A Glimpse of the big game. Coverage of the US Primaries at the local level
I have spent my life watching politics on TV, I grew up seeing my family frown and smile in front of the news in the comfort of our home. Ideologies aside, I find politics quite fascinating. The art of pandering to people to get their support, not just for votes, seeking funding, powerful partners, spending the work day building consensus towards some objective, and somehow, keeping it all together as consistent as possible and mostly legal.
I love democracy, it is not a perfect system, but it is the best we’ve got, at least so far. I live in Portland Oregon, in the west coast of the Us, and as my photojournalist portfolio grows, covering a bit of politics has been an interest of mine. So far I had a few photo ops with local authorities, mayors and governors, I was ready to get a piece of the campaign, within my editorial and geographical limitations.
One of my most vivid infant memories was a man in a military uniform with a big hat, and lots of shinny things in his jacket. I didn’t understand what was going on, I was four years old, but the sheer tension at my aunt’s place was tattooed to my memory. My family was glued around a black and white TV as the programing had been interrupted and speeches were given. That man, I learned later, was General Jorge Rafael Videla, first president of the brutal Argentine junta, the place was Mar del Plata, Argentina, and that was the military coup of 1976.
Back in the US, I got just in time for Bill Clinton second mandate in 1998, after a couple decades living in Barcelona, Spain, and having seen good share of scandals different back and forth of government and a different type of establishment.
Devonte Hart, the kid who famously hug Police sgt. Bret Barnum during the Portland's Ferguson protests, still spreading the love now at the Bernie campaign rally
Frustration and dissolution of US Politics
From my new home in the west coast, I got a taste of local political blunders as I closely followed the Monica gate glued this time to NPR radio. Then in 2002 the contended Supreme Court decision that saw the winner of the popular vote, Democrat Al Gore, loose to Republican George W. Bush. Quite rocky 8 years would follow, but not quite as rocky as what the Obama years would bring. In the political circus since the impeachment attempt on Bill Clinton, the politics of discredit had risen to massive levels.
Even with all advancement and progress seen during that time, the politics of scandal, retribution, dead lock, and the pandering to the angry has taken over the US discourse. Seeking high ratings, semi digested stories and shinny graphics have relegated thoughtful analysis. The polarization of American politics is still on the rise, and in turn the huge percentages of the population have decided to tune it off.
The last general elections have brought above 60% of turn out, mid terms and local measures struggle to get to 50%. Mid terms and local initiatives are just as important for the power balance, the low interest exposes the lack of understanding of our political system procedures by the population. Under what low turnout can we still call it democracy?
The Indirect democracy
A great example of how easy is to shadow our electoral process is the primary season, a system of caucuses and a range of open and closed primaries that changes from state to state. The choice of system can greatly impact the outcome and it stretches for months of relentless campaigning. And when the delegates are chosen, not all of them will warranty they will vote for the candidate winner on their state elections, some of them, are merely trusted with their choice, they are called “super delegates”.
Basically we choose the people that will choose who our party nominee for the general election. Same with the general election, we will vote to choose an electoral college who will vote for the president. This is the indirect democracy. A system historically designed to serve a fraction of the demographics we have got today in almost a quarter of the territory, and it needs of great participation to properly work.
People wait outside for a chance of a word from their candidate
Far from the big headlines
To add to the mess, not all states have the same amount of delegates, there are prized must win states, and others that will get a lot less attention due to their small weight. I live in Portland Oregon, and their number of delegates in both primaries aren’t the biggest, 74 for democrats, 24 for republicans, and they usually come way to late in the race to make an impact.
As the general election goes, few Electoral College votes are in play in our state. Portland is an important point of commerce and a liberal stalwart that has carried the state for the Democratic Party for decades now. Conservative candidates tend to not come around much, even less on the primaries. Oregon like some other states are referred at times as “toss ups”.
