Lucy Flores is a state legislator and congressional candidate in Nevada. She's also a Bernie Sanders supporter, and she explains why in a moving Facebook post recounting an encounter she had with a young boy she met in South Central Los Angeles.
As soon as I walked into the tiny one-bedroom, single-story apartment, I looked around and saw things everywhere – dirty clothes, dishes, shoes, plastic and paper bags, and what seemed like countless other things – on just about every surface imaginable. There literally was not a single space to clear off or rearrange and the house smelled like it hadn’t been exposed to fresh air in weeks, so I decided to work with the child on the apartment stoop.
The child was about 5 years old – a young black boy who even despite his living conditions had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. I made my way through my standard questions – "How often do you read?" "Sometimes, when I’m in school." "How often does your mom read with you?" "Never." "Do you enjoy reading?" "Yes." "How much? On a scale of sad face to happy face, point to the face that shows how much you enjoy reading." He pointed to happy face. So on and so forth. When we got to the end, I told him he did great and began to put away my things. As I was packing, he abruptly pointed to something and said, "Can I have that?" I didn’t have anything special so I looked at him confused and asked, "Have what?" "That." He said, still pointing. I looked down again and saw that my happy face assessment sheet was at the top of my stack of papers. I immediately realized he wanted to keep my sheet - my black and white, photo-copied a thousand times over, sheet that had sad to happy faces on it. Then I realized how anxious he seemed that I might say no, so I asked, "Do you have any books at all in there?" "No." "Do you have anything to read at all? A magazine or something?" "No." "Do you have toys? Or anything to play with?" "No." "Do you have anything at all? Like crayons or pens or something?" "No."
And then it struck me: this bright kid, this happy, starry-eyed kid, this kid with all the potential in the world, had nothing. He had a filthy, dirty apartment with no active parenting, no role models around, and I was about to make his week just by giving him my happy face sheet. So I said, "Well of course you can have my sheet!" Then I started to furiously dig around my bag to see what else I could find. I found some neon highlighters he could color with, a few extra happy face sheets, and some red and blue pens.
I gave it all to him. Then I said, "Ok, I have to go now. Have fun coloring your sheets. And remember to read at school every chance you get!" He happily nodded as he walked back into his filthy apartment. I walked to the sidewalk, sat on the curb, and sobbed uncontrollably. I sobbed with despair I hadn’t felt, well, ever. I knew as soon as I walked away what was likely in store for that kid – I knew the odds were against him, just like they were against me. I knew that statistically-speaking, he was likelier to end up in prison or dead than end up attending college. I knew that I had just witnessed the human tragedy that is wasted potential.
At this point I can practically hear the Clinton campaign staff yelling about Clinton's work for the Children's Defense Fund when she was young, her career full of advocacy for early childhood education programs, etc. I can also hear Clinton detractors shouting back, "Welfare reform!"
But that's actually not where Flores goes with this (later in the post she says Sanders and Clinton are "both accomplished and worthy candidates"). Instead, she connects Sanders and the Sanders campaign not to a particular policy proposal but to a sense of personal efficacy:
And I knew I was powerless to do anything about it. Until I realized that I wasn’t.
Until I realized that change is achieved one person at a time, one day at a time, and one vote at a time.
She discusses the merits of both candidates a bit, but she closes again on the efficacy issue:
I believe that Bernie Sanders will lead the charge, with many millions of Americans behind him, against the unfettered Wall Street greed that has threatened the very existence of the middle class and shackled so many more to permanent poverty. I believe that now, more than ever, America needs a political revolution.
I hope you will join me.
More than any policy issue, this is arguably the campaign in a nutshell.
In 2008, Barack Obama sold Democrats on a vision of "hope and change" that Clinton warned was unrealistic. After Obama took office, he managed to deliver a lot of concrete public policy achievements but very little of the high-minded change in the natural of the political system that he'd promised.
Obama's major legislative achievements were passed, in part, thanks to a willingness to accept grubby compromises with interest groups rather than by beating them. Clinton's view is that the moral of this story is she was right all along, and seven years into the Obama administration we should all finally be able to see that — politics is a long, nasty slog, and the party should embrace a veteran leader who's seen and done it all to lead the charge.
Sanders's story is virtually the exact opposite. His story is that Obama failed to deliver the change he promised because he never made a clean break with big-money politics. In fact, he never even really tried.
At last weekend's Democratic debate, Sanders said that gridlock in Congress is all about money. He described ideological polarization and hatred between Democrats and Republicans as "a mythology from the media." According to Sanders, "the real issue is that Congress is owned by big money and refuses to do what the American people want them to do." Winning a presidential election without the financial support of the millionaires and billionaires who fill conventional candidates coffers will be challenging, but if Sanders can pull it off, it will break the stranglehold of money on politics and allow the people's voice to break through.
Flores here is speaking for Sanders's optimistic view. She isn't offering an analytical explanation as to why Sanders's political revolution will succeed, but she's tapping into the exact same emotional current that Obama did. There are some things in the United States that are deeply and profoundly wrong. Contemplating them could drive a person to despair. Or they could embrace hope. Hope that yes we can make enormous change happen if individual people believe things can get better, that they can be different, and come together to make it so.
Sanders has a story that channels these emotions. Not everyone finds that story plausible, but it's a story. And Clinton really doesn't have one.