I can’t say I am a political beast in the traditional sense. My interests are more with social politics and the politics of people than I am with the politics of running a town or world. Saying that, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the circus that has become American politics. Whatever your belief, whatever side of the tracks you feel you speaks to you, American politics has become its own reality show and in many ways is treated as such. It’s been a slow turn to this but it’s here, and it’s hard to avoid. Now, I have my leanings and beliefs but they’re neither here nor there. It’s not for me or anyone to tell you what to believe in or how to vote and people that do that are sorta jerks.
Just throwing that out there.
Yesterday I had an opportunity to hear Senator Bernie Sanders speak at a church here in Flint. When I first learned that the Senator would be in town I figured this would be a pretty neat opportunity to listen to someone who is running for the Democratic nomination for the Presidential election and thus be one of those opportunities that pops up from time to time for you to witness a small part of history.
Now, the appearance was scheduled right on the heels of a pretty substantial winter storm here in Flint – in the lower east part of the mitten that is Michigan – so it was dodgy whether or not the appearance would go through or not, let alone who might make it to see him. I registered for the event online, jumping through some silly political hoops where I SWORE that I would vote for the Senator, though I declined to make calls or campaign for him. The next day comes and my work was closed due to the weather and I learned from a friend that the registrations were being eschewed for a first come, first serve strategy – you know, in case people didn’t show up. And that sounds great but…well, give me a second. The doors were set to open at 1PM so I figured that’d give me plenty of time to get there if I left at noon to walk the almost-mile to the church where the event would be held. I have gotten stuck in massive snow drifts twice in my car and since then have developed a bit of a fear of driving in bad snow storms so I figured it was wiser to walk to the event than to risk getting stuck. I am a bad winter driver, OK, there, I said it. So the day dawned, I got up and ready for the world and headed out to shovel our walkway and part of the driveway before heading out. We got over a foot of snow but I had shoveled the night before, thus sparing my back and soul some ache. After I shoveled I psyched myself up and started on my merry way towards the church.
Oh the walk.
See, I guess I didn’t think about the fact that many of my neighbors wouldn’t have cleaned their drives or walkways so here I am tromping through over a foot of snow and halfway to my destination I had two thoughts- the first was that I needed to rest, the second was that I really wanted to drop down into someone’s yard and make a snow-whatever. I did neither. I soldiered on and made my way slowly to the church, even picking up my pace to race against a fellow neighbor as he made the same trek across the street from me. On arriving I found a line and it was in that line that I stood, in the cold, having just walked a mile, and having just shoveled snow, for an hour and forty minutes. BLECH! Lots of young people had shown up along with some of my more socially and politically active neighbors. It was nice to be in such passionate and charged company. It was a really long wait though. And it was super unimpressive to have a low on the pole Sanders volunteer pressure me into signing a form to volunteer for the campaign under the auspices that I HAD to sign in to get in – no I didn’t, and I knew I didn’t by that point – and that I HAD to have a Sanders sticker on so they knew I was OK to let in – again, no. I don’t want to volunteer. I won’t volunteer. Personally, I find that politics of this level permeates too much of our lives as it is. It is way too invasive and I was none too pleased to have this person insisting I had to sign something that explicitly said I would work on the campaign. There were other people walking the line with this petition or that but it was to be expected and these people were far less rude or invasive.
The entry was barred by a walk-through metal detector and a hand held unit and security was handled by the Secret Service, who were stoic but not rude or invasive in any way that I saw. It was funny though because I got about twenty feet from the door and was entering the main area of the church, whatever the heck it’s called, and was stopped by what I’d guess was a Sanders staffer admonishing me to remove my hat ‘because this IS a church’. I gave him a ‘gee, no crap’ look and removed my hat. Which, I had JUST GOTTEN IN and had literally spent an hour and forty outside so give me a minute, OK? PS – loads of people wore hats, which was rude but his militance on the hat seems not to have run too deeply. It was a crowded affair with the staffers and volunteers doing their best to wrangle us cats. Everyone seemed frazzled but polite as they tried to get everyone seated and tried to deal with the crush of press. Woodside is a very cute church, very modest, and was filled to the gills. We waited an hour and a half for things to really get going and while we waited I spied on the Secret Service, the press, and the people and listened to a really fun Sanders Soundtrack that they could probably post online and fire people up like mad. Very eclectic mix of music and very fun. There was a buzz in the crowd. People were excited. One young woman wore a handmade Sanders mask and a trio of young people in front of me had handmade signs that drew all manner of press to film them and take their pictures. I have a feeling that I am in a lot of those shots. I hope I don’t look to stupid. Or scary. Wait, maybe I do. ‘Who is that brooding stranger that looks like a political rebel that sets the tone for national discourse?’ Just me baby, just me.
