Maxime Brulein (45) is a Belgian filmmaker from Menen (West Flanders), who has been living and working in California for the last 18 years. He started UCLA Filmschool when Bill Clinton was still in office; married his American husband when George Bush Jr was president; and produced his 13th short-film when Obama was in the White House. He lives with his husband Mark in Sherman Oaks, where they run a small film production company called Two M Films.
“I haven’t noticed a single sign in our whole neighborhood.” My husband Mark and I are walking to our local breakfast restaurant in Sherman Oaks, one of the many suburbs of Los Angeles.
“Seriously, where are the signs people usually put up showing their support for one candidate or another? Don’t they have those anymore?” I’ve been in the US for over 18 years now and have gone through four presidential elections. This year will be my fifth and it is way different than all the other ones.
Are people being secretive?
For one, no one seems to put up signs in their frontyard. Hardly anyone has a sticker on their car saying ‘I’m With Her’ (Hillary’s camp) or ‘Making America Great Again’ (Trump’s camp). Is it still too early? Are both candidates really that unpopular or are people in Los Angeles just being very secretive about who they’ll be voting for this year?
Unlike Belgium, where every single available free wall is covered with official election posters from one party or another, here in California, as in the rest of the US, the only signs or posters are those that supporters will put up themselves, voluntarily and on their own walls.
"Hillary e-mailed me again"
“Hillary e-mailed me again.” My husband Mark is looking at his phone. He has been telling me that same phrase almost every day now for the last couple of months. Ever since he donated money to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, he has been receiving daily updates from ‘her’. But this time, it’s different.
“She wants me to work for her.”, Mark continues. “Excuse me?” I can’t decide whether he’s joking or being serious. “Yes, they’re looking for lawyers to be present during the counting process on election day. They want to make sure everything is being done within the law. I think I’m going to do it!”
Did Charles Michel get help from super fans?
That seems to be the other big difference with a Belgian election. Election campaigns here are being sponsored by money donations from supporters, while a lot of people will also donate their time and energy by volunteering to work on the campaigns.
Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I’ve been out of Belgium too long, but as far as I can remember, volunteering to work for free on an election campaign doesn’t even exist in Belgium. I mean, did Charles Michel get to be Prime Minister with the help of some of his superfans?
“Go for it! Work for her!” I tell Mark, already envisioning myself having coffee with the Clintons at the White House, accompanying Mark during his own presidential campaign and becoming the First Husband of the first openly gay president. But my dream is quickly crushed when I realize that Mark can never become president of the United States. Although he is American, he wasn’t born in the US, which automatically makes him illegible to run for president.
And me, not being American yet, can’t even officially donate money to any campaign as they are not allowed to receive money from foreigners. Sorry Hillary.
"I don't like any of the choices given to me"
Most of our friends in Los Angeles are Democrats, just like the biggest portion of voters in California, which is known as a blue state, in other words a Democratic state. But unlike the previous elections I’m wondering if most of these Californians will actually go vote. Some of them were fervent Bernie Saunders fans and with him out of the race, many of them are even considering not voting at all.
“I don’t like any of the choices given to me”, says my former colleague Sonia. “I’m a Democrat, so I’m certainly not going to vote for that clown Trump. But I don’t like Hillary at all, so why would I vote for her?”
I’ve heard this statement many times over the last few months. Many
voters in California, and I’m sure in the rest of the US, aren’t happy anymore with just getting two options.
Proving a point
The thing is, there are actually other, independent candidates on the list, but ask anyone who Green Party, independent candidate Jill Stein is for example, and all you will get is a blank stare.
What’s also happening this time around is that some voters are threatening to vote for the opposite candidate, just to prove a point. And if a former Republican president like George Bush Sr. says he’s not going to vote for Trump but for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, that’s saying a lot!
Off to a viewing-party!
“I’m sticking with Hillary.” says my friend Connie, who we are meeting for breakfast. “I’m going to a viewing-party for the debate.” Viewing-parties are a popular thing in the US and have been around for years.
People have viewing-parties for the Super Bowl, the Oscars or when there’s a season finale for some popular TV-show. “We are all going to wear our ‘I’m With Her’-T-shirt,” Connie continues, “and each time Donald Trump says something stupid, like calling Belgium a city, we’re going to put a dollar in a donation-box. I think it there will be thousands of dollars in there by the end of the night!”
Walking back to our car we see two stands, side by side. One is from the Smear Campaign people, a group who is pushing people to use plastic bags to clean the poop from their dogs. But in a very funny way. The group has made it a tradition to create special bags during the presidential elections. This year the blue bag has Hillary’s face on it and says ‘Democrap’, while the red one has Donald Trump on it and says ‘Repooplican’.
"Let's get a front-yard sign!"
The next stand is to our great surprise a Hillary Clinton stand, where a group of retired people are selling buttons, hats and other ‘souvenirs’ to support her campaign. And they have front yard signs!
“Lets get one,” says Mark, “at least somebody in our neighborhood should show who they are supporting.” And so, about an hour later, a beautiful Vote For Hillary sign, graces our front yard. Let's hope it pushes our neighbors to do the same.
An hour later, our brand-new sign graces our very dry front yard. I hope it doesn’t get destroyed by some anti-Hillary-supporters in the next few week, or worse, melt in the hellish heat Sherman Oaks is experiencing right now. I can’t wait for November, when temperatures will be much nicer and when we hopefully will have our first female president of the United States.