On April 19, New York will hold what is arguably the state's most important primary in recent memory. Coming late as it does in the electoral schedule, rarely does New York play a decisive role. However, not only are candidates still battling it out for their parties' nominations, but the Democratic presidential candidates each have a New York connection. Hillary Clinton was the state's senator for close to a decade, and Bernie Sanders was born and raised in New York City. Candidates held events all over the state, and their loyal supporters rallied to spread the word about their favorite hopefuls. At a Syracuse for Sanders event on April 9, more than 200 people gathered in the downtown area in below-freezing temperatures to march around the city chanting and singing about him.
One of the popular chants at the event was about the meaning of democracy. "Show us what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" supporters yelled as they marched along the empty sidewalks, making their way toward their final stop at City Hall. The supporters I saw in the crowd ranged from three years old to 80, so I was curious: What exactly does democracy look like to the diverse group of Sanders supporters?
Here's what 10 people had to say about what democracy looks like to them, and whether or not they will vote in November if Sanders isn't the Democratic nominee.
Shelley Lamacchia, 38, Nurse
"It means that everybody is a part of the election," Lamacchia (pictured above with her kids) tells me when I ask her what democracy looks like to her. "Democracy to me looks like everybody being able to vote, and corporate money not being involved in the vote, and a vote by the people and for the people."
While she's not Bernie-or-Bust exactly, she doesn't see herself voting for Clinton. "I would definitely not vote for Clinton in the main election," she says. "I would really have to see who the options are. But there are a lot of people out there who believe that they would probably write Bernie in, and I think I would do that too."
Maurice Brown, 23, Standup Comedian And Student
"Democracy is a lot of people getting involved in the political process," Brown tells me. "For too long, politics has been seen as like a niche in society ... But Bernie’s campaign, he has a campaign that wants to get everybody involved. He’s one of the few candidates that has reached out to Native Americans and African Americans and everybody, because we’re a society of everybody and this is America. That’s what democracy is: Getting everybody involved, hearing every voice, and making sure everyone has a say in the political process. I love that. It’s beautiful."
Brown was warmer to the idea of voting for Clinton than Lamacchia, but he wasn't nearly as enthusiastic as he was for Sanders. "I don’t know if me and a lot of people will work as hard for [Clinton], just because her message is slightly different," he says. "[Clinton’s message] is better than most, I’ll admit that, but Bernie’s message is a unique one in that it’s the best message for the nation right now. He’s the president we need, but I don’t know if he’s the one we deserve."
Phil Bossert, 30, Construction Worker
When I ask Bossert what democracy looks like to him, he tells me it's "People being able to voice their opinions in the political process and being heard while doing that." And if Sanders doesn't make it onto the ticket in November, he's got an alternative: "I’d be voting for Jill Stein [the Green Party candidate]."
Naomi Flores, 23, Student
Flores describes what she would envision as a Sanders-specific democracy: "Under Sanders, I imagine democracy as something that people are excited about. I imagine a future where people are excited about elections and wanting to be involved in their community, just because right now, people are really sad. They feel defeated by the system, and that’s not something that harbors any sort of positive changes. People feel oppressed and depressed."
As much as Flores is feeling the Bern, she says she would support Clinton if she got the nomination. "I definitely would go out and vote, and I would vote for Hillary because the other options aren’t anything I could stand by."
Michelle Mark, 47, Web Developer
"We have to be out and actively telling them they have to represent us," Mark tells me when I ask what democracy looks like. "We have to get money out of our politics. We have to publicly fund our elections again so that the voice of the people can be heard. Because when our representatives are not beholden to us, they’re selling us out to corporate entities, and that’s going to destroy our middle class and the future of our country."
Mark also makes it very clear to me that she will not be voting for Clinton in November, even if she gets the party's nomination. "I will not vote for Hillary Clinton ever, period. I don’t care why, I won’t. I know what she will do. If she’s in office, I know exactly what that will bring. I will not knowingly vote for that."
Ann Tiffany, 80, Former Nurse
When I ask Tiffany to tell me what democracy looks like to her, she says it's "when the citizens stand up, take responsibility for the situation whether it’s medical or college education or economic equality, all those issues that people are feeling really let down by in terms of our government today." She adds, "I think that Bernie’s the best chance we have. I trust his judgement, and I think that he would be a very good president."
And if Sanders doesn't get the nomination, the Democrats have lost her vote. "I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton, so I would vote for Jill Stein, who would be the Green candidate."
Joshua Roberts, 24, Coffee Shop Barista
"Democracy looks like the people actually having a voice in what happens in politics," Roberts tells me. "Right now, what happens is, like, all the corporations and large businesses can hire lobbyists to basically pay off politicians. They give them campaign contributions, and if you’re a businessman and you invest money in something, aren’t you expecting a return on your investment? They’re not going to throw money out the window; they didn’t become big businesses by doing that. Saying that it doesn’t affect your policy decisions is, I think, complete garbage and a lie."
Roberts says he would vote for Clinton if she beat Bernie for the nomination, but reluctantly so. "If it’s Clinton, I guess I would have to vote for her. Once again, it becomes a ‘lesser of the two evils’ thing, which has been happening for like the past 40 years. So yeah, I guess I would have to, but she’s not my first choice."
Mike Rivezzo, 34, Bank Auditor
When I ask Rivezzo what democracy looks like to him, he tells me: "Democracy is when the government works for all of us and not just the select few, and that’s identical to what Bernie has always said, and that’s what I believe is real democracy." While he's not Bernie-or-Bust, Rivezzo says, "I would vote, but I wouldn’t vote for [Clinton]."
Joseph Norton, 23, Works At A Vegan Restaurant
"Democracy looks like honesty and complete transparency," Norton tells me. "Everything government-wise should be run by the people, because it is for the people. It’s not to make any politicians money, to get more money for the campaigns." Norton seems to be in the Bernie-or-Bust camp. "I will not vote for Hillary Clinton. If it’s not Bernie, then it’s no one," he tells me.
Brandon Mark Sternburg, 34, Unemployed
When I ask Sternburg what democracy looks like to him, he tells me, "Democracy looks like getting our politics to start working for the people. It’s not about making sure that everyone who’s paying our way can have the cushiest time possible. It’s all about just getting everybody together and start making it so this is a country that we can be really proud of." He adds that, "I think if anybody can get things done, Bernie can get things done."
Sternburg says he'll still vote — and vote for a Democrat — even if Sanders doesn't get the nomination. However, he says he's concerned that his fellow Bernie supporters won't follow through and vote if the Vermont senator doesn't get the nomination. "I am still going to vote. I always vote," he says. "One of the great things about Bernie is that he’s getting people to vote and I’m genuinely worried that if Hillary gets in, all these people who became engaged are just going to drop out. I will vote for Hillary if she comes in, but I’m going to do it with a grain of salt."
Images: Alexi McCammond