Ever since my favorite presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, dropped out of the race, I had been looking for someone whom I could enthusiastically support.
There were a few candidates I really liked, but the question for me was which candidate could energize the Democratic base in November and get important policies through Congress in 2021 and beyond.
January’s Democratic presidential primary debate and an OpEd in the New York Times helped me make the decision. The January debate didn’t include all of the remaining candidates. However, those who did make it on the stage were the ones with a realistic chance to win the primary.
Since there were only half a dozen candidates in the debate, it was easier to identify their preferred approaches to policy.
The candidates could be easily separated into two groups — a pro-status-quo group favoring incremental changes without “rocking the boat” and a more “radical” group advocating for fundamental changes in the system.
Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigeg belonged in the first group. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer belonged in the second. I was fortunate enough to meet some of these candidates and ask them pointed questions. What I learned from the interactions was invaluable and consistent with what I observed in the debate.
The positions of these candidates led to two important questions for me. First, is the system fundamentally broken? Second, if the system is fundamentally broken, can it be fixed through incremental changes?
Looking at the increasing wealth polarization and diminishing influence of the majority on politics, the answers seem to be pretty clear. However, it was a recent article in the New York Times that really removed any remaining doubts in me.
The article Who killed the Knapp family? by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn was perhaps one of the saddest articles I have read in the New York Times. In the article, the writers shared the tragic fates of a group of families in rural Oregon.
Kristof was born and raised in the same region, and the fate of the people he wrote about could easily have been his own if he had not left to pursue higher education and a distinguished career in journalism.
These stories were personal to him, so they felt personal to me as the reader as well. What’s unfolding in the underbellies of the country was shocking and unimaginable, in stark contrast to record-high corporate profits and stock market values.
Despite trying their best, the families left behind in rural Oregon were trapped in poverty and suffered addiction, despair and even early deaths, brought on by the lack of opportunities and the loss of hope.
What was to blame wasn’t their lack of ambition or personal virtues — the conservatives’ favorite attributions for failures in life — but the broken system that prioritized the corporate profits and the wealthy over the well-being of the ordinary people like the members of the Knapp family.
They didn’t fail the system. The system failed them. The “shining city on the hill” was nothing but a legend and a mirage, out of reach to those who were born into diminishing opportunities no matter how hard they tried to follow the rules.
We must change the system, otherwise the wealth and political polarizations will continue to worsen. As we should have learned in the past decade, incremental changes don’t last.
Instead, they simply create a fertile ground for someone like Donald Trump, or someone even worse than Trump, to take root. In order for real and lasting changes to happen and stay, we must replace the soil.
We must reform democracy to give power back to the people and reprioritize the government to focus on the welfare of the people and the future of the planet.
In the group of pro-change candidates who correctly identified the systematic failures, one is an uncompromising politician who, I believe, has not demonstrated the ability to work with others and pass policies effectively (Bernie Sanders). Another one has never served in the government and has instead profited handsomely from the broken system and is indeed using that profit to buy his chance to fix it — all of which makes him unsuitable as well as unelectable as a presidential candidate, even though I greatly admire his conviction and activism (Tom Steyer).
So who was left as my candidate of choice?
That didn’t come as a surprise to me. I have always liked Warren. She grew up in a working-class family and made her way through a community college and later on a public law school as a working mother.
Instead of simply attributing her success to her intelligence and tenacity (she certainly has plenty of both!), as many others might, I believe the key to her success was that she identified the opportunities available to her. She also recognized that the same opportunities are no longer available to people like her, and that motivated her to run for office.
The compassion, authenticity and can-do attitude of Warren are infatuating. We are past time for systematic changes. Warren doesn’t only have the plans for change, but she can also make them happen. She can win if liberals forgo ideological purity in favor of effecting change.
She can win if those privileged are willing to forgo the status quo and embrace a future of shared and lasting prosperity. She can win if we finally believe that a woman can not only win the popular vote, but also the presidency.
Ning Mosberger-Tang is a photographer based in Boulder. She is also an organizer of Indivisible Colorado Environment group.