Last May, Chris and I attended Elizabeth Warren’s town hall in Oakland. It was electrifying. It’s hard not to be sucked in by her passion. She’s SO energetic. And frankly, at least for me, it’s soothing to see someone competent telling you everything’s gonna be okay, and then laying out exactly how they’re going to make everything okay, especially after enduring a couple of years of a sundowning lunatic whose hobby is subtweeting us closer and closer to World War III.
The line to get into the event at Laney College snaked around the venue and down multiple city blocks. They started late because it took so long to get everyone inside. If you’d asked me that night, I would have told you I was All In For Warren—and not just that, but she was clearly the frontrunner for the nomination. The day she announced she was running, my Republican in-laws were in town for a visit and even they struggled to find reasons they didn’t like her.
I still like Elizabeth Warren! I think she’d make a great president, and I’ll vote for her if she earns the Democratic nomination for president. But nobody is more surprised than I am to find myself here today, proudly declaring my allegiance to Bernie Sanders.
We got married in 2017. Chris did not propose.
What happened was I parted ways from a job and got a few months of severance and that package included health insurance, but those few months flew by and then the insurance was about to run out before I had another job lined up. I can’t have a lapse in my insurance because I take daily medications for chronic conditions that severely impact my ability to function: depression and also migraines. With insurance my medications cost $10 a month each. Without my medication I have about 15 migraine days a month, and when my head doesn’t hurt I can’t get out of bed.
So one night we’re riding around in the car—we’ve been dating 10 or 11 months at this point—and I turn to Chris and ask if he would get secret married to me so I can have health insurance, and he says sure. We settle on the idea that maybe we can elope to the courthouse and not tell anyone, and then have a real wedding for our family and friends in a year or two. Another few months pass and we don’t have another solution. We’re living together. Would you still marry me for the health insurance, I ask. Of course, he says, I love you and I want to have kids with you.
(He is very charming. I would have married him at some point even if I didn’t need his health coverage.)
I call the Franklin County Courthouse and they say we’re in luck, they had a cancellation and we can come get married tomorrow morning does that work? At that point we decide fuck it, who cares what people think, keeping this a secret sounds like a lot of work. So we go to the mall and I get a dress at Anthropologie and the next morning we are married in front of a justice of the peace and Chris’s parents. It rains.
I like the story of our wedding. I feel like it suits us. In retrospect, announcing, “Surprise! I’m married!” is not all that surprising or out of character for me. And there are many perks to getting married at the courthouse. It’s fast. It’s cheap. You don’t have to decide who sits where, or who’s a bridesmaid. People who are at the courthouse for regular, boring courthouse stuff are really happy for you.
But I wish it had been on our own terms and timeline. I wish we had gotten to have an experience that was about us, and not about rushing to combine health insurance plans.
To fully explain where my political opinions come from, I need to tell you a little bit more about my family.
My mom went to the University of Michigan and joined SDS, but dropped out after a year to live on a school bus in the Ozarks (before her contemporaries started blowing shit up). She was tear gassed at the Vietnam War protest outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. My grandparents were both lifelong labor union organizers and activists. Grandma worked for AFSCME and then the Department of Labor. Grandpa worked for the AFL-CIO for two decades, and at one point was their spokesman. The International Labor Communications Association gives out a journalism award in his name each year.
My grandpa Saul died of emphysema a few years before I was born. When my grandma died at age 91, then-representative (now senator) Chris Van Hollen spoke at her memorial service. My mom’s retired, and she spends a lot of her free time volunteering for her country’s central Democratic committee and also as an abortion clinic escort.
It’s a lot to live up to. Someday my mom will be gone too, and then it will be entirely on me to continue the legacy that my grandparents started. I think about it often, especially now that my mom’s going to be 70 this year. How do I build upon the work that came before me? It’s also probably why I react in such a weird way when people talk to me about my professional accomplishments. My grandparents fought for workers’ rights for decades; I made a viral tweet about cheeseburgers.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized my Jewish upbringing has impacted my worldview more than I realized. My entire family is Reform Jewish, which is the least intense version of Judaism—like a Judaism Lite, or maybe a Diet Judaism. We did the big holidays like Passover and Yom Kippur, but didn’t observe Shabbat on Fridays and never attempted to keep Kosher. I’m pretty sure none of us really believes in God. Pretty typical secular Jewish stuff.
I now consider myself more culturally Jewish than anything. I haven’t been to synagogue in a few years, but there’s something about our holidays, our food and the larger lessons of the Torah that have always made me feel at home. And as I’ve grown more attuned to this idea that I’m building a shared legacy that my grandparents started, I’ve really come to appreciate the concept of tikkun olam.
Like basically every other concept in Judaism, the true meaning of tikkun olam is up for debate (Jews love to argue, especially about what Jewish things really mean). But it translates from Hebrew as “repair the world.” Essentially, it’s the acknowledgement that the world isn’t perfect, and was created with the intent that humans would improve upon it. Since the mid-20th century it’s also been the de-facto social justice component of Judaism. You can see it on display in practice through groups like IfNotNow—in their specific case, they recognize that Palestinians are currently suffering under similar persecution to what Jews have faced for centuries, and seeks to help dismantle the oppressive structures that our community has built.
In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:
Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.
