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Opinion: Who Grand Rapidians are voting for in the Michigan presidential primary - and why

On March 8, voters across Michigan will head to the polls to cast their ballots in the state's presidential primary. Before next week's event, we wanted to check in with voters in Grand Rapids to find out what they're thinking about the candidates.

Before voters across Michigan head to the polls to cast their ballots in the state's presidential primary on March 8, Rapid Growth checks in with Grand Rapidians to find out what they're thinking about the candidates.
Ernest Richards is a professional brewer at Hopcat and a proud graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in Genomics and Molecular Genetics. He loves art, friendly beings of all varieties and Grand Rapids, the city he has called home for 18 years. He is supporting Bernie Sanders.

Ernest RichardsThis isn’t the America I grew up believing in anymore. Money is corrupting politics, people of color and the LGBTQ community are still fighting for equal rights, the rich are getting richer, the cost of getting an education is so high, and materialism is so rampant that debt is the new slavery. This isn’t the America that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of and died for or the America that I was taught to believe in in school, because that America — that America was a great nation for the people and by the people, “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I’ve been jaded towards politics for years. I’ve never donated to a political campaign in my life, and I’ve certainly never donated the most precious of all resources, time, to a political campaign. I hadn’t ever felt like it would make a difference or that it was worth doing. The system seemed rigged to work only for the wealthy and the best interests of corporations, but, as I see all of the things happening in our country today, I can’t help but feel like the mass disengagement of the American people from politics leaves us almost as guilty for the path of the country as those corrupting the system and taking advantage of it.

Corporations are spending billions annually on lobbying for policy that favors their interests: rising pharmaceutical prices, destroying the environment, pushing for endless wars and conflicts, and needlessly jailing our fellow citizens as a result of a failed war on drugs. The rigged economic system is disregarding the poor and needy, destroying the middle class and failing to protect the fairness and equality that should exist between our fellow citizens. This is not something that we can accept anymore. This is not the path to a sustainable future, and this is not how I envision America, the proclaimed greatest nation and leader of the free world.

I believe that the only person in the 2016 presidential race with an established track record of addressing the issues of income inequality, civil rights and corrupt campaign financing with enough fierceness to challenge the establishment and create results is Bernie Sanders. To this campaign I have willingly donated my money and devoted my time because I finally feel like there is a chance to rally against the system and to make this an America that I can believe in. I believe that through uniting people under the belief in collective action for the good of humanity, we will “make America great again.”

Through this movement I’ve seen people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations come together. The one common thread that I’ve seen amongst all of the supporters gravitating towards the Sanders movement is that we all have a strong belief in the potential of the power of good in people. We believe that a strong WE is the path to a better nation, and that when we work together we are stronger and better than when we work alone. These days there is too much division and contempt being sown amongst Americans by those on the other side of the aisle. Candidates like Donald Trump are pandering to the base level fears in humans to leverage their support. Other candidates will seemingly say anything they have to to garner popular support. Evidence of any truly humanist morals and principles is astonishingly scarce in the competition for the presidency. I see very little WE coming from every other candidate running to be the “leader of the free world.” They may espouse those values through their often empty rhetoric but very few have a proven history of unwaveringly fighting for that WE they may speak of over a span of decades like Sanders has.

In Sanders’ campaign I see something much different. He has an unquestionable history of honesty and integrity with unprecedented trust and approval ratings. The man has verifiably walked the walk on civil rights, marching with MLK Jr. and fighting to end housing segregation in Chicago. He has rallied against the rigged economic system as shown in his well publicized skewering of Alan Greenspan over low wages and lost jobs for the middle class. He has railed against the war machine as a vocal critic of the Iraq war and interventionist agendas abroad. Through this well-established track record of integrity and fighting for those whose voices are often ignored, he has inspired a deep sense of hope.

