The No. 2 Bus is the route in Seattle that slices right through the city’s heart. Flying over the high hills of Queen Anne, winding through the tight one-way streets of the city center and crawling next to the thriving bike paths.
This route is unique not only because of the diverse terrain it covers but because of the people who consistently ride it. You experience every sect of humanity — the wealthy tech bros coming from their million-dollar mansions on Queen Anne, the unhoused trying to find some warmth on cold days, businessmen early in the morning on the way to the market opening, single moms headed to work in the city center and everyone in between.
I think about this route a lot when discussing my grandma, Moo, and when thinking about what it means to be part of a democracy.
Moo spent most of her career running hospice care for folks living and dying with AIDs, politically organizing (even running the first campaign of our former mayor) and protesting the lack of medical care offered to marginalized communities.
Moo has told me since I was little that the best leaders she’s ever met are those who consistently ride the No. 2 bus — that if you want to truly know democracy, it requires less rendezvous with Aristotle and more with your next-door neighbor. The No. 2 bus is one of the few places in the city where everyone is able to interact with everyone.
Moments of democracy and citizenship. While fulfilling the duties of a citizenry, I’ve felt jaded at times, seeming to go through the motions of the processes without the motions themselves seeming to have merit. Voting for the first time, signing up for the draft and being called for jury duty — all actions of being a citizen, but each one never feeling fully satisfying on its own.
My first authentic rendezvous with democracy was in August of 2021. Sitting in the backyard of St. Paul Bethel Baptist Church in South Bend, Indiana, on a warm and friendly summer day with organizers from Faith in Indiana discussing plans for the upcoming year.
The pastor sitting on a swing set. Small metal chairs squeak with every movement. Small, manicured lawn. Our faces still hidden under masks.
One of the lead organizers’ voices rings in my head as she says, “I talk to people who tell me they’re not interested in politics, that they exist above the fray. Politics is about who gets resources and who suffers. There is no way to exist outside of it.”
An understanding of politics as decisions between who suffers and who gets fed makes it easier to reconcile differences. On this cool summer day, I found myself sitting between a Mormon and a Quaker talking about racial justice in South Bend. The connecting of people from multiple creeds and codes, discussing what our dream is for life together. A winding street of the brotherhood we all share in.
A few weeks ago, I was riding back to campus late at night on the South Shore Line. Currently, part of the tracks is broken and requires a bus for the middle section to Gary, Indiana. I was last off the train getting on the bus, and there was one seat left — at a table with two other people. I sat down a little drowsy and ready to crash as soon as I got home.
I accidentally stumbled into a conversation with the pair of Hoosiers — Andrea and Paul (names changed for privacy). Andrea, a nurse, was surprised with a trip to Chicago by her son.
They had spent the day scootering around the lake, visiting Boystown, eating deep-dish pizza and enjoying the big city atmosphere. Paul, a contract driver, obviously loved his mom more than anything in the world and could not stop talking, in the most endearing way, about all of the ways she had changed his life.
We got on the topic of South Bend and what their thoughts were on the midterms. Their three biggest issues for their votes were crime, homelessness and the economy.
Andrea talked about the ways she had seen the really scary downwind effects of people messed up by addiction, and she saw homelessness both as a problem of public safety and of human dignity. But it’s impossible to ignore the way their issues of choice melded so neatly onto national Republican agendas being spread.
In some ways, the reason these topics had become such prevalent issues before the election is because of the nearly 10 billion dollars spent on the midterm campaigns. With Republicans focusing 32% of their ads on public safety, 32% on inflation and 18% on immigration.
However, it’s also Democrats attempting to spoon-feed issues to voters instead of listening to their concerns first. Three quarters of voters said violent crime was a major issue for them in voting. The majority of voters cited the economy as the top issue.
And many of the voters just didn’t trust Democrats on those issues because they didn’t contest their narratives on them. According to a recent poll, voters trusted Republicans to do a better job handling the economy by 39 percent to 29 percent. They did not contest economic narratives that did push for their policies and that would provide more freedom and choices for working class Americans than Republican plans would.
These tensions remind me a lot of my grandmother, Moo. My neighborhoods in Seattle are more divided than ever from the downwind effects of redlining (political policies in the early 20th century that restricted neighborhoods and real estate to limit where people of color were able to buy houses) and generational wealth.
Church is still one of the most “divided hours in America” — schools, places of work and social clubs are all segregated, too. These spaces we hold as sacred spaces of interaction are often divided across race, class, socioeconomic status, gender, faith, etc.
The No. 2 bus is a place where people are in community with one another. Obviously, everyone doesn’t need to literally ride the No. 2 bus in Seattle, but if we actually desire a functioning democracy, we need to figure out ways to systemically build the No. 2 bus into our ways of life. If we want to be individuals actually engaged with the world, we need to meet the world in our backyard barbecues and coffee meetings.
Democrats are increasingly the party of college-educated coastal elites. The people who staff Democratic campaigns, offices and policy shops are even more coastal, affluent and elite. They don’t have a good finger on the pulse of where people are standing, often overestimating the levels of progressiveness of Black and Latine voters.
Even if their economic agenda and social agenda are better for the liberation and advancement projects of people, their messaging and choice of issues show a removedness from everyday life. Coming from someone in a wealthy and high-powered educational institution, it doesn’t take a lot to figure out that people are suffering and the messaging isn’t connecting.
Democrats tried to tell voters to care about abortion and an elusive “saving of democracy,” which are important, but they didn’t listen to the issues voters said they cared about most. Democrats just didn’t know how to meet people where they were at and didn’t even attempt to persuade voters that they know how to best deal with the issues most pressing to them.
Democracy involves disagreement — the counteracting and discussing of views to come up with some sort of solution. It’s not the 10 minutes we spent filling in bubbles on our ballots, but the years of talking back and forth in a jambalaya of ideas.
Over the next two years, we should look towards the No. 2 bus to save democracy and should spend more time in community with each other — and less time theorizing about the best ways to trick each other. It’s time to get into the arena.
Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, peace studies, philosophy and gender studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS wants to chat and can be reached at @danesherm on twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.