I went to see Bernie Sanders to be inspired. Don’t worry if you are not a Bernie fan. This post is about the experience, not the politics- at least for the most part.
Perhaps it’s a midlife crisis. Maybe I’m in a rut. But I find myself seeking. I want something more. I need SOMETHING. The question is, what is going to fill this need?
I have read time and again that Bernie is an idealist, most of the time with idealist somehow being a four letter word. But when I think of idealism, I think of my high school English teacher, Ms. Clark. One of the assignments she gave our class was to write essays as to whether or not we considered ourselves to be idealists.
I don’t remember much about my essay other than I confirmed my alignment with idealism. What I do recall is that Ms. Clark also wrote an essay in which she labeled herself an idealist. Up until that point, adults had always assumed a knowing smiling and advised I would outgrow my idealism once I was faced with “real life” problems. It was refreshing to have this adult I looked up to say that idealism didn’t fade simply because one grows up. Ms. Clark provided lasting inspiration by holding on to her idealism. Perhaps Bernie could do the same.
The old saying is “good things come to those who wait” and it seemed inspiration would also require waiting. The rally invitation stated doors would open at 5pm, but did not provide the time for Bernie’s speech. I didn’t want to miss it, so I arrived at 4:30pm. Already the line was surging into the distance, so long I could not see the front. After an hour, the security gates for the event became visible, but it would be another twenty minutes before I walked through them.
(my friend and I waiting in line)
All of this waiting gave me a lot of time to ponder politics, inspiration, technology, society, and the tangled web they weave.
I thought back to another teacher I had, Mr. Mee, my junior high and high school History teacher. I had learned about the three branches of government long before meeting Mr. Mee, but something about the way he explained them seemed magical- like the United States had figured out the perfect balance to create a successful government that represents the needs of the people. No one branch would have too much power. If the will of the people was not met, they had the power to vote in new officers. The day I heard about lobbyists, I thought I had found my dream job. Getting paid to fight for the causes you believe in! What could be better?
I hate how much I used to love politics and how much I now hate them. I hate that the promise of government I believed in as a kid has in no way lived up to the reality. This election, more than any other I can remember, illustrates that people are tired of aligning themselves with parties that do not fulfill the will of the constituents that vote them into office. Yet it seems the system is devised to limit the power of the voter. Super delegates. Hanging chads. Time and again we are shown our votes count for very little.
Bernie finally took the stage at around 7pm. Every cell phone in the room went into the air, including mine.
We all want that photo to post on social media, the one to say “Look at me! I was there!” I’ve got more than one. But I guess I just thought after a couple of minutes that would subside. I mean, its a guy behind a podium. He didn’t start break dancing. A giant hook didn’t appear from the side to snatch him off stage. A photo at the start of the speech would look the same as one in the middle, one at the end. We had all just waited in line for two hours to hear him speak. I thought we’d want to listen to his words.
But the woman in front of me took photo after photo for about ten minutes, and then motioned for her girlfriend that it was time to go. The guy in front of her struck a dignified pose with Bernie talking in the background. He looked at his selfie, determined it was not acceptable, and then struck the pose a few more times. A couple of people down from me, a man responded to texts throughout the speech, because whatever was being texted couldn’t wait a few moments. We all do it- answer that one text that will just take a second, tell ourselves we can “multitask.” I just wanted to scream “BE PRESENT!” How often are we really present anymore?
My husband said something this morning that was so perfect.
“Checking your phone in the middle of hanging out with people is the equivalent of yawning.” Yes! It’s like we’ve completely forgotten how to exhibit common courtesy. Someone is speaking. Listen.
At one point, I did yawn. I’m human. I was tired. My friend said “Do you want to get going? We can go if you’re sleepy.”
I know she meant well, but I wanted to hear the entire speech. Just because I yawned for a moment did not mean it was not worthwhile to stay and hear the rest of his words. Our global attention span has decreased to a fraction of a moment. The second we are bored, we text, or check social media, or take a photo. We fool ourselves into thinking we are connecting but in fact we are disengaging. A yawn used to be a signal to pay closer attention or to participate more. Now it is a cue to tune out.
I’m so thankful I stayed until the end, because despite the people who just came to get selfies and the ones who left halfway through, I did get my moment of inspiration.
Bernie began speaking about change and how sometimes it can seem implausible. He went over movements that at their inception seemed impossible to pass and now are part of our history- the abolition of slavery, women gaining the right to vote, etc.
But the movement that stuck with me was the fight to legalize marriage between gay couples. I grew up near Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family, a conservative mecca. It was not uncommon for the red necks in my town to say things like “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Simply to be gay was immoral; for a gay couple to be legally married was unimaginable. But the legalization of gay marriage has come to pass. I am 41 years old. That happened in my lifetime. It took the tireless work and unfailing commitment of a lot of people, but that change did happen.
I could be disappointed in the people who just wanted their selfies. Or I could align myself with the other hundreds of people around me. The people who showed up, who waited, who listened. Right in front of me was a pregnant woman. I remember how my feet swelled to the size of loaves of bread when I was carrying my sons. If anyone had the right to leave early, she did. But there she was, yelling and clapping and feeling energized. A few people down from her was a dad who raised his son in the air any time Bernie said something particularly riveting. It was beautiful. I want to live in that beauty.
Nearly every day, I see some meme on social media disparaging the candidates in this election. More than one friend has said “If Trump gets elected, I’m moving to Canada” or “If you are voting for Hillary you should just unfriend me now.” Is our problem our candidates, or are they a representation for how rude, self centered, and socially inept we have become?
I heard a commentator the other day say something like “do detractors really think that insulting Trump will make his supporters change their minds?” Of course not. He went on to say changing minds is done with compelling ideas.
I don’t know what the best ideas are. But I do think they probably happen when people talk to each other and work together. We’ve created this monster where candidates can not even think about working with the opposing side lest they appear weak. A simple misstep is around the world in a matter of seconds. Change your mind based on new information- no way, you’re flip flopping. Yes, the system is not functioning the way we were brought up to think it would, but we also feed that machine with every stupid meme, regurgitation of gossip, and expectation of perfection from people who are of course, imperfect.
We all have work to do. The promise of our country is not in our government. It is in the interactions of people, being kind, looking out for one another, and willing to listen. Be part of that change.