My friend, the excellent poet Jen Fitzgerald, and I were sitting on the floor in the L.A. Convention Center at AWP; we were talking about, among other things, Bernie Sanders. She suggested that I publish a conversation between women who support the senator from Vermont, a Brooklyn native. After I chewed on that idea for a few hours, I became obsessed with this writing project.
I knew, for instance, that I was not interested in just hearing from women in New York who are exactly like me. I poked around in my social media communities and found 8 women in ages ranging from early twenties to upper sixties. Three boroughs were represented (Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens), as well as professions ranging from writing and visual arts to academia to administrative assistance. Several women are mothers.
Many other defining characteristics are revealed within the conversation, as well as in the biographies of the participants (at the bottom of this post).
Miriam bought us a pizza. We all bought beer. The DJ did his DJ thing, which made it necessary for each woman to hold the recorder while speaking, rather than leaving it on the table. Over at the bar, a thin hipster in a beanie asked me what we were working on. I told him, “We’re having a conversation about Bernie Sanders.” He responded: “Oh. Activism.” Bar goers showed up. A man who appeared to work there repeatedly offered us paper towels, or anything else we wanted. On the bathrooms walls, well-tattooed with signatures, ecstatic proclamations, and unintelligible instructions—someone had written, “Feel the Bern.” I never asked the group if someone at the table had written it.
The conversation continued.
This post isn’t meant to suggest that all contributors to PDXX Collective are feeling the Bern, though a few certainly are. The participant’s responses have been edited and consolidated for the sake of clarity. (Carmen and Donna were unable to make the live discussion. I interviewed them over the phone and filtered in their responses.)
After reading this piece, please keep your comments constructive and respectful; the women I interviewed are real people. If you aren’t able to read an opposing view without flying into a rage, please click here to watch this video of a panda cub playing in the snow and return to finish reading this post on November 9.
A thin hipster in a beanie asked me what we were working on. I told him, “We’re having a conversation about Bernie Sanders.”
He responded: “Oh. Activism.”
How will the outcome of this election affect the next 8 years of your life?
Donna: I’m more caught up in this presidential election than any one I can remember, or any election period. I’m terrified of Trump. He’s pretty openly bringing fascism to the table. I’m frightened of that, but I’m hopeful of Bernie. If Trump won, I was seriously consider immigrating. If Bernie won, I think I would let out a great sigh of relief about the possibility of things getting harder on most people economically. I’d feel more relieved about the debt my spouse and I have. I would feel more relieved about the people who are poor being squeezed even more in the country.
Isabel: I’ll be out of graduate school. I might be starting to think about having kids.
I hope that in eight years this will be a better country for Latinos to live in.
I want to live in a country where people are happy and proud to live, and also where people have faith in the Democratic system.
Solonje: I might move to Mexico if a wall is put up. I’ll just go south [laughs]. It’s warmer there. The music’s really good. I like tacos. Just kidding, but not really though. If [Trump’s] putting up a wall, then abre la puerta, I’m coming through. [Laughing.]
[In the next 8 years] I would like to have a child. And I hope that this place is actually affordable for people who are creative and living off their talents. I just hope that eight years down the road, we’re on par for the dream of what this country was supposed to be. That people come in—my family is an immigrant family—come in, work hard, and fulfill the dreams that they have and have their kids fulfill those dreams.
It’s crazy that someone like me, who has two degrees, has to be struggling so hard in this city to get anything done.
I hope that America opens its eyes.
Miriam: Eight years from now I’m going to be in my seventies, so I hope we have a very good healthcare system.
Maybe I’ll be a grandmother by then.
I hope that the school system is better. Unless we come up with a plan for education, we’re not going to have an economy that works. There will always be education for middle class and upper class people. But if we are an uneducated country, we are a very weak country.
Kristen: I would like to see a candidate that is strongly pro-choice and that stops police brutality. I agree with you, Miriam, that, forget about college, you aren’t even going to get there if public schools aren’t able to give students the education they need.
Also, if you are going to bring a kid into this world, beyond the fact that financially I don’t know how you would do that, do you even want to bring someone into this world? It’s pretty scary out there. We definitely need a candidate to go after climate change because [laughs] shit, that’s just going to be the end of the world ostensibly.