When I started writing this piece, my thesis was that the health insurance industry radicalized me. And while that certainly hasn’t helped, I’m realizing now that it goes even deeper. On a certain level, it feels like I’ve been training for this fight since before I was born.
The first presidential election for which I was eligible to participate was in 2008. I was a college student in Athens, Ohio, excited by the vision Barack Obama laid out for America. The hope and change stuff really worked on me (though I did vote for John Edwards in the primary, a decision that still haunts me). I briefly worked as a canvasser, going door-to-door registering college students to vote. I lasted two days, which is how long it took for me to get spit on by some frat douche. Never change, OU.
I remember the night Obama won. It felt like such a huge fucking deal. I cried. The cell towers on my college campus were jammed with everyone trying to make calls at the same time. Up to that point, my experience with presidential politics hadn’t been great; I learned what a blowjob was from President Clinton’s impeachment trial, and followed that immediately with eight torturous years of Bush and Cheney. It felt like this time good guy won, like maybe we were building a political system that would work.
In 2016, I also cried on election night. I’d voted for Hillary in the primary and the general. I even interviewed for a job on the campaign in Ohio. I didn’t think she was a perfect candidate or anything, but I generally liked her and thought she could win. She had to win, especially against Trump. And it was exciting to vote for a woman!
Bernie Sanders was on my radar and I generally agreed with him, but I wrote him off because I was convinced he couldn’t win from the start. Sure, I know there’s a world of difference between democratic socialism and authoritarian communism, but I also know there are plenty of voters who think Bernie would turn the United States into Cuba under Castro. I also saw some people I respect get shouted down by Sanders supporters on Twitter for really inconsequential differences of opinion. At one point it happened to me, and it sucked. Twitter isn’t why I didn’t vote for him, but it did discourage me from participating publicly in political conversations for awhile, out of fear I’d word something slightly incorrectly and get dragged straight to hell again.
But a lot has changed in my life and the world at large since the last presidential election.
In 2018, we moved from central Ohio to the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn’t become a Sanders supporter overnight when we moved to California. Here’s what happened:
Chris likes Bernie, so I started talking to him about why. I found these conversations much more productive than any I’d had online in 2016, for both parties involved. It’s almost like you can make a nuanced point when you’re not also trying to cram that point into 280 characters. 10/10, highly endorse taking your political conversations offline.
I ordered Postmates and the delivery driver apologized for showing up five minutes late, but he’s not really familiar with my neighborhood in Berkeley because he commutes here an hour each way from Stockton to deliver food for less than minimum wage, plus tips.
I look around and see ludicrous, extravagant wealth on display alongside abject poverty every single day. Ever seen a person who lives on the street shoot up heroin while sitting in the shade of a $90,000 car? Ever know that your presence, your willingness to pay $3000 a month in rent, is contributing to the housing crisis that forced people onto the streets in the first place?
For a week or two after my dad died, I cried every time I saw a homeless person. I thought about how maybe a system that takes care of our addicts and our mentally ill could have benefitted him.
I think about a lot of other people too—like Tiffany, who once told me on the school bus: “You got lucky today, but I’m gonna beat your ass once I have this baby.” She overdosed on heroin at 28 and left behind four or five kids. Hers isn’t the only story I know, it’s just the one I think about most often. It feels like she never even really had a chance.
There’s a tip I’ve heard a few times about salary negotiation: ask for the biggest amount of money you can confidently say without laughing. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently in relation to the election, which I’m sure sounds like a weird misapplication of “Lean In” but hear me out.
We need change in this country. Not baby steps, but radical change. I’m tired of hearing about how “troubled” we are by Trump, or by Congressional gridlock, or by increasingly strict abortion laws, or by gun violence, and then nothing changes. People are dying because they can’t afford insulin in the United States, the “best country in the world” where we have life-saving medication priced at 10x what our neighbors in Canada do. We have kids locked in cages. Who knows when they’ll see their parents again.
I don’t want to go into the next election with a compromise as my opening negotiating position.
I want everything.
I want Medicare For All. A Green New Deal. I think public colleges should be free, and the predatory student loan industry abolished with all student debt wiped to zero. I think we should stop deporting people who’ve lived in this country their entire lives back to places they don’t remember. I think we should make sure extremely rich people—and the corporations they own—are paying their fair share of taxes. I don’t think anyone should be in jail for buying or selling weed.
Sure, I want some of these things for me. The prospect of never having to talk to a series of increasingly disinterested health insurance representatives about the intimate details of my sex life just to get a single claim for an ovarian cyst covered ever again is enticing. But it’s not just about me.
I am willing to fight for someone I don’t know.
I have privilege. I’m fighting for people who didn’t have the luxury of running out and getting married when their health insurance ran out. I’m fighting for people who didn’t stumble ass-backwards into a college scholarship. My great-grandparents immigrated to this country, but what if they hadn’t? Could you imagine trying to come here now?
I am not trying to convince you to vote for Bernie Sanders.
If I am trying to convince you of anything, it’s that we can get what we want. We just have to fight harder. But we need a candidate who’s going to inspire that fight on a broad scale. We need a movement.
The person who inspires that fight in me is Bernie Sanders.
The other night when he won New Hampshire, I looked up at Chris and asked, “Is Bernie going to be president?” He looked back down at me and said yeah, he might be. And for the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful again.