On a recent Friday night, at around 8:15 p.m., I was exiting the freeway into the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles when I pulled up behind the car in the photo above. It’s a vision I’ve been thinking about ever since. What exactly is happening here?
The driver of the black SUV has clearly been Going Through It when it comes to the 2020 election (relatable!), but the journey they’re on has a very particular kind of chaotic energy.
Here’s what we can conclude with some amount of certainty with the information at hand: this person supported Elizabeth Warren initially (yes, that is a Warren sticker, NOT a tribute to WAP), but at some point, things took a dramatic turn—in divergent directions? The photo is blurry, I know, but if you zoom in, you can see that the bumper stickers for Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker are sitting off-center and askew, but clearly side by side. Neither is on top of the other, or taking up significantly more real estate on the Warren sticker. What on earth does it all mean? Were they placed at the same time? Is one meant to symbolically overshadow the other, thus reflecting the owners’ true allegiance? Is the entire, aesthetically upsetting triptych meant to say something larger about the Democratic Party or even the system as a whole? A statement, perhaps, on the jumbled nature of our electoral process? Is this person a Cancer? The possibilities are endless.
There’s no way to know for certain, though rest assured, I did momentarily consider trying to track the driver down via their license plate before my better judgment returned. For what it’s worth, Booker ended his campaign on January 13, Warren ended her campaign on March 5, and Sanders ended his campaign on April 8, so this probably isn’t a case of falling back on second choices when Warren dropped out. No, this is someone who’s searching for something to believe in, and putting the entire journey on display (bumper stickers are pretty difficult to remove, right?). And while the Booker one throws me for a bit of a loop on a few levels, I do feel some amount of respect for this Dem, because through the utter hell of this election cycle and well, everything else, they never lost enough of their will to put demonstrative support or bumper sticker money behind Joe Biden. Which brings me to the second leg of my own bumper sticker journey…
As the Warren/Booker/Sanders adhesive display bounced around in my mind over several weeks, other observations and questions rose like cheese curds to the surface of my curdled brain. Having just recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, I feel particularly attuned to the car culture I’d previously been excused from. I now take endless photos of vanity license plates, make mental notes on decals and custom paint jobs. I even take photos of bumper stickers, like this pair from back in February, when things were very different in every way:
And lo these many months, you know what I haven’t seen? A Joe Biden bumper sticker.
When this thought first occurred to me, I assumed that in all likelihood, I probably had in fact seen one without actually registering it. And so I started to look around. Days went by. I saw Sanders, Warren, Bloomberg (lmao), Yang (lmaoooo), and even one for Mayor Pete. I clocked one after another, but could not for the life of me track down anyone who was Ridin’ With Biden. Admittedly, I live in a bit of a political bubble in LA—a blue county in a blue state—so I decided that perhaps I needed to cast my net a little wider. I tasked friends and family across the country with keeping an eye out for Biden bumper stickers for one week. I had eyes stationed up and down the west coast, throughout the Midwest, Texas, Tennessee, and the Eastern Seaboard.
Reports trickled in. No Biden stickers, they said, but did I want photos of Trump signs or Black Lives Matter signs? I continued to roam Los Angeles. I found Bernie after Bernie sticker, but still no Biden. As the days went by, evidence mounted, illustrating what we all already know: No one feels anything about Joe Biden.
This isn’t exactly news. During the entire run of his campaign, we’ve seen stories about how voters don’t know what Biden stands for, have stronger associations with his relationship to Obama and his personal tragedies than with his policies, and have supported him simply on the grounds of electability. There’s been an “enthusiasm gap,” trouble reaching young voters, and for progressives, it’s now a matter of “hold your nose and vote.” Polling suggests that people don’t even dislike Biden—he is a candidate who inspires nothing, not even ire.
This, it could be argued, is somewhat by design. Biden seems to have made it a strategy to do the bare minimum and coast on the idea that for many voters, anyone is better than Trump. Truly a man of the party. To Biden’s credit, it seems to be working, and a lack of enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily mean a lack in turnout come November 3. But what does it say about the Democratic Party that among the candidates who engendered the kind of passion that would compel people to emblazon their vehicles in support, none are the nominee? That too seems by design. While people publicly pledge their allegiance to Trump, support Black Lives Matter, and even confoundingly rep Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker all at the same time, the Democratic Party seems content with standing for less and less, and they’ve found the perfect person to embody that in their most prominent role. I even saw a simple “Vote Blue” bumper sticker during my quest, which come to think of it, is probably as close to a Biden one as I’ll get for now.
Granted, you have to be a certain type of person to want to put a political bumper sticker on your car in the first place, and then you have to then do a certain amount of work to actually make it happen. As my colleague Jack Mirkinson told me: “I am someone with strong political views who would never ever ever put a sign in the window.” Fair and same—there’s a barrier to entry that has to be acknowledged here. But among the people who do fit the brief, none of them are pulling out their wallets for Joe.
That could be changing now that he’s picked Kamala Harris as his running mate. Late last month, House Majority Whip James Clyburn told MSNBC that Biden “needs a running mate with a lot of passion to connect to voters.” For Harris’ many, many, problems (and boy does she have them!), she does inspire something in voters, which is why it only took about 10 minutes after the announcement yesterday for the online discourse to become absolutely unbearable. I logged off somewhere between here and here and here. Harris’ own bid for the presidency may have crashed and burned, but it’s clear the Biden campaign thinks that she has what he needs to light a tepid-to-moderate fire in voters and defeat Donald Trump. And who knows, maybe they’ll sell some bumper stickers along the way.
On the last day of my citizen scientist trial run, I started to fear that my search had not been rigorous enough. I checked in with my street team across the country: still no Biden bumper stickers, though I did get reports of a few yard signs in Michigan. I searched Twitter (where I got owned), and then I went to the one place I could think of where there would surely be a solid amount of data on the outward political allegiances of the left: Trader Joe’s. Once there, I surveyed the parking lot: One Bernie sticker, a UCLA sticker, a hiking sticker (classic), a “Be Happy” sticker, a “Fight Mouthwash, Eat Garlic” sticker (okay!!), a pro-dog bumper sticker, and a sticker for the band The Muffs. Seriously, look at that list. If there was a vocal Joe Biden supporter in California, that person would have BEEN THERE. Alas, I walked away with a pint of strawberry oat milk ice cream, and a newfound sense that I had done my due diligence.
In the last few hours of my hunt, I got a text from a friend in Chicago: “Took a walk around the neighborhood today and this is the only bumper sticker we saw.”
I rest my case.