In the days since Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign, I’ve received a slew of texts, calls, and DM’s. Many have been kind and thoughtful messages of support, and shared remorse, but just as many have been decisive calls-to-action.
“Time to fall in line! Blue no matter who!”
“They did it again! Bernie or bust! Time for #Demexit!”
I admire those who can stare down this strange and devastating time we are living through and be so surefire in their convictions. The days pass by so quickly, and yet it feels like many months since this time last week. By this time next week I might very well be back in the fight with a purpose, but for now, can I just be angry?
The campaign’s body is barely cold. A movement decades in the making that I joined for the past five years is at a crossroads, a breaking point. Everything we fought for, the hours we spent calling and knocking doors, the emotional capital we spent, that’s got to be worth something, right? Worth taking time to ponder, to feel, to just…be?
For my part, I feel like being angry.
Over the past month, my workdays have been mired in service to the nonprofit sector, as it is called to rise to the occasion now more than ever. I’ve spoken with leaders of food banks, who don’t have enough volunteers to deliver supplies to the food and health insecure. I’ve counseled free clinic directors, who are experiencing overwhelming need, are turning people away, and don’t have enough medical supplies to keep employees safe.
Last week, I listened to the CEO of a center for domestic violence abuse, as she held back tears. She has all but suspended her counseling services, as most of the victims she serves are isolated at home, unable to connect virtually due to the watchful eyes of their abusers, trapped in a nightmare with no outlet.
The veritable triage is well underway in the nonprofit sector as programs, services, contracts, fundraising events, and revenue streams are gutted. Many organizations are shutting their doors, more are experiencing massive layoffs, and more still are having to make everyday choices between serving our most vulnerable populations and keeping themselves and their families safe. Now more than ever, we are faced with an ugly reality: that in the aggregate, the nonprofit sector is just delicate patchwork for bad policy, and a weakened centralized state.
Outside of work, the virus hit my inner circle quicker than I ever could have expected.
One of my best friends contracted the virus. For the better part of two weeks, myself and those closest to him woke up, went about our days, and laid awake at night, on edge, thinking of the perfectly healthy 29 year-old who we love, lying in a hospital bed, fighting for his life. I was never far from my inbox, as we got regular updates from his sister. Constant sedation and ventilation. A carousel of medications. Switching hospitals for more provisioned care. A sepsis scare. It wasn’t even until after he was released from George Washington University Hospital that I found out how truly close he was to death.
Days after his discharge, we spoke for the first time, and wept together.
The feelings of relief and thankfulness were fleeting. There are currently four active COVID-19 cases in my grandmother’s assisted living facility.
Like most everyone else, I’m contending with day-to-day struggles to maintain my mental fortitude. But all things considered, I’m ever reminded of my blessings. I’m blessed to have work, to have food, shelter, and health. I’m afforded a platitude that so many cannot – the uninsured, unemployed, undocumented, generally vulnerable populations – those who don’t know how they’re going to pay rent, put food on the table, afford treatment – those with basic needs unmet prior to the pandemic, that are especially dire now. I fully intend to embrace this platitude, to be angry, not just for me, for us.
I feel like I do when in a Zoom meeting with colleagues and the topic shifts to something I’m positioned to speak to, something in my portfolio.
Can everyone just mute themselves?
Can I just yell into my little corner of the world for a hot minute?
Can I just be angry?
(For those who followed this blog for the travel stories, my apologies. This duck is grounded for now, and near-term, this is a space for societal and political ruminations. Feel free to share ideas for a temporary re-brand – A Distanced Duck, perhaps?)
I’m angry with young people.
For myself and many others, Bernie Sanders was the spark that stirred political consciousness in us for the very first time. Five years ago, the wacky, arm-flailing, would-be revolutionary took his decades-long fight for justice to the national stage, and people listened.
I listened. My friends listened, and millions of other young, previously disaffected people, listened. Finally, we were able to pair a voice with our plights. The plights of a generation, of the poor, the working class, and the forgotten. A movement took shape, but came up short.
When he announced his second attempt for the presidency, hope washed over me, my activism re-animated.
I remember thinking that, surely, this time would be different. The most prolific grassroots movement this country has ever seen would grow in scale, young people would turn out like never before, we would build on our coalition, run the table in the primary, and drag the President through the dirt in the general. We’d drive down ballot support, take back the senate, and begin to enact real, lasting change.
I felt even more resolute as I canvassed across two states and phone banked into half a dozen. There’s something special about being a part of a scrappy, grassroots movement of mostly young people. I got so caught up in the stories of activists I met on the trail – millennials and Gen-Zer’s, beset with poverty, working two or three jobs, paying off high-interest student loan debt, grieving a sick family member who can’t afford healthcare, working long days for weeks and months, spending time they didn’t have fighting for the movement, for those without a voice or vote, fighting for a better future.
Likewise, many voters I met had been waiting for four years to vote for him again, or for the first time. For those undecided, within five minutes of speaking about his positions, many were willing to give him another look, and some committed to cast their ballot for him on the spot. Many were voting for Warren but voiced their support. Many low income, elderly, disabled, or otherwise victims of barriers to voting appreciated my connecting them with transportation to their voting place. The progressive movement had arrived, I thought.
Massive rallies, record-setting volunteer and donation volume, an even stronger groundwork apparatus, fortified and augmented since 2016. For the first time ever, Millennials had surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest voting bloc, and were poised to heal our country and take it forward.
Surely, I thought, surely this is our moment. Surely, this time would be different.
It wasn’t. It is as it has always been. Young people didn’t turn out. In spite of the movement of a lifetime, of an unblemished candidate who asked for us to rise to the occasion, at a time when we needed him the most, when he needed us, we let him down.
One very acute example of our failure happened to me just weeks before the Iowa caucus. At a small gathering, I was in the midst of a plea with some of my closest friends, who all planned on voting for Bernie. My plea was for them to do a little more, to consider phone banking with me that weekend.
“Phone banking doesn’t do shit”
It was a shot to the gut from someone very dear to me, who I saw as smart and aware and generally aligned with the change we were fighting for.
Our best and only weapon against rampant voter suppression, and the entrenched opposition, is activism. And here was my friend, backhanding the work that myself and so many others were putting in. A microcosm of the movement that never really was.
We got what we deserved. For all the rallies and viral voracity, Reddit threads, Twitter arguments, and Instagram shares, we just didn’t turn out. And for those who did, we didn’t do enough to compel our fellow young people to get involved (myself included, obviously).
Once again, we’ve proven that young people just cannot form the bedrock of a winning coalition, and once again, we will not have our needs represented as they should.
Even as we have the most to lose, as our futures are on the line, as we had a candidate that was truly in the fight for us.
It is as it has always been.
Note: This post was meant to continue onto more things I’m angry about — it went on, and on, and on. I’ve decided to make it into a five-part series of shorter posts – check back in a few days for the next installment!