I grew up in a very conservative household. I was raised to believe that the government just takes your money and moves it around to suit its needs, that too much government is bad government, and overall that the government should be run like a business to be successful. I began to think of “liberal-minded” people as naive and silly, because I felt there was no other explanation for what I saw as their outlandish beliefs. Imagine my horror when I began to realize that I was one of those naive, silly, liberal-minded people.
As I have gotten older, I’ve discovered that a big part of adulthood is questioning the beliefs you were raised with, digesting them fully, and finding out whether or not they really line up with your world view. In many ways, the conservative opinions I was raised around no longer represent the opinions I carry today. I remember asking myself what I thought a government was supposed to be, and I didn’t find myself offering up anything remotely business-like: government, to me, meant an organizational system put in place to carry out actions for the greater good of the people it governs. Sometimes, government gets it wrong, but sometimes they get it right. In my view, a government is there to speak for and represent its people to the best of its ability.
Politics were never something that interested me much, even as my views on them slowly began to orient themselves leftward. “Coming to” about what I felt government was supposed to be wasn’t enough to inspire me to be part of “the system” because on my view, the system was pretty messed up. People and corporations with all the money had all the clout, and people like me didn’t seem to matter that much. Being the bizarre, empathy-saturated individual I am, it frustrated me to see so much corruption, selfishness, and pride get in the way of what was supposed to be one of the most democratic, for-the-people-by-the-people systems in the world. What happened to my voice? Why didn’t it seem to matter anymore?
Don’t get me wrong, since turning 18 I’ve done my due diligence and voted, but it didn’t feel like I was doing anything all that important. I did my best to research the candidates and make as informed a decision as I could, but it felt bittersweet because I seemed to be picking “the lesser of two evils” rather than a candidate I was truly passionate about and inspired by. Maybe the lesser of two evils was enough, as long as they retained enough of that for-the-good-of-the-people mentality.
This election cycle, I have come to know a candidate who, for the first time, has reignited the passion and hope I have for my country. My friend Ian began posting articles and information about Bernie Sanders just a couple of months ago, and finally after seeing this old white guy in my Facebook feed, I clicked. With each new article and interview, I felt something waking back up inside me, and I couldn’t help but think “this is the man my country needs.” His passion for the plight of the middle and working class is palpable, and he is the first candidate I’ve found who’s an advocate of the people, not just a participant in the race.
It’s very easy to look at the issues our country faces and dismiss them. It’s easy to look at a family that’s struggling and say, “That would never be me. They’re lazy, they want a handout, they’ve done something wrong. The system helps those who help themselves.” I think that’s an incredibly uncharitable view to take. Yes, there are people out there who take advantage of the system and expect their problems to be taken care of for them. For every one of those people, I know at least two who are truly trying their best and falling short in a system that rewards money with more money and hard work with more work. I’ve come to believe that it’s okay to help the people who struggle, even if every once in a while you’re helping one of those “lazy” ones, too. I’d rather help 85 honest families and 15 “lazy” ones than ignore them all for fear that my good intentions wouldn’t balance out.
Bernie Sanders inspires me because he’s not afraid to talk about the fact that our system is not working like it should. He inspires me because he has the courage to advocate for mothers who don’t have maternity leave to spend with their new child, for workers who do not have access to healthcare or fair wages, for college students like myself who are accruing massive debt for the sin of pursuing higher education, and for our home planet that is in desperate need of our attention. He is unafraid to speak to the challenges we must address, instead of just wearing red, white, and blue and telling us that our country is the best in the world and everyone else can just mind their own business.
I have an incredible love for the United States… after all, she’s been my home my entire life. It is from that love that I feel compelled to speak out against the injustices we experience on a daily basis– exploitation, racism, domestic terrorism, prejudice, and poverty to name a few. I reject the idea that patriotism means turning a blind eye to these deficits upon which we can and must improve. I challenge those around me to see patriotism not as a reason to silence our questions, but as a call to action to create a country in which the government works for its people, and in which people can truly build the lives they wish to create for themselves. In my view, there are many barriers we must dissolve before we can see that country, a country I know we can be.
On Wednesday, I went to Bernie Sanders’ largest campaign event to date in Madison, WI. Almost 10,000 supporters (and an additional 9,000 in live-streamers) gathered to hear him speak of his vision for America. This vision is one that I see as if through my own eyes– a country that yes, has a lot to improve on, but a country most of all with hope for the future. Through Bernie’s campaign, I have seen apathy turn to passion and hate turn into conversations, as we shake off the distractions of grande frappuccinos, one-day only sales, and Netflix to talk with one another and pay attention. It is a long road, and one we still have many steps on before we get to where we’re going. But the important thing is so many of us are beginning to walk it.
At the end of the day, it’s not a politician, a congressman, or a president who will be the change our country needs– it’s every one of us. It’s you, and it’s me. It’s us standing together and using the passion we feel as Americans to do more than wear a stars and stripes bikini while we eat hamburgers (me: veggie burgers) by the pool (which is still fun. We can do that too, as long as it’s not all we do!). It’s us using that passion to remember that we can still make a difference. It’s remembering that united we stand, divided we fall. It’s remembering something I still believe, no matter how big our problems are: an honest voice can be louder than a crowd’s. The trick is to keep speaking, even when that crowd is telling you to sit down and be quiet. The patriotism I believe in is having the courage to rock the boat when the boat needs a change of course.
I never thought I would be a big “political person,” but I guess maybe I am. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter so much whether my views are conservative, liberal, somewhere in between, or somewhere off the chart– all any of us want is to have the best country we can. We each have different ideas of what will get us there, but the important thing is listening to ourselves… after all, the only way to modify a system to work for us instead of just a small piece of us is to get involved in it and keep your honest voice loud and clear. In Bernie Sanders and his campaign, I have found the megaphone through which my honest voice can be amplified. For some of us, it may be speaking out against a racist or sexist joke. It may be giving the panhandler on the corner a couple bucks. It may be donating blood. It may be going to church. Whatever it is, do not be afraid to speak. Bernie Sanders has a voice that I believe is honest, and let me tell you… in a stadium filled, standing-room only, with 10,000 other honest voices, it’s pretty damn loud.
Many feels were had in Madison. To read the full caption of this Instagram post, click here!