Unless we come up with a plan for education, we’re not going to have an economy that works.
What is one thing you want people to know about Bernie Sanders?
Carmen: He will bring the middle class wider possibilities. This is what this country is all about.
Basically, economic justice.
Donna: Bernie has been there the long haul. Even though he wasn’t really well-known until this election, he’s been working as an openly socialist elected official. He’s been supporting labor rights and the rights of students for a very long time.
He’s been around, but it’s just that socialist has been such a dirty word.
Alison: He is the real deal. He is consistent to the end. What he is fighting for now is what he was fighting for in 1983, which is when I was born, which is very powerful. Hillary has changed her stance on countless things that are really important to me.
Why do you support Bernie Sanders?
Miriam: I’ve always been in favor of Bernie Sanders. I knew when he was the mayor of Burlington that he was doing great stuff in Burlington. . .He had created an area of the center city where there was no parking, no traffic, just walking, and it made the city so pleasant to be in. It was like European cities that I’ve visited, which have an inner city that isn’t just a parking lot. I thought it was cool that he proclaimed himself [to be] a socialist. Everyone voted for him and he was very popular. When he spoke up in the Senate to denounce the Bush war, he was a hero. I thought it was impossible. . .what is he doing there, no one’s talking to him, but Vermont kept reelecting him year after year. He eventually found allies, especially recently.
Solonje: I guess what attracted me to Bernie is just that there’s just someone who’s looking at us as equal human beings regardless of gender identification, race, income bracket—whatever it is, we should all have equal rights. There’s something about that that is supremely attractive to me.
Carmen: I think Bernie is needed in this country, particularly after Citizens United. I came from the country of Peru [in 1982]; we’ve had oligarchies for my whole life. I’m worried the U.S. will become the country I escaped from.
I’m afraid of losing all the things I care about: The minimum wage; Creating a national system of healthcare; Making college more equitable; Creating jobs here [in the U.S.].
As an immigrant, I worry about immigration reform. Millions are here with no possibility of becoming citizens. Millions of them pay taxes through their jobs and they don’t receive any of the benefits. It’s time for them to join the workforce.
Isabel: I’m passionate about Bernie Sanders being elected to office, but even more than that, I’m passionate about the movement that he represents. What drew me to Bernie Sanders is the fact that he’s reigniting this debate within the Democratic Party about who politicians are really fighting for. According to Bernie Sanders, it’s for the voters. We’ve been kidding ourselves in the Democratic Party that politicians are fighting for workers, for people of color, for immigrants and second-generation immigrants. Bernie Sanders is making sure that politicians in Washington are supporting the voters instead of a privileged few, and that’s what draws me to him.
Kristen: His main issue is dealing with economic inequality in this country. That’s tied to every problem we have in this country: social and environmental and the foreign ones too. [Also] he has a very honorable reputation. He’s always stuck to his ideals, even if they were unpopular at the time. Like Solonje said, he sees people as actual humans, which is pretty refreshing.
Donna: I love that he’s talking about single-payer health insurance. I think it’s important to say that the Affordable Care Act isn’t progressive enough or radical enough. A lot of people, myself included, pay way too much for health insurance.
I’m happy he’s talking about free college tuition. It would be fantastic if we had that. I’m also very happy he’s talking about free trade deals; the more we have free trade, the more wages and working conditions in the U.S. get worse. I don’t think a politician with a serious chance of being elected has [come out against free trade] before.
Rodia: I feel like Bernie Sanders is a real person. It’s a breath of fresh air to see that there are still good people in this world. When you meet people who support him, I can’t describe it. I was at a rally recently and people were crowded and standing for a long time, which in any other situation would make people frustrated, but everyone was happy to be there. On the bus ride back to Manhattan, people were cheering. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.
I came from the country of Peru [in 1982]; we’ve had oligarchies for my whole life. I’m worried the U.S. will become the country I escaped from.
-Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert
On being a feminist
Solonje: Being that I went to Wellesley College, saying that I am for Bernie [laughs]. . .I have to hide a little bit, but I’m not really hiding. Everyone knows that I feel the Bern. I do have to be a little bit reserved in what I put out there.
