Senator Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane O'Meara Sanders march with supports at the Independence Day Parade in Waukee, Iowa. (photo: Arun Chaudhary)
11 September 15
s the end of summer approaches, we find Bernie Sanders with the wind at his back building a political revolution that has the establishment starting to get nervous. We have Hillary Clinton attempting to stall her downward spiral by offering a public apology for conducting State Department business on her private email server. We also have Joe Biden gearing up to rescue the party from Bernie’s growing movement.
When I arrived in Iowa in February the story was “Will Elizabeth Warren run?”
Everyone thought she was the only one with a chance to challenge Hillary Clinton, the most prohibitive frontrunner in modern politics. Most progressives, including myself, loved Bernie Sanders but weren’t sure if he could overcome the “S-word.” That’s why so many of us held out for Elizabeth Warren, whom we thought was more electable.
Looking back, I still think Warren would have been a great candidate, but she doesn’t have the track record that “Bernie” has had in the progressive movement. She may be the rising progressive star, but she has a long way to go to match Bernie’s credentials.
Some are calling this the summer of discontent. Many point to Donald Trump and claim he is an anti-establishment candidate. Outsider? Trump is one of the people who own the establishment. The only anti-establishment candidate is Bernie Sanders.
Now we have a Democratic field that is for the most part trying to sound like Elizabeth Warren, except for Bernie. Bernie Sanders was fighting Wall Street and the banks long before Elizabeth Warren entered the political fray. It will be pretty hard for any of the Democratic candidates to out-progressive Bernie Sanders.
Hillary Clinton is sounding all the right themes, but when it comes down to specifics she tries to strike a balance for her corporate supporters. It is also hard for her to make the case that she will take on Wall Street while they pour money into her campaign coffers. The Clinton campaign recently promised The New York Times that “this fall the public would see the sides of Mrs. Clinton that are often obscured by the noise and distractions) of modern campaigning.” They said the rope lines would be gone, and she would take responsibility for the email crisis. They also promised there would be efforts to showcase Clinton’s “humor” and her “heart,” and “to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious.”
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s impossible to “try” to be more authentic. And how do you plan to be spontaneous? As if she were on script, she teared up the next day and learned a new dance on Ellen.
Martin O’Malley is the traditional liberal, savvy Democratic politician who reminds one of the old-school labor Democrats like Dick Gephardt. But the voters are seeing through the package: they see the teleprompter and can tell he is rehearsed.
It is that authenticity that O’Malley and Clinton will never have that will lead Bernie Sanders to victory. When you listen to Bernie, you can hear the passion. He believes in his soul that the billionaire class has rigged the economy and the political system.
When he says enough is enough, you believe him. You know he is not adapting to the latest poll numbers – he hasn’t even hired a pollster. That’s right, a presidential candidate without a pollster. The candidates with pollsters are talking about income inequality, student debt, climate change, etc. The country has finally caught up to Bernie Sanders. These have been his issues his whole career.
The other draw is that when Bernie says the campaign is not about him or any other candidate, you believe him. Bernie Sanders is not running a campaign against individual politicians. Bernie Sanders is running against a rigged political and economic system that the American people are fed up with. The pundits and the pollsters have not figured out why a self-described Democratic Socialist is drawing the biggest crowds and surging in the polls. Let’s take a closer look at why they don’t get it.
I have been an activist involved in many grassroots campaigns for over 25 years. I have heard the term grassroots thrown around every election. What many called grassroots were really top-down campaigns with grassroots rhetoric. We hear about the great grassroots campaign run by Barack Obama, but it was all rhetoric. Obama ran a great campaign, but it was a top-down campaign, and his organization continued to be top-down after the election. The Sanders campaign has both a top-down structure successfully running the official campaign and many separate grassroots operations working outside the campaign. It is a phenomenon that no other campaign has had. There have always been interest groups that organize specific communities, like Latinos for Hillary, or Labor for Obama, but they always answered to the official campaign. Those types of groups exist in the Sanders campaign as well, but there are also groups organizing independently from the campaign.
One of those groups, People for Bernie Sanders, was started by veteran Occupy organizers. They hold events around the country and coordinate with national conference calls every two weeks. The hashtag #feelthebern comes from this group’s substantial social media effort. What they bring to the table is a network of experienced organizers around the country who are organizing in communities that the campaign is not spending resources in yet.
Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) was the first group organizing for Bernie. Veterans of many political campaigns, PDA was the group that organized Ready for Bernie, the draft effort that pre-dated Ready for Warren. When the Wisconsin Democratic Party held a straw poll at its state convention, it was PDA that was on the ground organizing for Bernie. Their efforts led to a surprisingly close result, with Bernie getting 41% to Hillary’s 49%. It was one of the first signs that the Sanders campaign was connecting. That took place in June in the beginning of the Summer of the Bern. PDA is continuing its efforts. They even have an office in Phoenix. The group has strong connections in the Hollywood activist community, with Mimi Kennedy chairing the organization’s board and Tom Hayden as a board member.
These are just examples of some organized grassroots organizations that are organizing for Bernie. When you move to social media you will find an even more organic grassroots effort underway.
The Bernie Sanders social media phenomenon is just that, a phenomenon. You will see a lot of reports about how the campaign hired many from the Obama campaign’s social media team. It was money well spent – the campaign’s official Facebook and Twitter pages are thriving. When the campaign announces an event on its Facebook page and emails its supporters in that area, the RSVPs come pouring in. The campaign rarely spends resources promoting events; their online presence is all they need to draw huge crowds. But the official campaign presence is only part of the story.
