I made over one thousand calls last month to voters in America. I was campaigning for Bernie Sanders. ‘Fuck the Republicans,’ one New Yorker began, to my delight. A delegate in Washington couldn’t choose between Bernie and his girlfriend; on caucus day he was travelling to Oregon to save his relationship. And hundreds of people didn’t let me get past the first line of the script. I’m calling from the Bernie Sanders pr…. *click*.
One evening I ignored the campaign’s instructions — don’t waste your time with decided voters — as I chatted for twenty minutes with a staunch Hillary Clinton fan. ‘I used to wear Hillary sweaters in high school,’ she told me, her positivity gleaming, before generously letting me explain why I trusted the socialist champion more than Clinton. She loved Hillary, didn’t see Bernie as a serious candidate, and didn’t understand why our generation is so enthralled by his politics. I didn’t understand how she could feel that way, how she could trust so deeply someone who I am so hostile towards.
This girl, in the deepest, most empathetic and my favourite call of the campaign, paradoxically made me understand why so many people hate politics. We are intrinsically obtuse to each other’s obvious. We are indoctrinated by our environment and blinded to each other’s situations. We have to use all our energy to empathise. For something so important that it decides the price of our groceries, if we go to war, or whether we get a life saving operation or not, it is extremely divided. Everyone is right but nobody agrees.
Politics is impossible. It is daunting to everyone because there is no being right. The closest to being right is knowing the facts. But learning how many immigrants live in our country leads some people to Ukip and some to Labour, some to Trump and some to Sanders.
And by the nature of elections your opinion is validated by the more people who share it. The best team doesn’t win, the most popular team does. It appears to work because it is divisive. Because it is alienating. Imagine if football was the same: Newcastle wouldn’t be relegated with the fifth biggest stadium in the country and Leicester would have had odds far worse than 5000/1.
The elegant answer is positivity. Supporting a politician because you like them and not because you dislike the others. Having an alternative. But to get to this point, there needs to be turnout, trust and solutions. Three things that aren’t yet universal.
Today, to get people to turnout you need them to be angry. You need them to be so disgusted by the Tory’s cuts that they’ll make time to vote Labour. I dream of a system where for people to turnout you need them to be excited. You need to them to be so enthralled by one party’s solutions that they dismiss the other.
In the UK the Liberal Democrats did that in 2010; they excited young people and prevented a Tory majority. In the US Bernie Sanders is still in the Presidential race because young people see a future of hope and equality. Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader out of idealism. We’re moving in the right direction because of aspiration. Ambition is growing where equality is disappearing.
People hate politics because it is evil. I love politics because I see — in tiny glimmers in the corner of my eye — a future where it is not. I hope my generation don’t change as they grow older. I hope that glimmer becomes a spotlight — a spotlight on our potential, hiding negativity and manipulation in darkness. Every criticism needs a positive solution.
The Clinton girl gave me hope. She was how I aspire to be and what I hope everyone will become. She welcomed my love for Bernie, and her genuine positivity for Hillary, to my surprise, made me feel good about an election I’d previously seen as driven by hate.
Before everyone can like politics, we have to stop arguing, and start talking.