Looking at the sea of faces from every color under the Sun looking onward as Bernie Sanders accepted the results of the Nevada caucus I was struck by an odd sensation that I have not felt in many years. HOPE. That elusive feeling that things are going to get better and we are finally ready to turn a corner. My wife and I met and courted in the same south side Chicago blocks that Michelle and Barack first got together, there’s even a cute picture of us as wide eyed idealists with Obama pins on our sweaters looking on as the 44th President was inaugurated. I snuck out of a BBC radio panel I had been invited to participate in to join the throngs in Grant Park. We thought things would change. In many ways they did.
Five years later two of our favorite women got married to one another in a Unitarian Church in Evanston, while I share their belief that God solemnized their marriage that day, it would not be legal for another two years. It was legal thanks to President Obama and Vice President Biden. During two spells of unemployment I was able to find affordable coverage on the ACA exchanges, including during a time when I had severe bronchitis and would have never been able to afford the medications. I can thank Obama and Biden for that. My student loans can be forgiven since I am an urban teacher. Our classrooms are aligned to Common Core standards and I can also thank Obama and Biden for that.
Yet we still have a long way to go. My wife and I are still living paycheck to paycheck due to the high cost of housing, and we have no idea when we are going to put a downpayment on a home. Those student loans will eventually be forgiven, but its another $500 from our joint account for both of us every month, and my wife is taking on more debt (eventually offset by her employer-but not yet) for her additional nursing degrees. I may also go back to school for my administrators masters or a PhD down the road. We are both 31 and delaying having a kid a lot longer than we would’ve predicted twelve years ago. Our dreams of having four have narrowed to two or even one at most. We are trying to time it to take place during a gap in our schooling and for the new statewide paid leave law to kick in. We are jealous of our Dutch friends from our Chicago church who moved back home to have full maternity and paternity leave and do not have to pay for their childcare or higher education. Our friends back in Chicago who are a little older than us both have six figure jobs and are living paycheck to paycheck because of child care, the cost of their mortgage, and insuring their kids health care.
Meanwhile my life is one of privilege compared to those of my students. We went to a restaurant last night where I saw a former student, the same student who was narcoleptic during last springs history class, trying to be perky as a hostess during a late night shift. No wonder she was always tired! She is not alone, a lot of my students work well beyond the legal 40 hour requirement on school nights. The more “affluent” ones are doing so to pay for college, spring break trips, and new sneakers. The less “affluent” ones are expected to to pay for household food and rent. One student, thankfully getting a full ride to Salem State next fall, has been in and out of the foster care system as her mother has cycled through alcohol and drug addiction. She is now her mothers full time caregiver at the age of 17 and the key breadwinner for her household. I worry about another student who’s mother was not allowed to leave Columbia after they flew down there to bury his grandmother. He still wears the ROTC uniform of the country that does not want his own mother, he wants to serve America that badly. Mostly for the benefits, but also because he was grateful that this country was a safe haven from the drug wars in Medellin. These are the stories that keep me up and night. These are the areas where I see my country falling short. These are the stories that make me lose hope.
I just finished treading Tightrope, an excellent book by NY Times war and foreign correspondent Nick Kristoff and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. They trained their foreign correspondent lens honed by examining developing and war torn nations to Nick’s own hometown and backyard: Yamhill, Oregon. They both examined the lives of the other kids on his school bus to show how the ladder of opportunity it broken and so many Americans are living on a tightrope in danger of falling down. Their recommendations are major changes: family allowances, wage insurance, near universal college and technical training, universal healthcare (via single payer or a public option), and criminal justice reform (its not just a racial issue anymore-most of the subjects they looked at were white). All plans that will be ridiculed as socialist. All plans that arguably are. All plans that America is crying out to implement.
My wife and our friends are college educated suburbanites. The very people who should be terrified of Bernie and excited by Bloomberg. Yet we also keep seeing the stats on maternal deaths, childhood outcomes, and stress compared to our social democratic peers in Europe and Asia. My students are a cross racial group of kids terrified of ICE, guns, and rising tides in their classrooms and coastal community. They are terrified of not being able to afford college. For too long our party has allowed the right to define fear and rule on fear. Fear of terrorism. Fear of immigration. Fear of non-whites. Fear of gays. Fear of non-Christians. Fear of big government. We forget that our best President ran for four terms on freedom from fear. Or that our last president won on hope and change.
The only two candidates in the race running against that fear and running on hope are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The only candidate who was able to put the Obama coalition back together on Saturday and demonstrate they are capable of winning a general election is Bernie Sanders. The sooner the party stops fearing and learns how to hope again, the sooner we can win. I am early voting tomorrow for hope and change, just as I did twelve long years ago. I am voting for Bernie Sanders.