Democracy in the Park

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For the past several months, we’ve been experiencing our democracy in a whole new way. Instead of watching as spectators, we’ve been energized to donate and volunteer for the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, calling citizens all over the United States to help get out the vote (with the Younger Fives listening in and helping to code the calls) . When we heard this weekend that Bernie was making a campaign stop in Montana, we knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we couldn’t miss out on.

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From this…

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…to this.

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We knew the logistics of making the day a success would be a challenge. Hours waiting in line is a tall order for kids (and adults too), but Five Spice had the foresight to make the case for the Missoula rally over the Billings one (earlier in the day, in a park, shorter drive) and found us a hotel right next door so we didn’t have to drive from Helena on the same day as the rally. Also thanks to Five Spice, we had awesome Bernie t-shirts that she had made for the march a few weeks ago in Bozeman. It’s amazing what a computer printed design, traced onto freezer paper, cut out to make a stencil, adhered with an iron and tape, and filled in with fabric paint, can do!

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Caras Park the day before the rally.

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The view at 6:30 a.m. on the big day.

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Five of Hearts counting the crowd size.

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The line stretched from the bike path, along the city streets, and back over the bridge across the Clark Fork River.

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After a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call, we joined a few dozen other people in line at 6:30. The crowd didn’t stay small for long, though. Five of Hearts passed the time by making a count, and she calculated the people waiting had grown to almost 50 people by 7:00 a.m and over 500 by 8:00. All in all, over 9,000 people came to hear Bernie speak, and over 4,000 couldn’t even get into Caras Park after it reached capacity. 

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Our spot, front and center

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Passing the time

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Bernie arrives!

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Fortunately, we didn’t have that problem and were one of the first ones in when security started letting the crowd through at 10:00. We found a prime spot up against the front barricade and parked ourselves there for another 2.5 hours before Bernie took the stage at 12:30 p.m. The Younger Fives did an AMAZING job waiting patiently, even more incredible considering we couldn’t bring bags, food, or liquids in with us. They managed to find ways to pass the time, mainly by keeping journals and filling in Mad Libs. From start to finish, they held it together for eight and a half hours with taking only about 50 steps from our spot in line outside the park to our place right in front of the stage. Go Younger Fives!

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Bernie’s more than hour-long speech was pure inspiration. It’s easy to see why so many younger people support Bernie because his bold vision for the future is certainly one we Fives want for our kids and future grandchildren. He made the point that 100 years ago women couldn’t vote, but women and their male allies worked tirelessly to redefine what it meant to be a women and earned women full participation in the political process in 1920. 60 years ago segregation was the law of the land, but the nonviolent efforts of African Americans and their allies finally brought us a step closer to the promise of equal opportunity for all. 10 years ago same-sex marriage seemed like an impossible goal, yet through the efforts of the LGBT community and their allies same-sex marriage has been affirmed nationwide for over a year. Just a few years ago the fight for a $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage seemed like pie in the sky, but through the efforts galvanized by fast-food workers this has now been signed into law in states like New York and California. Right now Bernie’s platform of universal health care as a right, tuition-free public college, responding to climate change like the threat that it is, equal pay for women (and so many other common-sense issues) might seem too ambitious, but history has shown that when people come together. we can move mountains. 

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Republicans like Donald Trump have a bold (but horrifying) vision for the future, and the best way to counter it is to offer an equally bold alternative. The kind of small-step, incrementalist approach the Democratic Party has embraced time and time again only ends in demoralizing and disengaging progressives. The New Deal (the much maligned “democratic socialism” Bernie embraces) brought us child-labor laws, Social Security, and rebuilding American’s infrastructure, things we all benefit from to this day. For us Fives, asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share so the government can do its job of protecting (i.e. fire departments, clean environment) and empowering (i.e. public education, transportation infrastructure) its people seems far from radical; instead, it is reaffirming the best of American values.

DSC01578 DSC01581The end of the rally couldn’t have been more surprising for us. After wrapping up with his speech, both Bernie and Jane Sanders took the time to talk with the crowd. Not only did we get to shake hands with both of them, but Five of Heart’s journal / crowd count log turned into an autograph book as both Bernie and Jane were kind enough to sign it. Were we Feeling the Bern after our day in Missoula? You better believe it!

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