Today, on Twitter, I saw someone try to make the claim that the “Bernie Story” hashtag was filled with elitist, disconnected people. Others claimed that Bernie supporters don’t understand the plight of people of color and LGBTQ. I can’t help but feel that those dismissals ignore the reality of who supports Bernie Sanders. If you read and watch the stories encompassed in that hashtag, you’ll see that his base is far from the monochrome painted by his detractors, and very diverse, in age, race, gender, and sexuality.
My Bernie Story is not that different from everyone else’s. I am a woman, raised in the an upper-middle class Midwestern family. I came of age with the expectation that going to college would pave a path to a comfortable existence, and I had inherited enough money that I could attend a good college close to home. (Go Belles!) I majored in Literature, minored in writing with a focus on Public Relations and Advertising, and took some business classes with the expectation that most middle class kids have, that I would have a job in the marketing and public relations firm that my mother and step-father owned.
When I was 20, the rug was pulled out from underneath my entire family. We had several big deaths that left us reeling, and then, as we struggled with that, my step-father emptied the bank accounts and attempted what amounts to court-sanctioned kidnapping of my younger sister. That is a horrible, long, and involved story in and of itself, but what it boiled down to was, there was no more money, no more security, and certainly no job waiting for me at the end of it all.
I ended up borrowing money for school, taking a financial aid subsidized job on campus to help pay bills, and changing my plan for the future as I was looking towards the end of college. When I graduated in 2001, I took the first job I could. Those years were lean. I moved in with my boyfriend, gave what money I could and did whatever I could to help them. I hadn’t had to borrow much for school, but I did have student loans, and those came due quickly. I got caught working to introduce a union at my first job and, since Indiana is an at-will state, was fired for “unsatisfactory job performance”. I will never forget the smile on the HR lady’s face as she had security escort early 20’s me to pack my personal things and take me from the building.
I started typing up the rest of my story and realized, it doesn’t really matter. Like I said, my story doesn’t differ that much from others telling their story. I ended up marrying an immigrant, we had a child, and then my family got hit by the recession, just as other families did. We struggled with job loss and family tragedy, just as other families have. I’ve cried in the shower trying to figure out how to feed my family and pay bills. I have worked multiple part-time jobs for companies that chose part-time and contract employees to avoid paying benefits. I spent at least a decade without health insurance, even after I had my son because our household made too much on paper to qualify for benefits. Even when Indiana finally gave in to the ACA, we could only afford catastrophic care insurance, but at least it was something. However, when I got hit with a lung infection, I did what most people with limited to no insurance do. I treated the symptoms and waited it out. It took 6 months, and I still have problems with my lungs.
Even now, we live in Michigan and have insurance through the ACA. We’ve had to fight every three months to get our insurance company to pay for their own covered doctors. Right now, we’re fighting to make sure we can keep our insurance going because the Marketplace misreported our income and tripled our premium.
And all of it adds up. When you see Bernie Sanders engaged in the Fight for $15, or you hear him rail against the greed of health insurance companies, that’s my background. When you hear him castigate the people who run Wall Street businesses, the ones who caused the last recession, my family was a victim of theirs too, and we still work on recovering from it. When you hear him talk about student loans, you need to know that 18 years later, I am STILL paying off those loans. When he talks about our broken immigration system and how horrible this country is, even to documented immigrants, I have a green-card carrying husband, and we live with that fear every day.
The people telling their stories about their support for Bernie Sanders are telling truly American stories, and it is a mixed bag of pride and anguish. “Not Me, Us” means we all share these stories. We live in a country where most of us exist at the mercy of only a few. The wealth gap now is comparable to the Gilded Age, and those that hold the wealth are not inclined to share it. And even the Democratic candidates who talk about a return to Obama era politics ignore the fact that simply means upholding the status quo. The rich will continue to get richer, the poor will get poorer, and civil rights will remain stagnant.
And that is where my feelings of pride come in. “Not Me, Us” also means we share in the solution. Rather than give in to despair, Sanders supporters from all walks of life have hope. That have that stereotypical belief in American perseverance, that if they fight to make things better, we can change our country for the better. We can make our home an inclusive bastion of freedom, that shining lamp on the hill that we were raised to believe in. And that is what a Bernie Sanders presidency offers a path to, that chance, that change. It is why I campaigned for him in 2016, and it is why I remain fervently in his camp now.