American Voter: Kathy Byrnes

Al Jazeera asks the same key questions about the presidential election to voters across the United States.

American Voter: Kathy Byrnes
Kathy Byrnes's top election issue is climate change [Courtesy of Kathy Byrnes]

US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are battling for the presidency in a sharply divided United States.

Trump has been focusing on “law and order”, Biden has been trying to strike a conciliatory note. The Black Lives Matter movement, and whether Trump will release his taxes are among the many issues Americans will consider when choosing their president.

As the hotly contested election approaches, Al Jazeera has been speaking to voters across the US asking nine questions to understand who they are supporting and why.

American Voter: Kathy Byrnes
American Voter: Kathy Byrnes [Courtesy of Kathy Byrnes]

Age: 58
Occupation: Urban Farmer
Residence: Polk County, Iowa
Voted in 2016: Hillary Clinton
Will vote in 2020: Joe Biden
Top election issue: Climate Change

Will you vote? Why or why not?

“Yes, voting is our most sacred duty in a democracy. I first voted on November 4th, 1980 for Jimmy Carter. He lost to Ronald Reagan, but I’ve voted every year since then.”

What is your number one issue?

“Well, there’s a lot to be concerned about. To me, Climate is the most important issue that we need to face. It’s a crisis. And if we don’t get it right, there’s not a lot else that we can get right. So I mentioned that I voted for Jimmy Carter and I grew up in the late 1970s during the energy crisis. I learned  from my Republican dad and my Democrat mom to conserve energy and love nature. It was just really a good upbringing to understand that we have this Earth, one Earth. It’s our home, and we need to protect it.

“So now, as an older adult, I see the Earth is on fire, flooded, drought-stricken, more so than any other time that people have seen for hundreds of years. And it’s not cyclical, it’s progressive. Humans are doing that to the Earth. I’ve got three kids and three grandkids. Their future is everything to me, and it’s not just because it’s my kids and my grandkids – it’s other human beings. And it’s not just to save the United States, it’s for the world. It’s not a tree-hugger thing at all. When we implement policies that tackle the climate crisis, we will also create new and better jobs. We will create new and better ways to get from one place to the other. We’ll have a chance at some better healthcare. We’ll have some overall peace and justice accomplishments. And that’s the number one issue.

“I also had a very personal issue that drove me to care a lot more about the Earth. I lived on an acre of land that was threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. First I studied what it was and what pipelines were about because I really didn’t know much about our energy infrastructure. And the more I learned, the worse it sounded. And I stood up to that. I took an arrest for that – standing to protect some waterways in Iowa. I met a lot of good people, worked with a lot of great allies and landowners like myself, Indigenous communities, and people of every age, race, ethnicity. We didn’t defeat that pipeline, but we delayed it, which was great. And now we’re working to try to prevent them from doubling the flow of oil in that pipeline.”

Who will you vote for?

“I’m voting for Joe Biden.”


Is there a main reason you chose your candidate?

“I didn’t really choose him. The party chose for me. I will vote for Biden enthusiastically in the situation that we’re in right now. Last year, with the group Bold Iowa that Ed Fallon directs, we and hundreds of other people across Iowa vetted candidates and encouraged candidates on the climate issue. All of the pre-caucus season I probably attended over 100 campaign events and rallies, personally talked to every candidate, toured some of them around our home and urban farm to help them see what a personal investment we’re making to address the climate crisis.

“Originally, Tom Steyer was the number one candidate on climate and also with a solid background to implement programmes, to have that drive on some of the other important issues that I mentioned, jobs, health, transportation, et cetera. So I did caucus for him originally. In Iowa, caucuses are a different kind of animal than anywhere else. So I stood in the camp of Tom Steyer, but his camp wasn’t viable. So I moved to the Elizabeth Warren camp. She did not start with a firm grasp on the urgency of climate at the beginning of her campaign. But she got there and I felt she had the political wherewithal to get things done and to really drive that issue. So I was hoping to be able to vote for Warren, but I will enthusiastically vote for Biden. ”

Are you happy with the current state of the country?

