It’s early on a Sunday morning, and the Starbucks in this Inglewood, Calif., strip mall is already bursting at the seams, every table filled with people and conversation.
In one area of the cafe, 10 African-American men in their 50s and 60s hold court as they talk about the primaries in Nevada and South Carolina and a possible Hillary Clinton presidency.
Suddenly a slight young African-American woman sitting nearby pipes up that she would never vote for Ms. Clinton. The men at the table stop dead for a moment; it’s clear, they don’t know her. Then they bellow with laughter, pleased at her chutzpah even as they disagree with her politics. A debate begins between her and them about Hillary Clinton and her own candidate, Bernie Sanders.
It’s an intriguing back and forth; the main pro-Clinton man keeps coming back to the woman being too young to really knowing what she’s talking about. “I voted for McGovern,” he says (a bit of a shock; he looks about 55). “You don’t even know who that is. Have you even heard of Dukakis?”
Later he says loudly: “Listen: America will never elect a Socialist Jew.” At the comment, the entire store goes quiet for a moment.
While I can’t say I came to Starbucks looking to hear MORE conversation about politics, I couldn’t help admiring this confident young woman in her blue jeans and red sweater down almost to her knees who suffered through all the man- and Boomer-splaining with good-natured fearlessness. As my own nephews and nieces have gotten older and headed towards adulthood I’ve become aware of the condescending way “millennials” are usually characterized by Boomers, and watching one hold her own was a pleasure.
Afterwards, I spoke to this young woman about her political views and sense of the times. I think her comments offer interesting insight into why young people today have such a passion for Sanders (and so much disgust for Clinton).
Can I ask your name and age?
My name is La Shané Jones. I’m 23.
And what do you do?
I’m a full-time student at Cal State Long Beach, studying business marketing. And I’m a part-time restaurant worker at Tender Greens.
How would you describe the state of the United States today?
Can I speak honestly?
It’s f***** up. I don’t really feel like we live in a democracy. We’re run by corporations. A lot of people don’t vote because they don’t think it matters, and to a certain extent they’re right about that—[private] money is funding our government.
As you look at the country and the election, what are the most important issues for you?
Campaign finance reform definitely, [is a] top issue, because I think once you fix that, once you get the money out of politics, everything else starts to fall in place. You won’t have corporations running the government any more.
Bernie’s for reintroducing Glass-Steagall, I’m all for that. I want to see race relations get better, that would help me a lot. Health care, free health care for all.
People think a lot of millennials are only voting for him because of the free college tuition. That’s not really my stance. I won’t even be in college by then.
What is it about Mr. Sanders that appeals to you?
He’s honest. I 100 percent trust him. He’s transparent: I know where his money comes from, which is not from corporations, which is a big deal for me. I feel like if you’re getting your money from millionaires they’re going to be the ones you have to pay your dues to. The fact he’s not funded by millionaires is a very big deal.
I think I heard you say earlier that you wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, even if she were the candidate in the general election. Is that right?
I just recently decided this. [I’ve been asking] should I vote for her if she gets the nomination, and I came to the conclusion that I’m not going to settle for her. Voting for Hillary is just voting for more establishment politics, and that’s not what I’m for.
Voting for someone just because they’re a Democrat is settling with what we already have. I’m not going to do that. We’re fed up, bottom line. So if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, I’m going to write him in. That’s how I’ll take my stand.
What is it about Ms. Clinton that you find so unappealing?
She’s dishonest. She constantly changes her views to what’s important now. That was brought up in the very first debate; Anderson Cooper said, “Will you say anything to get elected?” and she stumbled, she didn’t have an answer. She was against gay marriage, but now when people want to fight for gay rights, she’s definitely for it. I believe people are allowed to change their mind, but come on. I can’t trust anything that comes out of her mouth.
Probably the main reason that I came to the conclusion that I’m not going to vote for her was Madeleine Albright saying [to women], "You’re going to go to hell if you don’t support Hillary," and Hillary didn’t stop her, she just stood there and laughed.
You being a woman is not a reason for me to vote for you; in fact I think it’s against feminism to think that way. Feminism means I should be able to do what I want. I shouldn’t have to be locked into voting for a woman just because she’s a woman.
