What Really Happened: Chapter 2
The second installment in my story on the 2016 election.
Growing up in the Upper Valley, I had a sense of childhood naivete that was inspired, nurtured, and protected by the liberals around me. It wasn't until high school that I began to realize that the environment I was raised in had been contrived and made possible by systems of power. By college, my skepticism was beyond the point of no return but I still didn't know the extent to which my worst suspicions of the world would be confirmed, and oftentimes elaborated upon.
In late June of 2016, I returned from spending four months in Argentina, where I immersed myself in the study of Latin American history and society. I investigated the nefarious ways in which US politics determines the fate of the entire Western Hemisphere and I learned about the Clinton years from the perspectives of people whose countries bore the cost of American prosperity. All the while, I kept a watchful eye on the presidential primaries back home. While I was abroad I faithfully spread the word of Bernie Sanders who, for the few locals who knew of him, reminded them of Pepe Mujica, the former president of neighboring Uruguay, who was genuinely beloved for his old beat up Volkswagen and practice of donating 85% of his salary back to the Uruguayan people.
It appeared obvious even from a great distance that the establishment, those who benefit from maintaining the status quo, were conspiring against Sanders to keep him from winning the democratic nomination. From the way he was portrayed in mass media, to the disparity in support from super-delegates, to even the debate schedule, anyone paying attention could see the coordinated effort to keep him down.
I returned to the states and shortly thereafter was offered a job working for Hillary. That’s the short version. The longer version is that I, a person of color, returned to my all white hometown in rural New Hampshire to find that while I was away, the local congregational church had started a weekly event picketing for Black Lives Matter in the center of town. While driving past I spotted both my white grandparents among the small gathering and asked my sister to snap a picture. Had the photo been blurry, the rest of this story could not have taken place. I posted the photo to Instagram and later that day, a person I knew from back in Sunday school sent me a Facebook message:
“Hey! This is a little random but I just saw your post about Black Lives Matter and thought I’d ask. I’m currently a regional director for the Democratic Party in [Pennsylvania] and am hiring organizers to work in the suburbs of Philadelphia. If you’re up for taking a semester off and moving to PA let me know!”
Across my mind immediately flashed: “Hm, I distinctly remember Hillary not listening to Black Lives Matter when they protested at her events…” and this was followed by an unshakable knowledge that working for the Clintons would be siding with the oppressors. On the other hand, it did seem like a stroke of pure fate and the irony of the situation was undeniable, almost comical. Maybe working for Hillary Clinton could be beneficial in the long run. Perhaps I’d make a connection with someone higher up who could lend me a hand and jump start my radical political career. Bernie was all but mathematically eliminated anyway. I listened to myself and felt disgusted. I couldn’t simply abandon my principles, what would other leftists think of me? I’d be seen as a sell out who backed the lesser of two evils for personal gain, they'd mock me in their memes. Meanwhile, there was a storm raging out of control in the Republican Party that could not be ignored. If I learned anything studying colonialism it was to never underestimate the power of scared white people.
When I called my friend to learn more about the job she sounded just as I remembered her: enthusiastic, a little overzealous at times, and discernibly German, though her sentences flowed with the cadence of the girls from Clueless. I won’t use her name because the story doesn’t reflect well on her but from what she shared, I could tell she truly believed in the work she was doing and her dedication was admirable. She had already been working for Hillary for over a year at that point, and she was on staff during the New Hampshire primary, a contest I looked back on fondly because Bernie overcame a 40 point deficit in the closing weeks. She described it as “literal hell”.
After losing In New Hampshire she was reassigned to Montgomery County, which consists of a handful of suburbs just north of Philadelphia. She told me about the area she had in mind for me and how, considering the diverse demographics, I might be more well suited for the job than the organizer currently working there. Translated honestly, this meant that Norristown, Pennsylvania was a relatively poor, black and Latinx community, and the white guy on the job was having trouble connecting with the locals. Since my skin is brown and I speak Spanish, I was the answer to her prayers. She told me about what it meant to be an organizer, all the responsibilities, and how the hours could be unpredictable but always grueling. She described the sense of fulfillment I would get from such privileged work and of course the salary, which at the time seemed more than reasonable. She described the stress, the weight of knowing that if an organizer's work didn’t get done, evil could take over the country, and that being on the right side of history was important. She also mentioned that this would look great on future resumés. She made a compelling pitch but the fact remained that, to me, Hillary Clinton represented what is deeply wrong with American politics.
In the days after the phone call I asked myself what my heroes would do. The Obamas had already given me their advice by endorsing Hillary and taking to the road to stump for her, urging voters to resist against the Republican nominee. Ernesto Guevara on the other hand would most likely spring into action, organizing rural peasants to stage an armed revolution against the systems of oppression that gave us two abysmal choices in the first place. Then again, I’m more down with his writing than his practices. Malcolm X would be disappointed in me for getting in line behind a white neocolonialist like Clinton. Perhaps I could win him back after the fact with a retrospective story that draws on my new insights in order to make a larger cultural critique in the name of progress.
In the end, the element that won out was fear. The potential downside of a Trump presidency outweighed the purely hypothetical, and ultimately meaningless possibility that I could be seen as selling out. This wasn’t about love for a candidate or a belief that Hillary Clinton would, or even could save us. This was about damage control. I decided to swallow my pride and accept the job, believing that it was right thing to do under the circumstances. While I was packing my things in preparation for the move, Bernie finally endorsed Hillary and the general election was officially underway.Chapter 3 on the way.