Supporters have worked long and hard with creativity and ingenuity, shattering fundraising records with a campaign funded by citizens, which refuses to take corporate donations and has outraised the competition. This has created enough momentum to propel the campaign from being barely a flitting gnat to being a bird of prey, threatening what was once seen as the inevitable coronation of either another Clinton or a Bush. He is inspiring people to engage the political system, to believe in the democratic process again, to bring about change from the roots and this has tremendous implications for the future of America and the rest of the world if this momentum can continue. Sanders is uniting people under the umbrella of humanity and creating a movement that can and will take the power back from the greedy and in doing so, he is restoring a voice to those that have been ignored for far too long.

Victoria Brewton is a 24-year-old Grand Rapids native. She attended Grand Rapids Christian High School and then left the area for four years to attend Valparaiso University in Indiana. She returned in the summer of 2013 and has been working in sales and marketing. She has always loved keeping up with current events and politics. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and catching up on her favorite podcasts. She is supporting Hillary Clinton.

Victoria BrewtonOver the past few weeks, I have been asked multiple times by Grand Rapidians why I’m supporting Hillary Clinton in this presidential campaign. Each time this happens, I do my best to explain a few key reasons why I’m With Her: One, immigration reform. Two, gun violence prevention. Three, criminal justice reform.
For me, immigration reform has always been a no-brainer. The United States of America is a land rich with opportunity that should be shared with those who have left unfortunate circumstances elsewhere, bravely escaping dangerous situations for the promise of a better life. Let’s remember that each and every individual has the potential to make a contribution to both our society and our economy, and they should be welcomed with open arms and a clear path to citizenship.  For what would the fabric of America be without immigrants?

Hillary has shown a long-standing commitment to immigrants in America throughout her life and career. By ending family detention, closing private immigration detention centers, expanding health care benefits to immigrant families and promoting naturalization, she will work to defend immigrants in this country. Hillary understands that immigrant families enrich our country, and as president, she intends to fight for them and make sure the system is fair and working.

There’s no denying the fact that the United States has a big problem with gun violence. We know that among the developed world, the level of gun violence in our society is a problem that is uniquely American. When a mass shooting occurs in this country, it seems that in the aftermath, we talk a whole lot about gun violence and how we are going to combat it. The reality is, though, simply talking about this issue is not going to stop these attacks. I refuse to accept the opposition’s narrative that having stricter gun laws won’t stop criminals from carrying out various heinous attacks. That suggests that the issue is more black and white than it actually is. While these stricter laws aren’t going to put an immediate halt to every mass shooting, or prevent each and every suicide, they can make a difference. By strengthening background checks, closing loopholes in our current system, holding irresponsible gun dealers and manufacturers accountable,  and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, violent criminals and the mentally ill, Hillary plans to combat our uniquely American gun problem head-on.

It would seem that, recently, many Americans have woken up to the problems of our broken criminal justice system. I must confess that I am among that awakened youth. Whether I’m listening to the Serial podcast during my work day or binge watching Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” series, or just watching the news of another injustice, I, like many Americans, have begun to question the fairness of the system. It’s time that we take a long, hard look at the flaws that are keeping so many from leading a productive life. Hillary is committed to tackling these systemic issues like reforming mandatory minimum sentencing that has been in place for far too long, encouraging smart policing to increase trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve and providing those who have been previously incarcerated with the tools they need to re-enter society in a successful manner. These are some of the proposals that Hillary has set in order to recalibrate our out-of-balance criminal justice system.These are attainable goals that I can feel proud to stand behind.

I’m supporting Hillary Clinton because she’s standing up for the issues that I believe in. She’s offering plans that are attainable. She has proven herself time and time again as a champion for the most vulnerable members of our society, and she will tackle these highly controversial issues that have become so relevant to America during this election season. But mostly, she offers a vision in which all Americans are allowed a fair shot at prosperity, and that is why I’m With Her.

Vote photos by Theresa Thompson and H2Woah!
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