Bernie’s distinctive personal voice comes through, as clear as a bell. It gets a star just for that. I hope that readers of this review will consider picking up and opening this valuable book. 

It loses a star for the weaknesses in Bernie’s manifesto. But what is missing in that latter part of the book is there at the start. The power of “our revolution” to achieve “a future to believe in” comes through the rising up of the majority of the people in collective action. Or in Bernie’s own words (pp.3-4): 

“During the fifteen months of the campaign there was one central point that I made over and over again, and let me repeat it here. This campaign was never just about electing a president of the United States – as enormously important as that was. This campaign was about transforming America. It was about the understanding that real change never takes place from the top on down. It always takes place from the bottom on up. It takes place when ordinary people, by the millions, are prepared to stand up and fight for justice.” 

• Review first published on Join me there for more.

What Unions Wellington is up to – Interview on Wellington Access Radio 106.1FM

Educating for a Social Change” is a weekly show on Wellington Access Radio 106.1FM, produced by the Wellington Workers’ Educational Association. WWEA supports adult and community education that promotes a just and equitable society in accordance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Their show brings you social comment, community and union news, and look at what people are doing to support a more just and equitable society. This week, I spoke with host Victoria Quade about what Unions Wellington is up to in this space.

Why has the Board downgraded the NZNO AGM? – Letter to Kai Tiaki

The Board of Directors has decided not to hold an NZNO Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Wellington this September, and to press on instead with preparations for a shorter and smaller meeting via Zoom. The reason given is “uncertainty around COVID-19 alert levels and travel restrictions” (‘NZNO plans for online AGM’, June Kai Tiaki).

But if those concerns really were the decisive factors, then surely they would apply to all large NZNO gatherings held in the next few months, wouldn’t they?

In August, Te Rūnanga’s Hui ā-Tau and Indigenous Nurses Conference are going ahead face to face in Tāmaki Makaurau. The Rūnanga’s Hui and Conference usually see NZNO members travel and congregate in even greater numbers than at the NZNO AGM.

Meeting kanohi ki te kanohi is important for tauira, kaimahi hauora and tapuhi kaitiaki. It is a fundamental part of NZNO’s bicultural model. It’s good that it’s been made possible by New Zealand’s early move to COVID-19 alert level 1.

Under the terms of NZNO’s flawed Constitution, the AGM represents a very limited form of democratic control by the NZNO membership.

AGM delegates get to vote on just a handful of matters. They typically do so without consulting the members they represent, and the ballots are cast in secret so no-one ever knows how their “representative” voted.

But on paper, at least, it is still “the highest decision-making authority of NZNO”. It’s where the Board can theoretically be held to account, and where they must present their strategic direction decisions or policies set or altered in the previous year for a vote of ratification.

The NZNO AGM is a place where members can hold the Board to account

More importantly, the mingling and talking at AGM allows delegates from different regions and professional groups to share information and perspectives about what’s really going on in our union, at the national level. The networking during the breaks at this annual two-day event are the only real opportunity for members to do this.

Networking during the breaks allows AGM delegates to share information about what’s really going on in NZNO

So the face to face NZNO AGM is also important.

Why is the Board not allowing it to go ahead, given the certainty around COVID-19 alert levels and travel restrictions which was provided by the Government a week before the last Board meeting?

Is this very limited form of democracy now too much for them? What’s the real reason they’re preventing members from meeting together at an AGM in Wellington, while allowing Rūnanga members to meet together at a Hui in Auckland?

Grant Brookes, RN

The co-editors reply: At its April meeting, the board was presented with five options for holding the annual general meeting and con- ference, given the COVID-19 restrictions then in place and the uncertainty about how long the restrictions would last, particularly those relating to numbers able to attend events. Chief executive Memo Musa’s paper, which contained the five options, also canvassed other considerations, such as penalties incurred when cancelling the venue, flights and accommodation after a certain date. After discussion, the board, including Grant Brookes, endorsed the option to move the AGM and conference online as a basis for planning. (See also Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, June 2020, p6.)
As to the indigenous nurses’ conference and hui â-tau, the co-editors understand the planned venue for the August event, the Millennium Hotel in Auckland, is being used as a quarantine facility and the conference and hui â-tau will not be held at this venue. Decisions are pending as to alternative options for the conference and hui â-tau format and venue.