It’s funny because people talk a lot about how people ‘cut down’ Hillary. Hillary is a powerful woman. She is so high up there. . .When I look at Hillary, I’m not thinking of her sex. She is Hillary Clinton. Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is a powerhouse and above and beyond what any of us will ever be able to touch in our lifetimes. When I talk to my parents about Bernie, they’ll wonder if he’s too old to be President. There’s ageism involved; this guy’s a minority, he’s a Jew, he’s not the norm. I believe in him. I think he’s something different, even though, yes, on the outside he is an old white man, history has proven that he’s not ‘The Man.’ He’s another old white man.
Miriam: He’s another kind of old white guy.
Solonje: He’s the kind of guy I grew up with in Newton, Mass., who helped me get my first jobs, who helped me feel empowered and intelligent and accomplished about being an immigrant’s child, and [gave] me opportunities.
Miriam: We’ve seen other women elected to higher office in other parts of the world. I propose to you Margaret Thatcher, who was not a credit to the sex. The Iron Lady, whatever she was, and her friend the Queen.
Isabel: Being a feminist, to me, means being committed to fighting systemic and structural inequalities on a variety of levels encompassing race, gender, and class. I think that Bernie has tapped into that broader social project in a way that resonates really sincerely with his constituents, and with me. With Hillary, it’s always a question of how far representation can really go in making things better for women if there isn’t the same commitment to social policies supporting workers, improving welfare, and making college free. These measures make life better for women from many different backgrounds and in a variety of socioeconomic situations, and are the reasons that I admire Bernie’s policies and consider him capable of producing the kind of political change that I would definitely consider feminist.
Carmen: I was a feminist in the 1970s and I always fought for women’s rights. We cannot forget how much we did and how much we went through to join the workforce. I was working as a journalist and I was never taken seriously. The right of women to protect their own bodies [is still part of this fight].
Donna: I’ve considered myself a feminist since I was a little girl. I heard the word “women’s libber” and I said to my mother, “We’re women’s libbers, right?” and she said “yeah.” I suppose it means to me a belief that everyone regardless of their gender should be liberated from gender roles and gender oppression.
I’m very, very aware of sexism and of the oppression of women. When I’m walking on the street or I turn on the TV or I read some books—even books I love—I see sexism all over the place. it’s still very much a reality of sexism even in 2016. There’s so much vilification of women for being sexual or just having women’s bodies.
Being a feminist, to me, means being committed to fighting systemic and structural inequalities on a variety of levels encompassing race, gender, and class. I think that Bernie has tapped into that broader social project in a way that resonates really sincerely with his constituents, and with me.
How well do you think media outlets performed their duties during this election season and how reliably can you find accurate information?
Solonje: My graduate degree is in broadcast journalism. The war in Iraq started when I was at Emerson College and with it ended my passion for journalism. The media is comprised of corporations. Corporations can be bought. If you own CNN and they own some stock in an oil company, you might not report the news as you should. It’s heartbreaking for me.
I read an op-ed piece in the LA Times recently about women feeling like they have vote for Hillary. But mostly, [election coverage] is just like some sporting match. It’s all to grab attention with short sound bites and fancy graphics coupled with talking heads repeating nothing, rather than drilling down in each topic and providing the public with actual information. There needs to be a big change in media so that people can easily access accurate news and I don’t know how that’s going to happen. Right now I feel completely disenchanted with our media organizations and I wish something would change.
Isabel: I’ve also lost faith in the media over the course of this election. The Washington Post recently got called out for publishing 16 negative articles about Bernie Sanders in 16 hours. If this point wasn’t already clear in previous elections, now it is: the Washington Post has an agenda and the New York Times has an agenda. The way in which the deck has been stacked against Bernie Sanders this entire election… it’s a miracle to me that he’s been performing as well as he has given the fact that he’s getting slammed by the NY Times every single day.
It’s kind of incredible that as we’re questioning, ‘Who is the Democratic Party working for?’, ‘Who’s the Republican Party working for?’, we’re also questioning ‘Who is the media working for?’ It’s interesting to think about those two things going hand in hand: We need to explode the media establishment and the political establishment at the same time. They go together.
There needs to be a big change in media so that people can easily access accurate news and I don’t know how that’s going to happen. Right now I feel completely disenchanted with our media organizations and I wish something would change.