The talk was fascinating. Lots of talk about how amazing Senator Sanders was. How different his campaign was and how energizing. Talk of how he could win the election. How he’d change the country. Talk of worst case scenarios. Talk of the Republican frontrunner. It’s interesting because I imagine these same conversations at every candidate’s event the changes only being in fervor and political slant. Eventually the music stopped and people tried to get a BERNIE! BERNIE chant going which didn’t quite take off. People kept yelling about ‘feeling the Bern’ and, after seeing the man, that just feels like something that someone made up and sorta taped to the campaign and he just rolls with it. These campaigns are animals that must be fed and which take on their own lives. All you can do is reign it in and ride it out.
The event began with an opening by Reverend Conrad and it was really wonderful. You can tell she has a passion for what she does and for the community and man, she brought it. Little did I know though that what I thought was a rally was in fact a public discussion of the water crisis here in Flint. What Mr. Sanders had done was to come to town with some people in tow to speak on their experiences with this issue and the issue of lead poisoning and they would help facilitate a discussion that focused on the public. The Senator was there to learn about the crisis from the people dealing with it and there was little, if any campaigning. He didn’t talk about other candidates. He didn’t speak ill of anyone – other than to double down on his feeling that it’s in the best interest of anyone that the governor step down. He was there to listen, to learn, and to share. That impressed the heck out of me. Beyond this election season I was impressed that he came here to hear what people had to say. And yes, of COURSE the election season has something to do with that. But so what? Flint is in trouble, and was ignored for two years as this issue became a problem and then a crisis. If celebrities and politicians want to come here and help in some way then GOOD. Where did our pride get us? We need to accept help when it’s offered.
The discussion was fascinating. A lot of information. A lot of mis-information. A lot of crying wolf. A lot of crying foul. This situation in Flint has been both overblown and under-covered. We are all affected. We are all harmed. Every person’s story is different though. I pay more for water than I should. Absolutely. Some people pay WAY more though. For two people who just use the water to bathe in and wash dishes and clothes we pay $100 a month. Nothing compared to others. And you can’t NOT pay because you can be dinged with penalties and eventually can land in some trouble. Not worth it if you ask me. But that’s me. I still bathe in the water but if I was a parent with kids would I want to bathe them in the water here? Hell. No. And you cannot live off of bottled water. It’s not reasonable. We’ve gotten donations of water and you can still go pick it up, like the filters, but door to door service has to be requested and all of it becomes a lot for busy people, poor people, and people who don’t fully understand what is going on. There has been efforts to help but there’s not a coordinated, concerted effort. It’s lots of agencies working separately. We need the governor here to coordinate and direct and to prove to us that he owns this and wants it fixed. That can’t be done from an office in Lansing. We need a plan. Our mayor has taken up the bully pulpit on this issue but is using it more to bully than to aid. Too many egos are in the way and too many people are in fear. The great shame in all of this is that the press will leave. The celebrities will move on. The politicians will move on. And the money and aid will dry up. Flint will be forgotten. Many wish it had been forgotten already. To read regional comments about what’s happening is a path to boundless rage. The anger people have at the people going through this is insane to me but again, welcome to our politicized America. It’s us against them all the time.
The forum was good though because it let people speak and gave people a chance to be heard. And the way Senator Sanders handled the event as a moderator, and presented himself was encouraging and impressive. Not because I want him or don’t him to be President but because he came here to learn and to listen and he did both. I have been to a lot of things where people wanted to speak and tell and not hear and learn. This wasn’t like that. When it was over we all stood, we all cheered, and to some small degree it felt good. The issues are not gone but the more people that hear about them, and the more attention this gets then the more the Truth will hopefully get out and the more will be done. I hope that’s how it is at least. So I bundled up, said my goodbyes to those I knew, and marched slowly for home, feeling, if nothing else, that I indeed did see history.