Twenty-seven-year-old Jessica Salans believed in Bernie Sanders. She believed in him so much she worked as a campaign organizer at Glendale for Bernie out of the California Association of Nurses' offices. Each phone bank night, volunteers would take turns leading the group as they called voter after voter, discussed issues and policy, and encouraged people to register to vote. Most importantly, they took action for themselves and supported a candidate they believed in.
Sanders joined the presidential race as an insurgent candidate. As the longest office-holding independent in the Senate, he represented a new face within the Democratic Party who was of the people and for the people.
When Sanders lost the nomination, Salans and other supporters felt conflicting emotions. Buoyed by his campaign and his call to action, some decided to continue his revolution. Other supporters like Tim Bellomo from Moorpark felt abandoned, especially after Sanders encouraged his supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton in November and warned against voting third party. And finally, voters like Dan Dominguez felt hope for a future that seems brighter merely because Sanders made it as far as he did.
Now with the presidential election only 16 days away, some voters, especially millennials, have begun to look at other options like the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. As the largest voting faction this election season (holding 56 percent of eligible votes), millennials and other young voters hold the key to the presidency, but they are collectively voting against both the main candidates according to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University. An NBC News Poll reported that 44 percent of the millennial vote is for the third party candidates – either Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. And much of this slide in votes from the Democratic Party to third parties is taking place in swing states like Ohio.
If this slide continues, Clinton could possibly lose the election and the fear of the "wasted vote" would live on. This fear of a Trump presidency is driving a hurried effort to "capture" millennial votes. Mainstream media, Democratic politicians and average citizens are begging younger voters to stay away from the third party or the protest vote and to vote for Clinton, in order to prevent Trump at all cost.
These are just three American millennial voters out of about 75 million, whose frustration and disappointment with American politics have led them to use their votes to change its future – for better or for worse.
For young voters like Bellomo, Dominguez and Salans voting third party is the future and the only means of escaping the two-party system, which continues to ice out or silence candidates like Sanders.
Although these supporters had different reactions to Sanders' campaign and his following actions, they all recognize an inherent problem with the United States' two-party system. In response, past-Sanders supporters and younger voters alike are taking to the streets, voting third party or speaking out. This combined effort seeks to break the two-party system that continues to rule over American politics.
Bellomo, 32, works in information technology in the public safety department and first voted Democratic in the 2004 election. When the 2008 election rolled around, Bellomo enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama and waited for his promised hope and change.
Although Bellomo said that Obama has been an "OK" president, he wanted more.
This election, he saw something special in Sanders.
"Mainly it came down to policies. The policies that he proposed whether it has to do with health care, college or taxes, Bernie is actually a progressive. Hillary Clinton is basically just a Republican labeled Democrat," Bellomo said. "Sanders was a chance for us to swing the party back to the liberal populist agenda that we kind of started to form in the 60s."
With Sanders gone, Bellomo has been considering either not voting at all or voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein—who Salans will also be voting for come November.
Bellomo has felt "held hostage" by the Democratic Party, but this year, he said enough is enough.
"I won't be bullied by the DNC into voting for someone whose actions I despise. I'm tired of being taken for granted. The Democratic Party doesn't represent me and I owe them nothing," Bellomo said. "Every freaking four years, it's 'I know that we didn't do what we said we would do, but who is going to choose the Justices?' You know what? I'm done. I'm done. I can't take it anymore. I'm not going to base my votes on the Supreme Court."
"I can't vote for Trump for obvious reasons. And I can't vote for somebody who I feel has zero integrity. What do I do with my vote then? What could possibly be useful? Is there any value in me voting for somebody else?" he wondered. "If voting for one of those two people [Jill Stein or Gary Johnson] would send a message, I would try to say 'Listen, you don't hold a two-party lock on the American populace. If you put up crappy candidates, we're not going to vote for you.'"
For Bellomo, this election season remains a pessimistic time. As for the future of third parties, he isn't sure if he sees any possible change.
"I want to admit that short of a revolution or something extremely dramatic, I don't see change out of it. Admittedly there is a tiny, naïve part of me that says if Trump gets elected," he stated, "that would cause enough people to throw their hands up and say 'Jesus Christ, everybody! What have we done? We need a new system.'"
But Bellomo added that even this vision would maybe only happen in some kind of "crazy fantasy version of his presidency" and that he doesn't want Trump to win at all.
Feeling devalued by the Democratic Party and disgusted with this election, Bellomo dreams of a revolution that begins with the individual.
Although Dominguez, a 35-year-old television screenwriter from Palmdale, agreed with Bellomo's Sanders experience and distrust for the two-party system, he will be taking a different path toward change this November.