2016 General Election. Bernie Sanders comes to Portland
Bernie Sanders is one of the most relevant people of the primary contest to make a stop in Portland, OR. Not once but twice. The first time was at a time when his recognition and exposure was minimal. I had heard he had a profound resonating message, specially his capacity to ignite the youth with his "anti establishment revolution", free tuition proposal, and reform of student debt. I had read quite a bit about him before the campaign. I was also very aware of the skepticism of the national media who already was viewing Hillary Clinton as the de facto candidate, and was treating the Democratic primaries as a mere rubber stamp process.
Bernie Sanders to 28,000 Portlanders "You have done it better than anyone else"
Summer 2015 Bernie has full house
The opportunity to access the event reporting for Portland Tribune was too tempting, pitched my editor to photograph the event, and got the wished "sure go ahead". The opportunity as a newbie to catch a rising movement in its beginning stages was a must take bet. And there I was, more impressive than the Moda center filled up to the top with 20,000 people, was the 8,000 that didn’t make it and still stood watching it from the outside screens. Then he repeated in LA in similar numbers. Now, it was impossible to deny that we had gotten ourselves a race.
see "Sources Say: Can Sanders Win Oregon?" Portland Tribune, August 13th 2015 Washington Caucus, Bernie dashes back.
Bernie came back west after falling behind in the south and mixed results in the steel belt, the Bern needed a sweep in the west, while Hillary Clinton made just a couple appearances knowing of the great advantage the polls were giving Sanders, one in eastern Washington and Seattle. Then steamed back to New York, where the real battle it said will be fought. Sanders campaigned heavily in the west to secure momentum going into the critical races in the East coast. I had the chance to catch up with their event in Vancouver again for the Portland Tribune.
Bernie speaking under the light rain outside of Hudson's Bay high school, Vancouver WA Early birds in the rain, in Vancouver WA
I arrived to Hudson Bay high school around 8:30 AM for an 11:30 AM rally on March 20th. The scene was as promised, the enthusiasm exhibited on all Sanders rallies didn’t disappoint. Some supporters had braved the night, with heavy rain at times, standing in line for their chance to make to get in the school’s gym, we’re the rally would take place. The high school grounds have seen some Bernie supporters as early since 8:30 pm the evening before.
By 6:30 AM the morning of the event, there were reported a line of more than 200. The gym filled out with still thousands outside. They rounded those in the open and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke to them under a light rain, then another short speeches in the overflow room in the school’s main lobby, before the main event. All together in the realm of 9,000 supporters.
Followers enthusiasm in the age of the smart phone
Put a bird on it.
Bernie was back in Portland in March 25th after a short notice, and then he was standing on the podium talking about the revolution, about how man and women are equal, how Healthcare and education are human rights, and while going down his classic hits, a little finch landed on the podium. Looking for water and food, he landed amidst he cheers as Portland lost it on he scene, "it’s a sign!" Many would claim. Then Bernie Sanders went on to talk a out foreign policy and "world peace”. From a photographers stand point, that is the kind of moments we dream of, a chance to capture the extraordinary.
The most iconic moment so far of the 2016 race for the white house
Sanders had done it again, another full house, and that little bird made his news impossible to ignore in the best possible way, not about contested comments, proposals, or attacks, just a bird a bit too used to be around humans, living on left over popcorn and bottled water.
it is April and all the birds are already gone
Bernie went to win in a landslide in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii for over 70% of votes, then headed east with the rest of the candidates. Portland has managed to earn the headlines nationally and internationally twice still the Oregonians most likely won’t get their day at the polls for their primaries. The latest news talked of Bernie wining in Nevada, polls favoring him in Wisconsin, with the big battle raging in New York. A lose in the last will mortally wound the race, still there is California. For us, is probably done for now, unless something extraordinary happens hat needs Oregon delegates come May 17th.
The future doesn't need to be this grim
Whether the new administration will be able to change the tone in politics is hard to say, or if the country has the capacity to reform. Falling to the despair of a case scenario that discourages the citizenship to fit better the purposes of the few might be tempting. Politics affects all of us at all levels, it decides the administration of our common wealth. We must participate at least from the level of acknowledgement. We don’t need to be engaging in debates all day long, or to be glued to cable news, specially that. But staying informed and being aware are the key to a healthy democratic system.
To have democracy requires participation. Please listen, then vote.