There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Facebook pages for Bernie. There is a YouTube channel called Bernie2016tv that tries to live-stream all of his events. They also have live shows where they discuss the campaign and show videos produced by independent sources. The Reddit page is a traffic magnet. Every state has multiple pages giving anyone the opportunity to post their views and feel like a part of the campaign. There are different types of moderation: some pages with no moderation, some with dozens of moderators keeping the discussion focused.
I have liked many Bernie Facebook pages, so I receive constant notifications. Not a minute goes by without a message being posted to Facebook about Bernie Sanders.
I’m not very active on Twitter, but I hear the same is true about the Sanders Twitter presence. Just go on social media sites and search for Bernie Sanders, like a few pages, and see for yourself. You can post every now and then or jump in feet first and find yourself becoming active in the political revolution. It’s only a few clicks of the keyboard away.
There is even an effort for a March on Washington that has over 100,000 RSVPs. At this point the campaign itself is not involved, it’s a grassroots effort that is just getting organized. They have had a few conference calls and have reached out to the campaign. They realize that the campaign is focused on identifying supporters and getting them to the polls and will not spend money on a March on Washington, but the message they are getting from the campaign is build it and Bernie will come. The organizing will all be grassroots, but it’s likely that Bernie will be there if they organize it.
The old-school pundits are evaluating campaigns based on how many staff members and offices a campaign has. They see Bernie’s crowds, but they look at Hillary’s organization and think it’s too formidable for Bernie. They don’t understand the power of the grassroots movement and the social media explosion yet. They will start to believe soon, though. Remember that in October of 2007, Hillary Clinton led Barack Obama 50% to 21%. She has a smaller lead in the latest national polls.
Last week Bernie opened his 16th office in Ottumwa, Iowa. He is catching up organizationally. Hillary had the money to put staff on the ground first, but what she didn’t generate was the excitement for that staff to work with. With Bernie’s crowds come volunteers that they can turn loose. They admit they are still trying to catch up with the pace of the people’s response to the campaign. Their support is growing faster than they can staff up to handle the demand. It is a good problem! They have plenty of time to build their organization and turn out the voters that that the huge rallies are identifying.
Clinton and O’Malley with their Super PACs have more paid staff, but the grassroots energy is making up for the lack of staff, and in some ways has become more powerful than all of the organization built by Clinton and O’Malley. Bernie says he has money and will do many traditional things but he will also invest in the grassroots.
Following his latest swing through Iowa comes news that Bernie Sanders not only leads in New Hampshire, but also leads the latest poll in Iowa. The poll gave Sanders a 78 to 6 percent favorability rating. Likely Democratic Caucus-goers say 86 to 4 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, and 85 to 5 percent that he cares about their needs and problems. Voters say 76 to 9 percent that he has strong leadership qualities and 65 to 15 percent that he has the right temperament and personality to handle an international crisis, according to the poll by Quinnipiac University.
The poll’s director compared Sanders to Eugene McCarthy, saying it remains to be seen if he can seize the momentum and move forward to victory. I am sick of seeing the so-called experts tell us that Bernie is just another Howard Dean, or Bill Bradley, or even Gary Hart. How about another Barack Obama? They constantly point to Sanders’ weak numbers with minorities. There are five months to go before the first caucus. In 2007 Hillary Clinton had a firm grip on the African American vote until Barack Obama pulled what they called an upset in Iowa. Bernie is trending up and Hillary is trending down. The national polls don’t hold as many answers as the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. Voters in the early states are paying attention. They are seeing the candidates. Clinton commercials are filling the airways in Iowa but seem to be having no effect on her decline in the polls. Let’s say it, let’s admit it – Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is in trouble.
Anatomy of the Surge
The first time I saw Bernie Sanders in this election season, my eyes were opened. It was in Iowa City at a bookstore. It was a standing room only, overflow crowd. Bernie connected with the crowd and I took notice. Two days later in Ames, Iowa, he spoke at the Story County Democrats’ annual soup supper. Hundreds were in attendance and again he connected, this time with the party activists. This Iowa win was in February, and it was the beginning of the surge.
After he announced his candidacy in late May before 5,000 people in Burlington, Vermont, the real head-turning events began. Two days later in Davenport, Iowa, 800 people packed a ballroom at a local college. The overflow crowds continued over the next few days, and the real eye-opener came in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The campaign booked a union hall in Minneapolis and within hours they knew it wouldn’t be big enough, so they moved the event to a gymnasium at the American Indian Center. It turned out to be too small. Thousands had to listen to the event on speakers set up outside as 5,000 people turned out to hear Bernie.
The surge continued in Denver, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles. The pundits continued to dismiss Bernie, comparing the crowds to those for Howard Dean, even though they were three times the size.
Even as Bernie pulled ahead in New Hampshire polls, they made excuses. Now that Bernie has pulled ahead in Iowa maybe, just maybe, the talking heads will realize that Bernie can win.
Scott Galindez attended Syracuse University, where he first became politically active. The writings of El Salvador's slain archbishop Oscar Romero and the on-campus South Africa divestment movement converted him from a Reagan supporter to an activist for Peace and Justice. Over the years he has been influenced by the likes of Philip Berrigan, William Thomas, Mitch Snyder, Don White, Lisa Fithian, and Paul Wellstone. Scott met Marc Ash while organizing counterinaugural events after George W. Bush's first stolen election. Scott will be spending a year covering the presidential election from Iowa.