"For the first time, I actually felt what Obama campaigned on but didn't deliver, for me, which is I felt hope," said Dominguez.Like Bellomo, Dominguez has felt frustrated with the Democratic Party for years. His frustration also centered around the "modern version of the Democratic Party," which he situates as beginning in the late 1980s.
But Dominguez handled his disappointment with Sanders' loss and frustration with the Democratic Party differently.
Unlike Bellomo, Dominguez will be voting for Clinton this November, but only out of fear, not support.To explain his reasoning, Dominguez used superheroes and villains.
"Say you're He-Man and you have to fight either Skeletor—which is Donald Trump—or someone that's like a pretty good person but just has a different view from you of how things should be," he said. "You don't really want either of them. It's easier to keep moving in the direction that we just keep moving in with someone like Clinton, who I disagree with, than Trump."
Dominguez admitted that if this were any other election season, he would look into voting for a third party candidate, specifically someone like Jill Stein. But right now, it is about survival above all else.
Although he does not believe that someone can waste their vote nor does he look down on his friends who are voting third party this election, he said that the need to ensure that Trump does not gain office is imperative to America's survival.
Yet even while voting for Clinton, Dominguez remains hopeful. The success of Sanders early in the race continues to reinforce his hope for the future and his vision that slowly millennials will eliminate the two-party system. "I think it's very clear that the generation who is in power now in terms of the citizenry and who will have power on a political level that they believe very deeply in the rights of human beings to be who they are," he clarified.
Bay Area native, Salans voiced similar frustrations with the Democratic Party's lack of action on certain issues, and this frustration led her to Sanders as well.
"There was one debate. I think the first one because O'Malley was still in at that point, and they asked what was the greatest national security threat. And Bernie said climate change," Salans said. "When he said that, I was like that's it."
This moment for Salans has led her far beyond the path of Bellomo, Dominguez or the average voter. After researching about political issues and volunteering for Sanders' campaign, Salans plans to run for Los Angeles City Council for District 13 and hopes to win the primary in March 2017.
Salans said her decision to become involved came after the Associated Press announced Clinton's victory in June.
"I couldn't go back to sleep," said Salans. "I feel like when I moved to LA I wanted to sustain my life off of art, and over the course of last year, I deconstructed what money means for myself and what it means to survive in this world. Bernie really put me on a path where activism is where I will sustain my life and that is where I will do most of my work."
At first, Salans looked into Brand New Congress, an organization that is working to elect a new Congress in 2018. The group plans to hack the two-party system by running progressives in both the Democrat and Republican parties. But like Dominguez and Bellomo, Salans quickly realized her own inherent distrust of both parties, especially the Democratic Party, would prevent her from working within it.
"I want big money out of politics," she clarified. "That's one of the main points of Bernie's campaign and what I believe in. And so, I looked to who was representing the district that I live in."
Her current district representative is Mitch O'Farrell. What really struck Salans was how O'Farrell talked about homelessness. On his website, she found that he focused on beautifying the streets, instead of the inherent rights of human beings.
After reading about O'Farrell's views on homelessness, Salans was ready to act. She went and filed for the election and has now begun developing her campaign as a megaphone for the voices in her community.
Even after Sanders lost, Salans remains extremely hopeful like Dominguez. While working toward City Council office, she is also participating in a movement to build a new third party by 2020, which can nominate a candidate to challenge the future president. Salans and her associates believe that to break the two-party system they must go big.
She may be taking the first steps at the local level, but her goal is to elect a third party candidate in 2020.
Sanders' insurgent campaign continues to inspire her and serves as an example of how the power of the people can be harnessed and used for change.
"For me, that means I don't have to base my choices off fear of working within a two-party system that I don't believe in. I can vote my moral consciousness," Salans said. "If I live in Ohio, I'm not sure. I probably would still vote Jill Stein because I'm really frustrated with this system when we are given the idea of choice when in fact we don't have choice."
While Dominguez emphasized survival overall all else, Salans pointed to a recent novel she read—Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
"[In the book] there is this traveling group called the Traveling Symphony. And on their caravan it says, 'Survival is insufficient,' which is a quote from 'Star Trek,'" Salans said. "But that got me really thinking about what money is and what is important in life and what survival means. So once you are surviving and choose to live, what then? What is the point of life?"
While other voters may see this election as a death match or the two-party system as indomitable, Salans sees her actions toward a future outside of the two-party system as more than merely surviving.
"The world can be in chaos," said Salans, "but I don't have to be."
Reach Staff Reporter Catherine Clark here.