‘Making a mockery of democracy and partnership’ – An unpublished letter to Kai Tiaki

Erin Kennedy is an NZNO leader in Wellington. Since 2006 she has represented members in the workplace, in the media and in the Council of Trade Unions. In her roles as Lead Delegate, Convenor and Co-convenor at my DHB, I worked closely with Erin for over a decade.

Last month, Erin submitted a letter to the editors of Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand. Although the July 2020 issue of Kai Tiaki carries an interview with Erin on the same topic, they declined to print her letter in full. I therefore publish Erin’s letter here.

Thanks to the honest reporting in these pages in recent months, most Kai Tiaki readers are aware of the serious problems affecting the NZNO board of directors.

There is less awareness about the breakdown in representative democracy and bicultural partnerships taking place elsewhere in the union.  As demonstrated by developments in the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC), however, these are just as serious.  

GWRC represents approximately 5000 members living or working in the greater Wellington region.  These are the people who are entitled to attend regional council meetings, although under our constitution only elected regional councillors are entitled to vote.  Many of these 5000 members are probably unaware of who their councillors are, or even that the regional council exists. But GWRC makes important decisions on their behalf, including submitting remits for the one member one vote process and approving candidates wishing to stand for the board of directors.

I have been attending GWRC meetings for several years. The last meeting, on June 10, was unlike any I have experienced before. The council chairperson was not present. Nor was the vice-chair who sent apologies. The only member of the regional council’s five-member management committee who attended was the representative of Te Runanga.

At the start of the meeting, another member of Te Runanga, from outside the region (and therefore not entitled to vote) announced that NZNO chief executive Memo Musa had asked her to be present.  

In our member-driven organisation, the role of NZNO staff and management is to operationalise the strategies and policies set by leaders elected by members. It is not their role to intervene in governance structures such as regional councils.  This point was made at the meeting, but ignored. 

In the absence of the chairperson and vice-chair, the Runanga member from outside the region said that she would oversee an election of a temporary chair for the meeting. A second member of Te Runanga, whose name has never appeared on the list of elected regional councillors either was nominated as chair.  So was a long-serving GWRC member.

A vote was held. It was farcical. Members of Te Runanga who are not regional councillors were allowed to vote by the Runanga member who was also not a regional councillor.

As a result, and despite protests, a Runanga member who was not a regional councillor was elected to run the meeting our Greater Wellington Regional Council.

There appears to be little point in making a complaint about this to the NZNO chief executive, who, after all, instigated the whole process. And so our only recourse is here in the letters page of Kai Tiaki, to inform our fellow members that the current leadership of NZNO are making a mockery of democracy and partnership in our organisation.

For me, this was the last straw. After more than 30 years as a union delegate, 14 of those with NZNO, I have resigned my roles as workplace delegate and regional councillor. All I can say now is that fixing NZNO is going to take a radical overhaul of our governance structures and leadership.

Erin Kennedy, RN

Viewpoint: Why we aren’t celebrating Florence’s birthday

Debate is swirling around statues and the veneration of colonial icons in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests. I re-post this article I wrote in April 2020 as a contribution to a re-evaluation of the figure known as “the founder of modern nursing“.

Many nurses find Nightingale’s statements on colonisation and the fate of indigenous people a dangerous legacy. For this reason, NZNO’s board of directors will celebrate other nurses and models of health on International Nurses Day 2020.

It’s surely testament to the huge significance of Florence Nightingale in the development of our profession that 200 years after her birth, she continues to stimulate debate.

On the one hand, her contributions to raising the status of nursing, establishing formal training and applying statistical methods in sanitary reform are celebrated to this day. 

