“Most struggles are money struggles. Maybe that isn’t the root but that’s where it comes out,” says my cousin, Aaron Schnurbusch, who works at a crisis ministry in Asheville, North Carolina.
He’s speaking to the homeless and addicted in the area, but his take seems oddly appropriate during this year’s presidential election.
Supporters of Donald Trump (and the rest of the Republican candidates) are tired of seeing their hard-earned income going to a government that’s, in their minds, ineffectual and meddlesome. Bernie Sanders supporters, and to a certain extent Hillary Clinton advocates, are tired of the increasing amount of personal debt because there are people not paying their fair share.
The target audience is the same, every time, the middle class or at least those that think they’re the middle class.
Politicians don’t speak to the man that’s been sleeping in the crisis clinic waiting room all morning or the woman that comes there daily with three kids for free meals. They speak to the affluent and employed, those that aren’t barely living who can aspire to buy a TV or a car through tax cuts or go to college with reduced tuition.
On Thursday, when I volunteered at the crisis ministry hanging donated clothes and stacking blankets, it was sunny and warm. By Saturday morning, the snow storm I had driven through from West Virginia hit Asheville hard.
I had created an event at a local coffee shop to watch a Bernie Sanders livestream that night and more than 40 people had registered. Saturday afternoon more RSVPs came in as the other event in town canceled due to weather.
But I’m determined and have four-wheel drive.
It seems I’m not alone. People start trickling. The barista, who I met at the bar the night before, is giving everyone there for the live stream free coffee. The dozen or so people that have shown up huddle around two computer screens.
Sanders starts talking about his momentum.
“Everyone thought we were a fringe candidacy,” he says. But with 2.5 million donations by late January, mostly coming from small-dollar donations from average Joes, he with the help of disgusted American citizens has proven “everyone” wrong. The average contribution is $27 and he’s proving a candidate can run a campaign without a Super PAC.
“You can run a campaign without begging billionaires for money,” he says. In Asheville, people clap.
Our little gathering is one of 2,000 house parties around the country set up for the event. For all it’s faults, politics does make you feel like a part of something bigger.
Sander’s biggest complaint about American society is the rigged economy. So many people are working more hours for less pay–as a journalist, I know this well–quite different from the developed, prosperous nations elsewhere in the world.
And the 20 wealthiest people in the US earn more than the bottom half, Sanders says. If you don’t see a problem with this, you’re not looking hard enough. Because the top 10 as shown by the “Forbes 400” are all white men, typically Internet entrepreneurs.
Sanders also comments on climate change, police brutality, immigration and political reform in his maybe 20-minute speech.
On leading Donald Trump in national polls, Sanders says, “Because the American people are not into that kind of racism and bigotry.”
I hope he’s right, but it seems out-of-touch from my perspective driving through the country.
In terms of gender, the room is split and there’s people of all ages there. While I don’t know everyone’s race for a fact, I do know that nearly all the people there would be called white on the street.
Two millennial women are conversing in the back and I walk up to ask them if they came for the event and are supporters or dissenters of Sanders. They hadn’t known there would be an event; they just came in to get out in the snow.
But they are supporters.
One of them, Joann Johnson is originally from St. Louis, Missouri, only 20 minutes south of Ferguson and only two hours north of Cape Girardeau, where I grew up. She uses her heritage to defend Sanders.
While a significant number of Missourians (mostly white) don’t seem to see it, there’s ever present racial tensions in the state which hit its breaking point after unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by policeman, Darren Wilson in Ferguson on August 9, 2014.
Sanders exemplifies solidarity with the black community in the US.
Killer Mike, a hip-hop artist, actor and activist, gives a powerful endorsement of Sanders after comparing Sanders reaction to Black Lives Matter protesters to Hillary Clinton’s.
“If I can find a picture of you from 51 years ago chained to a black woman protesting segregation…” Killer Mike says. Sanders has been fighting against racial inequality for decades and his stance on America’s institutionalized racism–like nearly all of his positions–hasn’t faltered. Sanders integrity to his convictions is the one of the main reasons people love him.
Young people love him, also, because he stands against the growing debt sitting heavy on students. Sanders has consistently campaigned for free education extending beyond high school to public colleges and universities. He believes all students deserve an affordable, quality education and he believes it’s the responsibility of all other American citizens to make that happen.
Johnson, for instance, got in so much debt she had to drop out of school.
“I’m just disgusted with capitalism,” she says.
Her friend, Adina Marrashe speaks up. She’s from Philadelphia but moved to Asheville for a wilderness therapy position. Wilderness therapy takes kids with behavioral or other disorders outdoors for therapeutic benefits. But she quit that recently because she found that even that had become an industry, focused on profit maximization and less on the kids’ progress.
This counterfeit career in this phony culture with all these imposter politicians… It’s another reason people have flocked to Sanders.
The girls are tough on Obama, saying they thought he was going to change things but instead was just another part of the establishment, still just a wheeling and dealing politician.
“Bernie is fucking real,” Marrashe says.
“So what if he doesn’t get the nomination?” I ask.
“I’ll vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate,” Johnson says.
After a Christmas tree burning turned bonfire party that night I’m sitting at a friend’s house researching Ms. Stein and the Green Party while we listen to records.
“My dad thinks Trump is crazy,” says Wes. “But he’ll vote for him should he get the candidacy, because he won’t vote for a Democrat.”
This is the issue for Dems.
Democrats, especially young liberals, aren’t as loyal to the two-party system, choosing allegiance to philosophical convictions instead.
America has become increasingly partisan and we act as if our political affiliations, just by name, define us. And the Republicans in particular hold fast to this idea.
My parents also think Trump is insane, and like Wes’ father, they’ll vote for him as the lesser of two evils.
But there aren’t just two choices. Humans just like two choices. We want black or white, good or evil, Republican or Democrat, support or dissent. It exasperates the two-party system which doesn’t allow us to work through fully the very nuanced problems we face.
Trump is unlikely to split the Republican party. Clinton will divide the Democrats.
And that could mean a change of politics in the White House.