The past week has been a whirlwind. We took the 16 hour trek by car and ferry from Vancouver Island to Helena, Montana and went right to work finding an apartment. After several days of criss-crossing the city looking at rentals, we finally found the perfect match and moved in that day. Only one thing could convince us the next morning to wake up at 6:15 am, put the unpacking on hold, and drive one and a half hours to Bozeman….Senator Bernie Sanders.
Even though we’ve been in Canada for the past five months, we’ve been closely following the U.S. presidential primaries. We’ve had countless conversations with Canadians puzzled at the popularity of Donald Trump, and we’ve tried our best to explain that the Republican primaries are only a small fraction of Americans. Doing the math, 62% percent of the U.S. population is registered Republican or Independent, and the turnout of eligible voters has been about 17% during the primaries, accounting for a total of about 10% of the entire population casting their votes for Trump (and actually even lower because not all states allow independents to vote in primaries). However, the Trump media frenzy definitely extends north of the border and makes the numbers seem much higher than they actually are.
These conversations have also given us a clearer picture of what the often slandered “Democratic Socialism” actually looks like. Many of our neighbors on Vancouver Island were quite curious about how our health care worked, and they stared in disbelief as we did our best to explain the many complexities of the medical system in the States, one that ends in high debt and bankruptcy for too many Americans. It was our turn for astonishment when we heard details about the Canadian medical system, where there are no cashiers or credit-card readers anywhere to be found.
Our jaws dropped even more when we eventually learned we were the only family paying for our kids’ swim lessons out of pocket. In Canada parents get a monthly stipend for each child (both from the federal and provincial [state] governments) to cover both day-to-day expenses and extracurricular activities. This is on top of up to a year of paid (55% of total salary) maternity leave that either parent can take after the child is born. This was unfathomable for us, used to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the U.S. which basically only ensures your boss can’t fire you.
We’re in no way trying to bash the United States. However, it can take a visit to another country to realize how large the gap between the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and its reality actually is. That the central pillars of Bernie Sanders’ political career (like equal pay for women and people of color, universal heath care as a right, debt- and tuition-free college education, etc.) seem radical shows how much American values have eroded over time. In the struggle of people vs. profits to control the government, profits are winning, and there is much work to be done to change a system that mostly functions to redistribute public wealth upward to the 1% at the expense of the 99%. We deeply believe the only candidate committed to fixing a rigged game is Bernie Sanders.
So, long story short, we woke up exhausted on Saturday morning but gladly made signs, drove to Bozeman, and spent two hours with hundreds of others rallying for Bernie Sanders. Democracy requires participation, not just voting one day a year, and this is the kind of homeschool lesson you can’t just read about in books. Being a citizen (as opposed to an elector) looks different for each person, but the essential element is working with others toward the common good. And to be honest, it feels good to be involved. Beginning in Canada we’ve been taking an hour each week to call potential voters around the U.S., and the kids have had a blast helping practice the script, listening to the actual conversations with voters, and finding far-flung places like Wisconsin and Alaska on the map. We’re convinced America needs a candidate that is people-powered, not profit-powered. We believe America is ready to #FeelTheBern!