32 years: One road from Jesse to Bernie

Yesterday, driving into downtown Los Angeles with my ten-year-old son, it hit me: I was about his age when my mom took me to see a presidential contender speak!

In May 1988, my mom took me out of school to see Jesse Jackson speak at the University of Oregon’s Mac Court. While she wasn’t necessarily a huge fan, she loved the idea of me seeing democracy in action. 

I don’t remember one word spoken there at Mac Court. Mostly I remember being surrounded by throngs of people and excited by the rush of their collective energy.

Until yesterday, though, I’d imagined that was the energy of maybe a couple thousand Eugeneans.

Yesterday, searching the web for info on the rally, I was startled to discover the rally was much larger than I realized. Per the L.A. Times, “About 14,000 people turned out last week for Jackson at the University of Oregon in Eugene, one of the biggest crowds he has drawn anywhere in the country.”

Something else about that article leapt out at me, but I’ll get back to that.

In early 2016, I went to visit my family in Portland, Oregon. I was astonished when my brother and just-younger sister, researchers and historians both, expressed interest in Bernie Sanders. I was staunchly for Hillary, whom I described as the practical choice.

Listen, my brother told me, quiet but dead serious. Polls consistently show there is only one person who can beat Donald Trump, and that’s Bernie Sanders.

My brother walked me through the numerous polls behind his assertion, and talked about how a beloved veteran in our life was prepared–much to my bemusement–to vote for Bernie.

My sister added some points of her own, but I was honestly barely processing what they were saying. None of it aligned with anything I understood about the world.

Bernie beat Trump? Was I even living in the same world as them?

I later watched a video of Bernie speaking and understood what my siblings saw. Still, to better understand, I read. I read, and I read, and I read.

The more I read, the fewer and smaller were the differences I saw between elected Democrats and elected Republicans. Decades’ worth of elected Democrats’ actions and inactions had played an essential role in creating the political landscape where–among other devastations–Trump could run, Trump could win, and Trump could enjoy the massively expanded executive power he’s known since he’s first day in office.

I stopped looking to The New York Times or The Washington Post for news, seeing more spin than substance. I began looking instead to independent media, notably The Intercept.

In the 2016 primaries, I cast my vote for Bernie.

In 2011, I published a post called “Dead Moms Can’t Care.”

I wrote about how my own mom, an impoverished single mom of four, once got a serious infection after puncturing her leg with a rusty nail. Lacking affordable health care, she treated herself with Epsom salt baths and over-the-counter drugs. 

At the time, littler me thought it was inevitable that my mom would survive. That’s just what moms did!

I was much, much older when I realized her survival was never inevitable. That she could have lost not only her whole massively infected leg, but her life.

By the time I realized it, she’d already died. She’d died in 2010, in part because her fear of the costs of health care kept her from seeking help.

When I wrote “Dead Moms Can’t Care,” I thought my mom’s death was an anomaly. 

By the time I wrote “Bernie, Because I Was Poor” in early 2017, I understood my mom’s death wasn’t an anomaly but a function of a political system so profoundly dysfunctional it was downright lethal. I wrote then:

As Democrats yammered on about free markets, incremental progress, and efficient systems, Sanders advocated for more humane systems. He passionately demanded universal health care, checks against ongoing governmental redistribution of wealth from people to corporations, living wages, and countless other measures that would’ve eased my mom’s burdens if implemented earlier.

I quietly kept bernin’ as 2017 and the first half of 2018 rolled slowly by. In mid- to late 2018, looking for a source of sustained hope, I placed a Bernie 2020 sticker on my car.

I removed it a month or two before Bernie announced his candidacy. Why?

It wasn’t because I was any less for Bernie, but rather because several staunch white liberals verbally attacked my Black husband for his role in keeping Hillary out of office. 

My husband asked me to remove the sticker for his safety, and I did.

A month or so after Bernie announced his candidacy, my husband said he’d be fine with me putting a new Bernie 2020 sticker on my car.

With more Bernie people visibly out there and a new campaign underway, the dynamic had changed for him. Now, there’d be others to share the burden of enduring the long-burning rage of entitlement unfulfilled.

The worst he’s encountered (so far) this time around is finding the words “FUCK BERNIE” written in the dust on my car after he’d been out and about.

Yesterday, I drove my ten-year-old son to Bernie’s L.A. rally. 

I wasn’t thinking about my mom as I drove, or as I parked, or as I bought my son a burger en route to the convention center.

I wasn’t thinking about her as I bought my son the plain black Bernie tee he requested, or waited outside the convention center a few hours before the rally began.

It was only when I stood in the center’s lobby, gazing around at the hundreds of people waiting with me for security checks to begin, that I really connected the experience with one a much littler me had 32 years ago.

32 years ago, my mom had taken me to see Jesse Jackson. Jackson hadn’t won then, no, but … I saw he hadn’t exactly lost, either. He’d helped shift the narrative, as exemplified in the 1988 LA Times article I mentioned earlier: “And, in southern Oregon, which is much more conservative than Eugene and Portland, Jackson stunned local observers by attracting a crowd of 4,000 to a speech in Jackson County.”

Those same words could have been written about Bernie Sanders today, as motivated pundits against Bernie try to coax voters to believe it could never happen, no matter how many millions of signs strongly suggest otherwise.

32 years ago, littler me stood with my mom and 14,000 other Oregonians connecting for the possibility of something different. The possibility of taking part in shaping that different something. 

Yesterday, a much older me stood side-by-side with my own child.

My heart swelled as I saw another strand connecting that 1988 rally with yesterday: Jackson’s endorsement for Bernie Sanders 2020.

Sanders, says Jackson, represents “not the left-wing” but “the moral center.”

Perhaps my mom would have survived cancer in a world where Jackson had become president. I’ll never know.

But yesterday, I could imagine my ten-year-old’s adult self standing with his own children someday.

Him describing to his own incredulous child how people once died because they couldn’t afford health. How their very own grandma succumbed in pain and poverty to such a deeply broken system.

This is the future for which I hope. While I can’t know what will come to pass, I’m so glad me and my son were together able to feel the possibility of change in the embodied presence of 25,000 souls who know many paths are possible …

… and who are committed to, also together, shaping a future much kinder to–much healthier for–all of today’s and tomorrow’s children.


3 thoughts on “32 years: One road from Jesse to Bernie

  1. I hope it wasn’t COVID-19. Not sure how many big rallies there will be this year. Wait until the Cult of the Orange Man finds out that he won’t be delivering on any miracles. Just slightly older than you were, I went by myself to a Fundamentalist revival put on by the Billy Graham organization. I have never forgotten that scary event and it has informed or at least colored my understanding of what you can get people in a crowd to believe. On the other hand, all that energy can also be put towards a good cause with the right leadership. I’ll skip allusion to Feel the Bern, but you get the idea.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. More and more by the day, I fear COVID-19 will be The Change.

      We’re at the very beginning of the wave here in California, and it’s already ugly. The ugly now won’t, of course, compare to the ugly we’re yet to see, which I hope–but don’t know–my loved ones and I will survive.

      It could have been so much different, with an appropriate early response. Alas.


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