“Well, we’re going to talk about Hillary Clinton, so. . .”
Donna: I’m really angry with the notion that all women are supposed to support Hillary Clinton. I think Hillary’s politics are very corrupt. I disagree with her politics on both domestic and foreign policy. In history, there happen to be a number of women politicians who I disagree with. . .Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher. I’m furious with the notion that women owe Hillary their vote.
I’m glad she identifies as a feminist, but she’s not the queen of feminism. I don’t have any feudal duty to her.
Miriam: The thing that’s happened with me and Hillary is: I’ve always liked her for a while, and then she does some god awful thing. She does.
There have been other women who have run for President. Shirley Chisholm did. She almost made it and I wanted to vote for her.
She’s a very rich person, Hillary is. She’s made a bundle, or her and Bill have made a bundle.
[When Bill Clinton was in office], it was a very expanding and generous period. It was great for gays, even when he signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It was the first bill he signed into law! And yet we felt that he was on our side.
With Hillary, you know she’s going to triangulate.
Solonje: I don’t understand this idea of a conservative Democrat. If you’re a Democrat, you’re a liberal.
Miriam: No, she’s a Democrat, but she’s a rich Democrat.
Me: She’s privileged.
Miriam: Privileged. They own huge fortunes, and they know how to accumulate more. They’re paternalistic. But they’re not Republicans. They’re not for abolishing taxes or for militarism. Hillary, I would put in the ‘neoliberal’ frame, which is the least trustable.
Carmen: When it comes to Hillary Clinton, she uses the patriarchy to excel. We cannot allow her to become president. She’s not a good role model.
People should support someone based on their qualifications, not their gender. If we had a woman who was principled and didn’t take money from corporations, I would vote for her.
I’m glad she identifies as a feminist, but she’s not the queen of feminism. I don’t have any feudal duty to her.
On the 2016 campaign: Has it changed how you feel about politics and the political process? Have you taken any actions? What have those actions been?
Alison: Basically I’m just really angry at the media. I feel like they have too much control over the process. The way that they craft [how] they want you to vote. . .it’s really blatant. I feel that Trump has gotten way too much attention. That black-out that Bernie had should have been applied to Trump.
[From here on out, I will display the aforementioned candidate’s name thusly: T****.]
Miriam: I had a black-out on T****.
Alison: I don’t watch anything with T****. I just turn it off. And that’s what everyone should do.
Kristen: Every time you share a link about D***** T****, you’re generating more revenue for D***** T****, even if it’s making fun of him.
Alison: Exactly. I got involved in the grassroots fundraising in New York early on. It was the July 4th weekend and I was with my mom; we were listening to the news, and I was like, ‘That’s it. I’m getting involved.’ Mostly I’ve discovered that the best way for me to contribute is with my graphic design services because what is really easy for me is really difficult for other people. . . .It’s really hard for me to knock on a door because I’m so nervous! But, that said, I’m going to be knocking on doors tomorrow because it is worth it. I need to know that I did everything possible. That’s just how I’m going to be able to live with whatever happens.
The biggest way I’ve changed is that I can’t [get news from] the mainstream media anymore. I see their endorsement.
Rodia: I agree. I didn’t turn my television on today. It’s sickening. My kids too—they’re 18 and 10—they’re sick of the newspapers and news on TV because they’re for Bernie, and they know that Bernie is for the people.
Kristen: I don’t think it has changed me a lot. I haven’t done any canvassing. Being political to me is a lot more than the presidential candidate. I really like Bernie and I’ll vote for him, but it’s about more than just him: it’s what he represents, and I think he feels that way too. Even if he doesn’t get the nomination, he’s going to be really happy that some of the issues that he’s pushed the Democratic Party and the country to think about are now more important.
Isabel: I’ve phone banked for Bernie in Spanish—I was telling people about where they could vote.
One thing that’s been special was that I’ve never donated to a candidate, but to Bernie I have. A couple times now. That’s a really meaningful part of his platform for me: he’s not been bought, and he can’t be bought. We’re paying for the campaign and he relies on small donations, which speaks to his integrity.
