At an Iowa town hall on Monday morning, Bernie Sanders did something politicians rarely do: He gave up the microphone. Specifically, he asked someone in the crowd to share a story about getting by while making just $10,000 to $12,000 a year from Social Security.
In a moment captured in a Washington Post video, one woman tearfully shared her story of surviving on minimum wage and struggling due to disabilities:
It's so hard to do anything to pay your bills. You're ashamed all the time… When you can't buy presents for your children, it's really really, really hard. And I worked three, four, five jobs sometimes, always minimum wage, I have a degree, divorced, and it's just — I'm waiting for disability to come through so my parents have to support me — it's just hard.
Sanders thanked her for the story, saying, "It is not easy for people to stand up and say that, but the truth is that until millions of people who are experiencing what you're experiencing do say that, we don't make change."
The story is devastating, but it helps explain some of the emotional energy around Sanders's campaign. Despite general improvements in the economy, many people feel that they haven't benefited from the gains — and that many of the gains have instead gone to wealthier Americans. On top of that, the more conservative candidates in the race are openly advocating for cutting the benefits that lower-income people rely on to make ends meet.
Sanders stands in contrast to that: He constantly raises these issues on the campaign trail, and he's willing to let low-income Americans speak out in unscripted settings.
One can of course argue whether the current programs are working efficiently, if expanding them is a good idea, or if there are better ways to address these issues. (Vox's Dylan Matthews makes a great case for universal basic income, which some supporters say could either replace or complement existing policies.)
But Sanders is clearly resonating with what many people feel — to the point that someone is willing to stand up in a crowd of strangers and share her very personal story.