But the historical figures we choose to venerate say a lot about who we are. And the legacy Florence Nightingale left for us is a mixed one – especially here in the South Pacific. It’s right that her legacy should be open to scrutiny. 

For decades, feminist nurses in New Zealand have been uneasy about Nightingale’s insistence that “to be a good Nurse one must be a good woman” (1). Her instructions to nurses (dutifully reprinted in Kai Tiaki, 63 years later) told us to always display the “higher or holier” womanly virtues of forbearance and endurance, and that we must “above all” obey the male doctors. 

Nurse leaders in Aotearoa have long understood how Nightingale’s opposition to registration and higher education for nurses undermined our professional autonomy and fostered the eventual dominance of the medical model of health (2). 

In the end, however, it was Nightingale’s troubling role in colonisation which led the NZNO Board of Directors to decide that on International Nurses Day 2020, we’ll be celebrating our indigenous and home-grown nurses instead. 

It’s a little-known fact about Florence Nightingale that she was a close advisor to the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, during his second term in office from 1861-68. She also advised colonial authorities in Australia and elsewhere. 

The collected letters and reports she sent to Grey and others, published in 2004, reveal a long-hidden side of her legacy. 

It is now known that Nightingale supported the alienation of Māori land, in order to force migration to European settlements and to bring contact with what she termed, “the inestimable blessings of Christian civilisation”.

“The object should be to draw them gradually into better habits and gradually to civilise them”, she said, in her Note on the New Zealand Depopulation Question. (3)

To those who objected, and said that “provision of land should be made for the exclusive use of the existing tribes” in the colonies, she replied: “this by itself would be simply preserving their barbarism for the sake of preserving their lives” (4). 

Perhaps her most disturbing advice, in the present circumstances, was her dismissal of reports about outbreaks of infectious diseases among indigenous communities following contact with Europeans. 

“People assert that they always have influenza after a boat comes to them from the mainland”, she wrote, in a letter to the Colonial Office in London. “But, after all, is it a fact? 

“Diseases and eclipses used to stand as effects to causes, in semi-scientific observations of the Middle Ages. It is the usual error of quarantine reasoning”, she concluded (5).

Nightingale advised that efforts to support the heath of indigenous people should focus elsewhere. 

Her 1863 report on Sanitary Statistics of Native Colonial Schools and Hospitals(6), produced at the suggestion of Governor Grey, explained the high rates of child mortality using the then-discredited “miasma theory”.

“Within or near the tropics the miasmatic class of diseases occasions most of the mortality at the earlier periods of life.”

In her Note on the New Zealand Depopulation Question, Nightingale attributed the prevalence of “chest diseases” among Māori to “the introduction of pigs, as an article of food.”

Florence Nightingale, London c.1860 and her 1863 report, Sanitary Statistics of Native Colonial Schools and Hospitals.

Running through all of her colonial writings is the idea that population decline was due to inherent defects of indigenous people themselves, when compared to superior Europeans. 

Excessive consumption of pork was responsible for the “bad habits, filth, laziness, skin diseases and a tendency to worms and scrofula” which she believed were characteristic of the Māori people (and also of the Irish). (3)

“Incivilisation, with its inherent diseases, when brought into contact with civilisation, without adopting specific precautions for preserving health, will always carry with it a large increase in mortality”, she said.

“The decaying races are chiefly in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and perhaps in certain parts of South Africa. They appear to consist chiefly of tribes which have never been civilised enough or had force of character enough to form fixed settlements or to build towns.”

“These aboriginal populations… appear to be far more susceptible to the operations of causes of disease arising out of imperfect civilisation than are civilised men (meaning by “civilised” men who can live in a city or village without cutting each other’s throat).” (6)

“As for the Australians, in their present state, very few of the human race are lower in the scale of civilisation than these poor people.” (7)

Faced with such frank expressions of racism, Nightingale’s defenders argue that she was a product of her time and that whatever her faults, her priority was the health of indigenous people. 

