Last week I had lunch with Bernie Sanders (and 9 others) and it was a great opportunity to be in a much more intimate setting than I normally see candidates in. Having a candidate speaking to me personally, calling me by my name in such a small space was certainly thrilling, though this is in no way an endorsement, mind you. Still, wonderful opportunity that more people need to take advantage of!
A few notes and observations I made:
1. Personal stories MATTER. I shared with Bernie that I work to fight poverty hard because I’ve experienced it myself and asked him what it is that makes him speak so passionately about poverty and inequality. Was it his personal experience as well? It was. He shared his own story about growing up in Brooklyn in a 3 bedroom, rent controlled apartment. He vividly remembers the arguments his parents had. They were always around money.
When asked who he would like to meet that he hasn’t yet, he replied, Pope Francis because of his love for people, passion for the poor, and vision for a society that nurtures and gives to all. So I asked him how to connect the thinking of people like the Pope to people that demonize the poor, want to cut assistance. How we can work with everyone on both sides of the aisle to protect anti-poverty programs that work, like SNAP and the EITC/CTC? Does it matter that I tell my personal story with those in power? He answered absolutely, that he needs the help of constituents, he needs constituents to SPEAK UP because he cannot do it on his own. STORIES MATTER.
2. Bernie was asked about the pitfalls of being a “celebrity” now. He said, “It’s difficult. I am a politician, but I am also a very private person.” This recent article in the New York Times, Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Kiss Babies. That a Problem? cleverly marks the pitfalls of that aspect of his candidacy. Personally, I identify with him a bit on that. In my role as an organizer, it is imperative that I listen closely to people, and in training and supporting them to take action effectively to fight poverty, constant learning is needed and great people skills are tantamount. I love and cherish and am grateful for the work I am able to do and certainly for the incredible people I’ve met and developed deep relationships with. That being said, I definitely need to “turn off” at a certain point near the end of the day, retreating into the privacy of books and my husband. And cats. I’ve always felt that this part of my personality would make me a lousy politician, and I can see that being a substantial stumbling block for both candidate Sanders and if elected, President Sanders. It’s about never leaving votes on the table, and, in my opinion, never leaving an opening for compromise on the table. Bernie has had the comment thrown at him that he is “not a warm guy,” and though I don’t believe I necessarily need warmth in a president, I do believe I need empathy. Empathy allows us to see ourselves in other people’s shoes. I constantly ask those who have not experienced poverty to imagine what it’s like for a mother working full time, yet still needing the critical lifeline of SNAP to feed her family – so we should be asking those who have experienced poverty, and those who are passionate about fighting it to see things from the other side as well, to try and find the story that will make an impression on those with tremendous wealth and power. That’s how change happens. For me, warmth and empathy are slightly connected. Still, he’s at least learning to tell a joke. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.
3. Bernie Sanders listens to Motown, and STAX. Also, ABBA. Though, he admitted, “I’m not a fan of hip hop, don’t tell anybody.” I told him I could fix that for him. Playlist coming atchya, Bernie. Wu-Tang, M.O.P., Biggie, Nas; hip-hop can give you an honest education on this country. Just ask Dr. Christopher Emdin. And then listen up.