“Well, I’m happy that more people are involved in the political process and more aware than ever before. I’m not happy with why that is happening. And that’s because they’re reacting to the negativity and the atrocities of the Trump administration. I have a sister, she’s the smartest cookie you’ll ever meet and she’s kind and loving, and she was never super vocal about politics. But now she has been so involved. She got involved with her community’s Democratic Party this last year. She came out of her shell. She spoke out in public and did things she has not really done before.

“My core belief really is that that people are good and love is powerful and we should always be prepared to be surprised by ourselves and others in very positive ways. And I’ve been pleased to see a lot of that happening. It’s really hard to respond to all the hatred out there with love. I haven’t succeeded, but I’m hoping that we can bring this country back. So I’m not happy with the state of the country right now, but I’m hopeful that we will become a country that we can be proud of again.”

What would you like to see change?

“Well, here’s an example. This is on a just a social level, and I think this stems from the leadership that we’re seeing in the Trump administration, or the lack of it. This morning, I looked on my Facebook and a woman, who was a very nice lady in the community that I lived in before moving to Des Moines, posted, she reposted some pictures from somebody else’s Facebook. It was a young man with several young people standing around him and the young man was standing on an American flag. The man’s ethnicity was unclear – I’m not sure if he was in the US or a different country, but it looked like it was intentionally a picture of somebody who looks like someone who others believe might not belong here. I’m going to read what the original message said, that people are just sharing without even thinking of it. It says ‘Anybody who knows this kid spread it across the internet, make sure his mom and dad and grandfathers and grandmothers see this. They raised a piece of crap. Let them know.’ And what I would like to see change is for people to not judge others instantly the way that I see them doing now, more than ever. I would like to see grown-ups act like grown-ups again.

“I would like to see people understand the context before they make a judgement that might have been probably was a fine young person. And he doesn’t need this image spread all across the internet being called a piece of crap. The way a presidential administration or president can help these things change is to, well, very simply, put people in charge of departments that belong there. Betsy DeVos in the Department of Education doesn’t make sense. I’m a former public school teacher. I taught high school for 14 years. She has no experience and or interest in helping the public school system continue to help create thinking, learning creative adults. She seems out to destroy the public school system.

“Scott Pruitt was head of the EPA. He’s since resigned, but someone who has ties to the oil industry is not a good choice. So selecting good leadership is something that definitely needs to change. I just want our leaders to be the kind of example that I want our children to follow. Even the adults in our community to follow.”

Do you think the election will change anything?

“This election will change everything. This election will decide the trajectory of our nation, whether we value freedom. And I know that conservatives think that that’s their word, but they are the ones who want to take freedoms away. Freedom of choice, freedom of thought, freedom of voice. We need to make sure that the United States remains a democracy.

“We need to make sure that the United States comes back to being a point of light in the world instead of a point of darkness and frankly, a joke. Everything could change based on who becomes president. If Biden becomes president, we stand a chance of making our country kind again. Well, really, no matter how the election goes, I’m concerned about how long it’s going to take to turn our populace back around to a point of kindness.”

What is your biggest concern for the US?

“I am concerned that what people think of as the greatness in America has to do with being big and strong and wealthy. And I grew up learning that being great means that you are kind. You are fair. You are healthy physically and emotionally. You are creative. That’s the kind of greatness that I want to restore to our country. I want to be proud of America again. I don’t think that’s unpatriotic to say. I think that’s the most patriotic thing I can say is that we have beautiful people in this country. We have beautiful land. We need to protect each other and protect our land, and protect our image around the globe.”

Is there anything we haven’t asked about the election that you would like to say?

“It’s so important that people vote. Especially women and people of colour, we underestimate the power that we have. And I wish that people would just take the time to learn and to grow and to vote for the best for most people instead of just for themselves.”


Source: Al Jazeera