Yet other public figures of the time were able to see more clearly. A select committee report from the Legislative Council of Victoria in 1858-59 found that, “The great and almost unprecedented reduction in the number of the aborigines is to be attributed to the general occupation of the country by the white population.”

Nightingale rejected this conclusion, arguing that decline is “not a universal law when savages come into contact with civilisation.”

Her criticism of the report suggests where her priorities really lay: “I hope the time is not far off when such a stigma as it affixes to the empire might be wiped away.” (6)

Or as she put it elsewhere, “This question of the fate of aboriginal populations is one closely concerning our national honour.” (7)

Here in Aotearoa, Nightingale’s upper class paternalism and her White Supremacist views were inculcated in many (though not all) of our early nurses. 

These attitudes were then carried across the South Pacific, as the New Zealand Department of Health assumed responsibility for nursing services firstly in the Cook Islands in 1903, then in Western Samoa and Niue in 1920 and later in Fiji and Tonga. 

Nightingale’s colonial legacy in the region re-surfaced in 2018, in a debate at the South Pacific Nurses Forum (SPNF) in Rarotonga. Indigenous nurses expressed their pain that the global Nursing Now campaign planned to celebrate the bicentenary of her birth. 

A resolution, moved by NZNO and seconded by the Fiji Nursing Association, was passed unanimously, “To recommend and request that two representatives from SPNF representing indigenous nurses be appointed on to the Board of Nursing Now Global Campaign.”

On behalf of the SPNF Steering Committee, we wrote to the Board of Nursing Now in early 2019. We explained that, “Florence Nightingale wrote about our Indigenous peoples in the South Pacific in a racist, paternalistic and patronising way. 

“The continued veneration of Florence Nightingale in the Nursing Now campaign is therefore disrespectful and painful. It continues to highlight for our Indigenous nurses that their traditional knowledge and ways of being and doing are not being respected. Raising her as the beacon for nursing globally causes trauma and re-ignites the history and pain of colonisation. 

“It was in order to address these issues of Eurocentrism that we had lobbied to gain two seats on the Nursing Now Board.”

Our request was declined – coincidentally, around the same time as the Waitangi Tribunal released its landmark report on the WAI 2575 claim. 

“The severity and persistence of health inequity Māori continue to experience indicates the health system is institutionally racist,” said the Tribunal, “and that this, including the personal racism and stereotyping that occurs in the primary care sector, particularly impacts on Māori.” (8)

As nursing leaders in 2020, we see Aotearoa’s most pressing health issue to be health equity. The persistent and systemic health inequities have been two hundred years in the making. Our health inequities will continue if we insist on being wilfully blind to their existence, or fail to acknowledge their origins.

For these reasons, the decision for us and for the NZNO Board was obvious. Celebrating Florence doesn’t fit with our vision. Instead, in the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, we are choosing to celebrate those who move us forward to a bicultural future of equity for all. •


1. ‘A Letter From Florence Nightingale’. (1924, 1 July). Kai Tiaki: The Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand, Vol 17(3), p123.

2. Rodgers, J A. (1985). Nursing Education in New Zealand, 1883 to 1930: The Persistence of the Nightingale Ethos. MA thesis, Massey University, Palmerston North.

3. McDonald, L. (Ed.). (2004). Florence Nightingale on Public Health Care – Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, Volume 6. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, pp 183-5.

4. Ibid., p 180.

5. Ibid., p 196.

6. Ibid., p 168-183.

7. Nightingale, F., & National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. (1865). Note on the aboriginal races of Australia: a paper read at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, held at York, September, 1864. Retrieved from 

8. Waitangi Tribunal. (2019). Hauora – Report on Stage One of the Health Services and Outcomes Kaupapa Inquiry. Lower Hutt: Legislation Direct. Retrieved from

First published in Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, April 2020, attributed to joint authors “NZNO president Grant Brookes & kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku”.