I would absolutely love to see a woman president. Just not Hillary. She’s not the one.
What do make of the argument that not voting for Hillary Clinton in a general election is basically allowing into office a Republican—who will not only be at least as “establishment” as Ms. Clinton but with less attractive views for left-leaning voters?
It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. This is the first election that I’m able to vote in, so voting is a big deal for me.
A lot of people won’t agree with this, but I think sometimes things have to get really really bad before people pay attention. The point I’m at now, if it takes a Republican [president] for people to wake up and say, “Wow, we’re in a really bad way, we need to wake up more, we need to pay attention more,” maybe that’s what has to happen.
People who will settle for Republican-lite, which is what I consider Hillary, maybe they don’t realize that we’re in such a bad state yet.
Any concern about Mr. Sanders’ age? (Admittedly, Hillary Clinton is not that much younger.)
I know, and they make Hillary look so young when they put her on TV, put her in the bright pink, make her look youthful. But she has no millennial support. We see what’s going on.
Yeah, Sanders is old. But I’m not going to discriminate against someone just because they’re old. I don’t think if he becomes president he should run for re-election. I would like to see him have Elizabeth Warren as his Vice President and then have her step up. Four years of Bernie and then four years of Warren.
Another argument you hear: Congress will never let any of Mr. Sanders’ big ideas get passed.
Yeah, we know that, but he’s the only one even saying that any of them are possible. People say it’s not even worth trying; I say that’s stupid. If people in the 1960s had settled, I would not be able to sit in this Starbucks with you. I would have to sit in the black person Starbucks (and there probably wouldn’t be one).
It’s not a party issue, either; it’s the whole system that’s messed up. Once you get the president, you have to vote in members of Congress that understand, too. That’s why campaign finance reform is such a big deal; if rich people and corporations can’t give so much money to politicians, then they [politicians] don’t have to answer to those companies, they can answer to the people, and that’s what a democracy is. We don’t have that right now. Goldman Sachs is running us.
So yeah it’s going to be a process, and you can’t do this all even in four years, it’s going to take time. But you have to start now so my kids can have that future.
Stepping away from politics: How do you think millennials are perceived?
Every generation thinks they’re better than the one that comes after them. The generation in the 1960s, their parents were probably telling them segregation is fine, you’re not slaves any more, this is good enough. And they said no, this is not good enough.
Today, we’re dealing with police brutality, and I think my generation in the black community is having a mini-1960s. We’re starting to be more alert, paying attention, waking up as we say. I’ve seen myself go from, “I don’t really care about any of this,” to being very involved, seeing this is the only way to get change. That’s the thing about the black community—we don’t vote because we don’t think it matters. But if we don’t vote, we don’t get our opinions heard. It’s a cycle.
Even my grandparents, they’re from deep Louisiana, and they’re saying I don’t know why you’re fighting at all, you’re fine, you’ve got access to all this stuff. But I’m just tired of not having a say, that I don’t matter.
How would you say other generations describe you?
They say we’re not realistic. We just want free stuff. We want too much, we should take what we have and accept it and stop thinking that everything is going to be given to us. But I think we’re doing the opposite. We’re ready to get out there and fight for change and people are telling us to just accept.
What do you make of that claim that your generation has everything handed to it?
People say we like Sanders because his socialist policies will give us free stuff. But no, we like him because he’s honest; we trust him, not because he’s going to pay for our school. I go to school, I have a job, I don’t ask for free stuff. I just want a chance.
To the older generation I say, eventually they’re going to be gone, but I’m still going to be here. If me and millennials feel like this is a better way for us, let us do that. If they [older Americans] listened to what their parents said about not making change when they were young, then we would still be in that mindset of where their parents were. If people hadn’t looked at Obama and said I think this black man could be president, he wouldn’t have won. You need new generations to bring in new ideas, that’s what creates progress. Without that you’re stuck.
As we finish chatting, I ask Ms. Jones if she has ever thought about entering politics herself.
“Oh, God no,” she says (only to then acknowledge that she is marching in a rally for Sanders in Pasadena next weekend that she in fact helped organize).
Did she have any idea what she wanted to do when she graduated?
“I haven’t really decided yet,” she said, smiling, the future clearly unknown, but definitely interesting.