I was talking with a stranger earlier tonight about how we identify ourselves. This was prompted by the stranger wondering, in general, which presidential candidate a particular profession supported. I knew he was speaking in terms of “in general” but it did make me think about how we classify ourselves.
For example, I am a 21-year-old, white female. Am I more likely to identify with another person based on their age, their ethnicity, or their gender? Or maybe it’s less demographic and more about who they are as a person. In my case, I tend to have a strong pull and sincere ability to genuinely relate to those who work in the nonprofit sector or writing based fields. I wouldn’t say that is my defining trait, but it is definitely something I identify with.
Since moving to New York City almost three months ago, I’ve been exposed to so many new experiences, from the people that surround my everyday life to my daily mode of transportation and everything in between. One of the best things about NYC – outside the endless options of amazing food around every corner – is the vast number of cultural experiences the city has to offer.
One week, I was debating spending the money for a musical I really wanted to see and a week later, my brother arrived with two free tickets to that very show. One day, I mentioned wanting to go to a poetry slam and few days later, I was listening to one of my favorite spoken word artists perform in Brooklyn.
The funny thing about living here is there are always these really big, wonderful events going on and you suddenly realize you absolutely can go to them on a whim simply because they’re there and you’re there and why not go on a grand adventure? I try to keep myself subtly aware of events in the city – especially when they’re free – and therefore it was on my radar that a Bernie Sanders rally was going to be taking place tonight, April 13th, at Washington Square Park.
I ended up going with intent to meet up with my friend, as we were both coming from work. He arrived before me, meaning I had approximately two hours in line with thousands of other people – none of whom knew me from Eve. Only there was no awkward silence. It was a different kind of New York.
I ended up befriending the people in my immediate vicinity in line. By the time we got through security, it was already decided that we were all in this together. After all, we were something of a squad. We met up with my friend and quickly realized that between the five of them, we had every NYC borough represented (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island). They were all native New Yorkers and I was the “country of PA” side kick.
We joined thousands of other people in the park and listened to Vampire Weekend perform a few songs before many talented and passionate advocates took the stage. Finally, Bernie Sanders came up to speak about his policies and dreams and for a moment, I forgot I was standing on a bench in summer work clothes in 40 degree weather. I looked around at the thousands of others who stood near me.
To my left: Asian-American male in his mid-thirties. Came alone. Clapped enthusiastically after a bit, presumably cause his throat hurt from cheering.
Behind me: Three Latino ladies and one Latino man in their twenties. Laughed and visited in between speakers but screamed and cheered like crazy for the things they believed in.
In front of me: White woman in her late sixties. Sat on the edge of our bench because, though she was tired, she wouldn’t miss seeing Bernie speak. Talked politics with the late 20s Jewish American boy behind her.
You see, I looked out over a crowd of thousands of people and wondered how they would identify themselves. Did they see themselves as black or white? Male or female? Rich or poor? Or did they seem themselves as mothers and fathers…educators and laborers…students and New Yorkers?
It is safe to assume that at a Bernie Sanders rally, you would be surrounded primarily by Bernie Sanders supporters and most of the people I spoke with, upon further investigation, were adamant about that belief. But when I looked out across that crowd and when I walked to and from that park in a sea of humanity, I saw something else that was the great identifier of who gathered in Washington Square Park tonight.
I saw a stranger stop a distracted girl from stepping directly into a massive puddle and a young man offer his seat on the bench to a tired older woman. I saw a wide pathway open in the crowd of people to let an older couple – one with a walker – sneak out a bit early, wide smiles on their faces. I saw people sharing stories with people and strangers coming together for selfies and hugs. I even saw myself on the receiving end of a free Bernie mask and four awesome new friends.
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter where you came from, what you did for a living, or who you associated with. What mattered was recognizing common humanity and treating each person with kindness and dignity.
We walked to the Subway and laughed as the steady stream of people stumbled to the food carts that were so strategically placed outside an event that hungry people had been at for hours. Everyone was talking and cheering and laughing and the group that caught my eye the most was a small group of street musicians playing the drums while others sang and danced around them to the Bobby McFerrin song Don’t Worry Be Happy – with Bernie themed lyrics, of course.
Everyone felt lighter. It was a different kind of New York then you sometimes see at the Subway at 6 pm on a Friday. It was carefree and hopeful and lovely.
As The Smile Project, I don’t typically write about anything that could be seen as divisive or controversial and therefore I’ve never touched on politics at all. And that’s not what this blog is about. More than identifying as a fan of Bernie or Hillary or Kasich, Cruz or Trump, or whoever else or even none at all, the people I was surrounded with tonight were those who identify as a fan of love and a fan of humanity being at its best.
I keep telling everyone that New York has been good to me…and with nights like tonight? How could it be any way else.
Extra shout out to the friend who encouraged me to come and the new friends I made! You know who you are!