A Bernie Sanders supporter in New York grapples with her new reality: having to vote for Joe Biden

Unlike some, she says her mind has already been firmly made up

Chris Riotta
New York
Friday 10 April 2020 15:39 BST
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Louise Thomas

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Polarized is a weekly series featuring Americans from all 50 states sharing their views on the 2020 elections. Click here if you would like to be a part of this project

The news hit hard and slow for Caroline Gómez Lassalle.

“It felt like I swallowed an anvil and it dropped to my stomach in slow motion,” she says. “It was — or has been — an intense combination of fear and loathing.”

Lassalle sat quarantined in Brooklyn, New York, watching Bernie Sanders announce the suspension of his presidential campaign in real time on Wednesday.

A legal professional and writer who originally hails from Puerto Rico, Lassalle became interested in the Vermont senator’s platform following the 2016 election.

In a recent interview, she says she was inspired to support Sanders in the 2020 race after he held a rally in the nearby community of Queens, New York, where local Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives — officially endorsed him for the Democratic nomination.

(Photo courtesy Caroline Gomez Lassalle
(Photo courtesy Caroline Gomez Lassalle (Photo courtesy Caroline Gomez Lassalle)

“That was a very special day,” she says. “Seeing the huge crowd full of hopeful faces of the young, old and different demographics really showed me how big this movement could be. For the first time in a while, I felt real and actual hope.”

Lasalle says she hopes for a country which “values the people that have been instrumental in its development” — exactly the reason she was drawn to Sanders’ campaign in the first place. Her advocacy for the working class, Latinx and immigrant communities across the country, as well as her support for things like universal healthcare, a pathway to citizenship and more are what sealed the deal.

I can confirm how much Sanders’ campaign meant to Lassalle, because I happen to know her well: We lived together as roommates in New York City during the 2016 election. Over the last 22 weeks, Polarized has featured unique voters across 22 states — most of whom I’ve never met or spoken to before in my life — but when it comes to my own hometown of New York, I wanted to highlight a voter who is also my friend.

In my view, Lasalle, who genuinely embodies the spirit of Sanders’ campaign, is the perfect person to hear from on the week Sanders pulled out the race.

“My priorities as a voter have always emanated from a place of empathy,” she says. “I believe in the protection of the working class, a criminal system that is reinvented with rehabilitation at the forefront of its policies and a pathway to citizenship for those that risk their lives and place in the world for the opportunity of living a life with dignity in this country.”

Now, Lassalle must grapple with the same decision Sanders’ supporters are mulling across the country: whether or not to cast a ballot for former Vice President Joe Biden, who seemingly became the presumptive Democratic nominee this week.

Unlike some, she says her mind has already been firmly made up.

Click here to read more of The Independent's series, Polarized: Voices From Across America

“Look, for me the one true fact that we can all agree to is that this current administration is one of the biggest existential threats to ever plague this country,” she says. “The mishandling of this current crisis by the Trump administration has already cost us thousands of lives and the numbers will continue rising. So we have to vote for the Democratic nominee and continue to put pressure on them so that they can move forward with an agenda that works for the people and not the corporate powers that have controlled our democracy for far too long.”

In announcing the end of his second presidential campaign, Sanders said “the struggle continues” for the revolution he and his supporters have long called for.

“The greatest obstacle to real social change has everything to do with the power of the corporate and a political establishment to limit our vision as to what is possible and what we are entitled to as human beings,” he said.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorses Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Queensbridge Park on October 19, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorses Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Queensbridge Park on October 19, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Getty Images)

Lassalle agrees that the struggles continues for a better world, and though she’s heartbroken over the close of this chapter, she says she remains hopeful for the future.

“This movement is just beginning,” she says. “It will continue beating loud in all of us. I hope it will inspire new generations of political voices.”

A large part of Sanders’ platform focused on his core motto: “Not me, us.” And yet, as Lassalle notes, the senator is responsible for spearheading a grassroots campaign, while building a community of millions of donors and volunteers, all with a similar vision for the country. That’s a rare feat for a presidential candidate.

At 78 years old, it’s unlikely Sanders would launch a third presidential bid — nor is it clear he would be able to surmount a victory in the Democratic primaries, despite his deep and loyal base. As one of those ardent supporters, Lassalle shared a note thanking the senator for giving it his all:

“Because of this movement so many voices have been uplifted and he and his team have created ripples extending to what I hope will be a brighter future for all of us. Thank you for leading with kindness, for asking empathy from voters, for asking us to fight for our neighbors so that they in turn will fight for us. Thank you for sharing your spotlight with incredible women of color so that we can all gain confidence from watching them speak so passionately about what we could be as a great country. Thank you for consistently working to protect our civil liberties, for having enough faith in the people of this country, taking all of our stories and highlighting them to create a political mosaic showing what this country is really all about.”

After Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign, Biden rolled out new campaign initiatives designed to provide immediate and long-term relief for Americans impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The policies appear to be somewhat of a progressive olive branch to Sanders supporters, including $10,000 in student loan relief and a new plan that would forgive all remaining debt for student borrowers after 20 years, as well as lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to 60.

It remains to be seen whether the former VP can successfully woo all of Sanders' supporters. But Lassalle says there's just too much on the line.

She concludes: "There is so much at risk with this presidency that it makes it an unconscionable act to vote against removing this president from office."

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