When I decided to make the trip up to New Hampshire to canvass for Bernie Sanders, it was mainly because I thought it would be cool to run around for a while pretending to be Donna Moss from West Wing.
It was also because I want to have children, and I don’t think it’s fair to bring more children into this world unless I’m going to walk the walk and do whatever I can to ensure that our planet it still around and fully functioning when my hypothetical progeny come of age.
It’s also because of my students. As an adjunct professor at a community college, I see it all: veterans, single moms, immigrants, kids who hope to be the first in their families to graduate from college, parents who are working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet all while trying to earn a degree to advance their careers. I even had a student who was under house arrest one semester.
When I hear their stories, how much they’re holding together, how hard they’re working just to get to class, let alone purchase textbooks, it’s clear that the American Dream is not equally accessible to everyone.
So I figured I’d go to New Hampshire. And that I’d apply to be a delegate to the DNC for Bernie Sanders while I was at it… (In for a penny, in for a pound, right?)
The truth is though there aren’t a lot of cool West Wing moments. It’s a lot of standing around in the cold, being hungry and tired, losing your voice, getting told off by complete strangers when all you’re trying to do it get Bernie on the damn ballot.
It’s a lot of stress, and checking your phone every two minutes, and conference calls, and waking up in the middle of the night to try to figure out how in the hell you’re ever going to get enough signatures. It’s late nights and being too tired to have sex when you get home and thanking your fiancé over and over for holding down the fort because you haven’t event touched the laundry over the past month.
It’s not easy.
And sometimes it downright sucks.
But this weekend was not one of those times.
It all started early Saturday morning when my mom and I woke up at 3am to drive up to NH. We were supposed to go several weeks ago along with a group of 2 dozen other volunteers from NJ but the trip was postponed due to icy road conditions. When the trip got rescheduled, I caught some flack for “abandoning” my state in favor of New Hampshire (especially two days before ballot signatures are due). But I’m a New Hampshire native, and the way I see it, Pennsylvania won’t matter unless Bernie completely kills it in NH, so I teamed up with some fellow delegates from my district, swapped petitions, and crossed my fingers that they’d carry on in my absence.
There were Jeb signs everywhere. And one xenophobic wingnut was so angry that he drove by us several times yelling obscenities.
But the overwhelming majority were beeping, cheering, giving us thumbs up and peace signs. And even though the lawn signs of Iowa’s third place Republican would have you believe that NH is his “country,” it’s not. NH is Bernie territory. (And don’t let the media tell you otherwise.)
On Sunday morning, we got a call to head down to Portsmouth to help out with visibility for an event at a community college… I didn’t even know what the event was, or that Bernie was already back in NH after his appearance on SNL the night before, but before I knew it, I was headed inside with my mom and some of the other volunteers.
We were wearing matching Bernie sweatshirts that she’d made. Mine said “Bernie 2016” but hers said “Latina for Bernie”– a key missing demographic.
I just finished giving an interview to Variety and was in full blown media mode.
“We drove up all the way from Philly,” I told him, explaining that we were a mother/daughter team who had driven all through the night to volunteer for the primary.
A few minutes later, we were escorted to the stage.
We’d been preparing for an afternoon of outdoor work so I was wearing 4 shirts (including silk underwear, a fleece turtleneck, a fleece vest, and my official Bernie baseball t-shirt) in addition to the sweatshirt, plus fleece pants, wool socks and snow boots.
But when someone asks you to stand in the front row four feet behind the podium where Bernie Sanders himself is going to be speaking, you don’t say, “Actually I’m kind of hot and I’d like to fix my hair and grab some lipgloss if I’m gonna be on tv…”
You just thank your lucky stars that you’re wearing a great hat and that your years of dance training that have rendered you able to strip, anytime, anywhere, without accidentally flashing anyone. (It’s an art, let me tell you.)
I’ll be honest, I almost cried. There, not 3 feet in front of me, was the man who makes me actually want to have children.
(Well okay, I should probably clarify that. My fiancé is the man who makes me want to have children. But Bernie is the one who gives me hope for their future. He’s the one who makes me think my students are going to get a fair shot at the American Dream, regardless of the color of their skin, how much money they have or where they grew up. He’s the one who has inspired an entire generation of young Americans to actually get up and do something to change the course of history. And he’s the one who had the guts to admit that we won’t be able to effect any sort of real, lasting change unless we take our country back from the multinational corporations that have completely eviscerated the democratic process, replacing the monarchy our founding fathers rebelled against with an oligarchy that would have them turning over in their graves.)
We were told to keep our focus on the candidate, to avoid looking away or checking our phones, but I couldn’t help it. The dance teacher in me (who spends the majority of each end-of-the-year recital wondering who is going to lose a costume piece onstage and where it’s going to end up), started scanning the stage.
There wasn’t a handler in sight, and so when the next President of the United States removed his jacket and turned around to toss it back, I held out my left hand and caught it.
He actually caught my eye and smiled, and people cheered. Not knowing what else to do, I held the jacket in the air like I’d just caught a fly ball at the World Series.
A moment later, his wife Jane came onstage and retrieved the jacket from me so I could get back to my duties of ethusiastically holding my standard issue Bernie placard with both hands and waving it at the crowd.
I vowed, however, to never wash my left hand again.
Up until a few months ago, I had never even heard of Bernie Sanders.
I teared up when I watched the video in which Hillary announced her candidacy and thought, “This could finally be it: first an African American president and now a woman.”
If you had told me I wouldn’t have been the first in line to volunteer for the first viable female candidate, I would have said you were crazy.
I’m a feminist, after all.
But voting for a woman just because she’s a woman isn’t feminist. It’s sexist.
And while I’m certainly not going to denigrate her and the work she has done, or deny that she is an immensely intelligent woman, I’m not going to give up on change- real change- just because the DNC isn’t giving Bernie a fair shot, just because his ideas are “too radical.”
This country was founded on radical ideas. And when you consider the fact that we’re the most incarcerated nation on earth, and that the overwhelming majority of those incarcerated are men of color, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.
When you consider the fact that most Wal-Mart employees can’t make a living without Medicaid and Food Stamps because we’d rather subsidize their billionaire bosses, and that we allow miltinational corporations to outsource their labor and their profits to avoid paying taxes, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.
When you consider the fact that American college students are graduating with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, making them less likely to pursue higher education in the first place, or to rendering them too fearful, financially strapped and risk-averse to do anything meaningful when they graduate, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.
And Bernie Sanders can get us there.
The only problem is that when he finished his speech, he turned around again and shook everyone’s hand before leaving the stage. So now I can’t wash my right hand either.
(Apologies in advance for any typos… Am writing all of this on my iPhone on the back of a bus heading home from NH.)