Dear Bernie,

Dear Bernie,

I moved to Vermont in 1993, the year before I turned thirty, two years before my husband & I became parents.
It was in Vermont that something else was conceived inside–a growing awareness & engagement in politics; Because it was in Vermont that I first discovered politics beyond the pocketbook.
Bernie, it was in our early years in Vermont that my young family sat beside you at the Chicken Supper when you were our Congressman, and where we later watched with pride as our son joined you in the Strolling of the Heifers parade down Main Street during your campaign for Senate; and when time sped forward and that same son went off to school at the University of Vermont, my youngest son and I were with you on the waterfront as you announced your campaign for President; which is to say that Bernie Sanders & Vermont are inextricably linked in my understanding of both the rights & responsibilities of citizenship.
But it’s not that for which I’d like to thank you now, Bernie. It’s something larger than one family. It’s the way your presidential campaign gave young people, not just in Vermont, but around this nation, hope. It’s the way you tethered their hearts and minds to a purpose larger than themselves, and to the possibility of something more than the cultural shadow assigned them–ignorance, irrelevance, consumerism & self-absorption.
Bernie, your campaign, your voice, your tenacious heart woke the heart of a nation and seeded a sense of possibility that is taking root in the consciousness & action of our youngest citizens in this most troubling time for our democracy.
Bernie, you have shown them how to fight the good fight.
You have proven to them that they are not alone.
This has inspired them to lead with love.
This has inspired them to vote with passion & purpose.
This has made the privilege of citizenship–whole.
~Kelly Salasin, age 54

Mother of Lloyd, 22, and Aidan, 17, ready to vote in the next election.


Full House, Town Meeting, Marlboro Town House, Vermont (2010)

I didn’t grow up politically-minded, not like my young sons who a decade ago acted like I was offering a trip to Disney when I said:

“Obama and Clinton will be in NH next week.”

On the morning of the rally in Unity, I only had to wake them once. You’d think it was Christmas, but with longs lines and heat and lots of speeches, and they were just as into it.

They’ve grown up just next door, in Vermont, and I give our small state credit for maturing me toward citizenship.

Baby steps.
Town Meeting.
Chicken BBQs with Bernie.
Rallies with my neighbors.

And it’s not that I wasn’t exposed to politics growing up. The nightly news flooded our living room with scenes of Vietnam. My parents regularly argued about the Irish question. My grandfather was the President of the Union League–the oldest Republican organization in his southern NJ county. My grandmother wept in front of the black and white on the day Nixon resigned.

I never understood my lack of interest in all things political, and always felt lesser for it, but it wasn’t until last summer, at the pond, at the age of 52, that a lifelong activist from the city suggested a new frame:

“Maybe you couldn’t relate to the voices around you until you moved to Vermont.”

Maybe she was right.

Politics had always seemed too sport-like for me–lots of us and them and ugliness; and yet, Social Studies had always been my favorite subject. I actually bought my sixth-grade text book at the end of the school year because I couldn’t bear to part with it; while my Junior High field trip to the United Nations was my version of Christmas.

As a kid, I ran Muscular Dystrophy carnivals in my backyard and picked up trash around the neighborhood with the kids in my club.

We moved a lot because my dad was in school and then in the Army, and I frequently befriended those who others excluded, not out of pity, but out of kindness and something more–interest:  my neighbor who went to the special school, my classmates whose parents didn’t speak English, the elderly at every occasion.

At home, I was regularly sent to my room from the dinner table for speaking out against injustice (aka. talking back.)

As I came into adolescence, however, I begin to lose my bearings. We moved back to Cape May County, and I remember cringing in my Catholic high school as my Social Studies classmates mocked the President. I don’t think it mattered much to me who he was, except that he seemed gentle and kind, as did the quirky English teacher who they regularly harassed.

Later, when I backpacked through Europe during college, I remember being challenged, particularly by the Irish, for my lack of awareness of how my country was engaging abroad.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling both foolish and criminal, not to mention entitled and clueless.

“Bleeding Heart,” a lifelong friend said after we’d graduated. He’d said it with affection–about his two favorite people–“his kindred souls,” he called us–but I could tell that he hadn’t meant it as a compliment.

Later I would come to realize that he was a Republican while we would become Democrats.

“La La land,” my father said, as I began expressing my emerging political views.

But those were the good ole days. Because now what I’m called or referred to or accused of by GOP-voting friends is so hostile and reviled and “other,” that I’m struck and hurt and confused (while my liberal friends dish it right back out to the GOP.)

For instance, this week it’s history that I want to destroy. This, from friends who didn’t even like history in school, while I went on to teach it, as does my husband.

Before that, I’d been assigned the absence of patriotism. This while raising sons steeped in the understanding of democracy. No television. No game boys. Lots of reading. Lots of conversation. Lots of field trips.

Before that, I was accused of not living in reality.

Is television reality?

I guess so, because look who is President.

I must be in La La Land because I thought that if nothing else my fellow Americans held some truths to be self-evident, beyond partisanship.

Have you seen it?
In its entirety?

It was such a disgrace and such an alarm that for the first time, I’ve left my civil-tongue behind:


I can’t recall ever using this term before, but after watching 45’s speech, this is clearly what wanted expression.

He is playing us–ALL of us.
Because he can.
Because he’s smart.
Because he doesn’t care.

And most of all, because he’s threatened.

“Be kind, Kelly,” a GOP-voting friend says as I use the word “fuck” all over his steady stream about statues.

I reply with a quote from Marianne Williamson:

Love is always the answer, but sometimes love says NO.

Not NO to my friend for whom I allow differences and continued affection, but NO to this President and NO to my friend’s distraction from what is staring us in the face.

WE must wake the fuck up, and come shoulder to shoulder (with those we have demonized)–for democracy, for decency, for humanity, for the planet, for the future.