Can you get pregnant just by having a guy put his hand on the small of your back? Maybe — if that guy is a Presidential candidate from Vermont and you just can’t stop feeling the Bern!
Full disclosure: I endorsed Bernie Sanders last month. One reason I’m inspired by Sanders is that he has made private meetings with racial justice activists a regular staple of his campaign, which offers unprecedented access by community organizers to a mainstream presidential candidate. Last week, Sanders hosted the first (of hopefully many) such meetings with leaders Asian and Arab American communities. Sanders was joined in hosting the meeting by one of his surrogates, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who recently resigned her position as DNC vice chair in her announcement of her endorsement. Also in attendance were several prominent Asian American and Arab American community organizers — as well as performance artist Kristina Wong, a long-time friend of this blog.
I had a chance to interview Kristina to get her thoughts on the thirty glorious minutes she spent basking the Sanders aura, and how she came to experience a total Bern-ing sensation.
So it’s safe to say you’re #TeamBernie?
Kristina: I’m the last person who thought a radical feminist like me would do somersaults for a 74-year-old White guy from Vermont, but that’s how excited Bernie gets me. Hillary is cool, but she just doesn’t give me the “This is the Messiah” yah-yahs that Bernie gives me. She’s a better option than Trump, but then again, explosive diarrhea is a better option than Trump.
How did you get invited to this super-secret meeting?
Kristina: The email invitation from his campaign had me wondering: Am I being catfished by a pretend Bernie Sanders? With only two days’ notice they asked if I wanted to meet Senator Sanders in Chicago (no location, guest list, or time cited). I had to pay my own way there. Those vacuum cleaner pennies you send to the Sanders’ campaign don’t go towards flying rogue performance artists to go meet him!
There is a small team of organizers working on Asian Americans voters for Sanders and my name had been circulating among them as a “prominent cultural leader.” This is aIso why I thought it was a hoax. Some of my work is so (delightfully) crass—what politician would want to associate with me? Bernie Sanders, that’s who!
Why was this meeting such a secret?
Kristina: Security is super tight in these campaigns and I had to give tons of personal information for a very lengthy “vetting process” before they would give me the meeting information. I was also not allowed to announce that I was doing this event. That was hard for me because I can’t keep my mouth shut about anything!
A lot of people they invited couldn’t make it because they also put these meetings together very last minute. The schedule for this was changing every hour. I happened to be in Minneapolis (an hour flight away) on tour doing my show “The Wong Street Journal” (next show is April 7-9 in San Francisco). It’s not ideal to do anything other than rest and hydrate on the same day as you perform a one-woman show, but I decided that I would brave the exhaustion and meet the only candidate that’s gotten me hopeful and then fly back to Minneapolis to do my show that night.
What’s one unexpected thing you discovered about Bernie Sanders having spent time with him one-on-one that we wouldn’t have known about him from having seen him in big rallies?
Kristina: My memory about what exactly was said in that room is affected by the fact that my brain shot out of my body then floated into the sky looking down at the adrenaline my body was pumping from being in breathing distance from him. I’ve watched these candidates on television so much they are downright mythological and Bernie’s humanity in that room was so hard to grasp as real. But he’s the real deal.
There was this one moment where halfway through, he picked up the mike still attached to a table stand, held it up to his chest and while standing at the table kept talking into it about systemic racism. It was kind of goofy-looking and totally endearing. I was like, “Man, I want this dork to be my President so bad.”
Do you think Sanders came in already knowing a lot about the AAPI community already, or did he spend most of the meeting listening and learning?
Kristina: It was a pretty brief meeting. He mostly fielded our questions, which everyone came prepared with. I recorded this Periscope video while I was waiting for my flight back to Minneapolis, and you can tell I’m still coming down from the high/ riding off two hours of sleep. So this has a lot more details about what I can remember happening.
He talked at length about the history of voter suppression as evidence to systemic racism as it affects people of color in this country. When I watch Hillary talk about race at the debates, and knowing her history in the 90s, I feel like she’s just now learning the lingo to articulate it but I’m not convinced she totally gets it. I look forward to hearing more about how Bernie believes those dynamics specifically affect our very unique and diverse AAPI community. So much of the conversation in these debates has polarized the conversations on race to being just about black and white. And conversations about undocumented immigrants seem to be just about Mexicans when Asians make up 10% of the undocumented immigrants in this country.
I wasn’t under any illusion that any big sweeping policy change was going to be accomplished in this brief meeting. But, it was a start — a precedent to get Asian Americans and Arab Americans to the table speaking to the person who I hope will be the next president. Much of the way politicians campaign is about establishing how they will engage the public when elected. This meeting — and others Sanders has taken — make me hopeful that as president he will make a concerted and deliberate efforts to meet with us, to really take some time to see our communities, and to develop a deep understanding of the nuances of our politics.
You are standing right next to Sanders in the group photo from the meeting. What’s it really like to #FeelTheBern?
Kristina: Bernie initiated — and not in a gross old man way — putting his hand on my back for the photo. It was firm, warm, and comforting and TOTALLY UNREAL. I babbled some compliment to him about how much I enjoyed playing Burlington, VT last year. I have no idea what I said. I was dumbstruck, starstruck, and nervous.
And yoooooo: his 74-year-old hand was HOT. Like no joke, it was like a hot water pad was placed on my lower back. I haven’t washed my sweater yet because I want to take some DNA samples and see if I can make some political test tube babies.
And, my back was hot for another half hour after. This #FeelTheBern shit is real.