Carmen: I wasn’t that aware before. I was not so aware of how rigged this system is, how much corruption we have among leaders in the party, how much we have to take over this system and change it. Church leaders try to tell us how to vote—this is total disrespect for people’s intelligence. I have been teaching people on the street how the political system works. . .I have to say that I have lost some respect for the American people throughout this process. People are not engaged. People are voting in their own interests and not in the interest of the majority and we have to change that.
I really like Bernie and I’ll vote for him, but it’s about more than just him: it’s what he represents, and I think he feels that way too.
On “A future to believe in”: What does that future look like to you?
Carmen: It looks like a future of hope. I am 65. I have already had a life. The next generation of young people needs to fulfill their role in society.
Donna: It looks like a future where we have more businesses that are worker-run co-ops. It looks like a future where we maybe have more government support for the arts. It looks like a future where people who aren’t super wealthy can not be overwhelmed for a minute.
Miriam: A return to where there’s actually middle class culture—where people can grow up and go to school, make their decisions, and not feel the stresses of debt.
Rodia: I say, ‘the present day [to believe in].’ [Bernie’s] already changed so much. People who have never voted before, people of all cultures, of all ages, coming together to rally for him.
Isabel: It’s an exciting time to live in. . .The left is blossoming. We have a Democratic Socialist running for president. No matter who gets elected, this is a really meaningful change and conversation in the whole Democratic Party and it’s nice to feel like everyone’s included in that discussion.
Kristen: You should be able to have a future where you can live in moderate comfort and not struggle so much. Climate change is a thing for real.
Some of the race stuff in this country still has so much further to go: The instances of police brutality against black Americans and Hispanic Americans. But also in terms of the prejudices that we all have, myself included. If people are open about talking about their mistakes, from both ends—from the bigoted side to the too-PC side where you jump down someone’s throat without having an open talk—that’s something I want to see happen in the future.
Alison: For me it’s all about transforming our energy policy away from fossil fuels where we’re making the earth healthier. Also, not having this economic system where a very small group of people are profiting from the vulnerability and poverty of millions and billions of people.
When I hear ‘Make America Great Again,’ I get really disgusted. Obviously, America was not always great for every single race and gender. It’s mind-boggling. What I want to see is America wonderful for everyone, no matter your gender or race. We have a lot of growing to do. I think Bernie is the guy to facilitate that. He’s become this symbol that people are really gravitating towards.
He doesn’t even want to be that symbol. You can just tell. But he is.
I say, ‘the present day [to believe in].’ [Bernie’s] already changed so much. People who have never voted before, people of all cultures, of all ages, coming together to rally for him.
I am so grateful to these women for participating in this discussion.
Thank you to the following:
Solonje Burnett-Loucas, aka Solie, is a curator of all things arts and culture. A lover of thoughtful diverse people and peaceful existence. Her mantra of inclusion leads to collaboration and participation with tribes underground and overseas, on top floors and in ground-level galleries. She sings in search of melody and harmony. The Madame of the DEN believes we are one family. #YouCANsitWithUs #DenEntertainment.
Rodia Casado is a mother of two and an administrative assistant who lives and works in Manhattan. She volunteers to serve the poor and the hungry at the Missionaries of Charity in Harlem. She is delighted to be marrying her partner of 15 years next Saturday.
Kristen Fellicetti was born in South Korea, grew up in Rochester, NY, and currently lives in Brooklyn. She is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and editor of The Bushwick Review. She also does live analog visuals for bands and parties around the country. She likes meeting new creative people and collaborating.
Miriam Frank is the author of Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America (Temple University Press, 2014). She has taught women’s labor history for NYC union service programs and recently retired after 30 years of teaching Humanities at New York University. She travels with her book to conferences, union meetings, bookstores and LGBTQ community gatherings.
Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert is a director and producer with Quinoa Films.
Donna Minkowitz‘s magical realist memoir, Growing Up Golem, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award. Her first memoir, Ferocious Romance, about going undercover with the Christian right, won a Lammy. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review, Salon, and the Village Voice. She is the restaurant critic for Gay City News.
Isabel Ortiz has worked as a teacher and a development writer for a school for girls in Manhattan. She has also contributed writing on film, literature, and feminism to The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily and The Believer. She lives in Astoria, Queens.
Alison Shanik Breaden is a graphic designer living in Windsor-Terrace, Brooklyn. She took the pictures for this post.