Like hundreds of millions of Americans across the US, Maggie Gates’s life was virtually upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 22-year-old recent college graduate lives in Spokane, Washington, with four roommates – two of whom lost their jobs as businesses in the state were forced to shut to the public.
Despite having grown up in Colorado, Gates has lived in the community for nearly five years, and is an active member of several local social justice groups. Since the governor ordered Washingtonians to stay at home, Gates says she’s been experiencing a mix of feelings – both of hope and despair – about the global pandemic, as well as the 2020 presidential elections.
Gates and her roommates “all have student debt to pay off, so it’s definitely a scary time for people who don’t have savings – we’re trying to figure out our rent situation right now”, she tells The Independent.
“But it’s been sunny here, and I’ve had some time to sit on my porch. I really enjoy seeing people going on walks with their families … I’ve seen a lot of my neighbours talking to each other for the first time, so that’s been nice.”
Gates’s local utility company has stopped payments amid the unfolding crisis, while Spokane’s transit service offered free rides for people with jobs considered essential during the shutdown. All this, as Congress passes a historic, $2 trillion (£1.6 trillion) relief package that includes direct payments of nearly $1,200 (£960) to most Americans.
The federal government is rolling out free testing across the country for patients exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms, while promising additional forms of relief in the weeks and months to come, as analysts fear a potential long-term recession or even depression.
There’s something frustrating about the fact that it has taken all of this for much of the country to support bold action for the American people, according to Gates.
“Everyone turns into a progressive when there’s a crisis,” she says. “People become more compassionate suddenly, when they can look around and see how everything is screwed up. Our entire system is only serving wealthy people and corporations. It exposes the entire system for people who don’t typically think about it, or people who do, and have some sort of an awakening.”
Gates didn’t need an awakening, however: she was working on the front lines of climate action, housing rights and criminal justice reform long before 2020, serving as a hub coordinator for nonprofit environmental group the Sunrise Movement while also working for the Lands Council, a small environmental nonprofit, as an outreach coordinator. She also serves on the board of a local justice nonprofit that’s working to protect tenant rights in Spokane, which she notes is grappling with a housing crisis, and to prevent another jail from being built in the area.
And though it doesn’t seem as if she has much time to be following the 2020 elections, Gates says she’s been “obsessed” with paying attention to the campaign trail.
Earlier this year, Gates cast her ballot in the 2020 Democratic primaries for Bernie Sanders with “strong enthusiasm”.
This moment in history shows just how crucial it is to have someone like the progressive Vermont senator in the White House, she says.
“Ever since Covid-19 has really taken off, Bernie has been raising money for the effort, he’s been putting out his plans, every single day he’s doing something about it,” she says. “He is showing the type of leadership we need in a president.”
Meanwhile, she says former vice president Joe Biden has gone MIA in the midst of the pandemic.
“Biden is nowhere to be found. He’s had a couple interviews, but they haven’t been good,” she says. “He doesn’t seem to be taking a hard stance on what should happen. He’s just saying he’s better than Trump, which I don’t think he’s doing a good job of convincing people of.”
She adds: “If he wins, I think we’re looking at another four years of Trump, which is scary.”
Gates admits that it appears Sanders’s path to victory in the Democratic primaries has narrowed following the former vice president’s strong showings in a slate of recent votes.
She’s not sure other young progressives like her will vote for Biden come November if he secures the nomination.
“Myself and many other young people are feeling really disillusioned with the Democratic party as a whole,” she says. “They don’t represent the interests of regular working people, they’re not taking the actions necessary to address climate change … I definitely don’t consider myself a Democrat.”
While Gates says she “begrudgingly” voted for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016, she won’t be voting for the former vice president if he wins the nomination.
Asked what she thinks comes next for Sanders, Gates believes his “legacy will live on whether or not he wins this year”, though she “obviously hopes and has been putting in a lot of hours to hopefully make sure he does”.
“It’s an interesting moment to look around and see how Bernie and progressive coalitions have been able to bring these issues to the forefront,” she says.
“It also shows you that the whole argument about needing to be moderate and trying to meet in the middle is total bullsh**, because there are huge actions taking place right now that people have said are not possible,” she adds. “They point to the deficit, they come up with excuses and claim it isn’t possible, when it is. It just takes the political will to fight for people so they don’t get evicted and become homeless, so they get the medical care they need and don’t die.”
She concludes: “Bernie has that political will.”