Don’t Underestimate Bernie: Inside Bernie Sanders’ Unprecedented Grassroots Campaign

In June of 2008, the then Democratic Presidential nominee, Barack Obama and his campaign organized 4,000 online house parties in preparation of the general election only a few months away.

This past Wednesday evening, with the Iowa Caucus over five months away, the candidate many discounted as fringe and unlikely to generate any decent challenge for the White House, Bernie Sanders and his campaign organized over 3,000 grassroots gatherings with over 100,000 RSVPs. In all 50 states: in pubs, union halls, coffee shops and apartments, Sanders addressed his growing number of supporters via live-stream from a house party in Washington D.C., laying out the importance of building a grassroots organization network in all 50 states in order to create what the Democratic candidate calls a “political revolution.”

Bernie called upon his supporters to build the movement by talking to friends and coworkers, knocking on doors, registering voters, and volunteering to set-up campaign events.

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Sanders addressing 100,000 supporters via live stream from Washington D.C.

Sanders proclaimed “enough is enough” in regards to issues varying from income inequality to institutional racism to mass incarceration to money corrupting politics. He laid out some of the major points of his campaign including:

  • Raising the federal minimum wage, from a “starvation wage” of $7.25, to a “living wage” of $15, so no American working 40 hours a week is living in poverty
  • Repealing Citizens United getting money and corporate influence out of politics, insisting elections should be publicly-funded
  • Guaranteeing healthcare as a right, by creating a “Medicare-For-All” single-payer healthcare system
  • Making public universities tuition-free and helping curb student loan debt, so all Americans, regardless of income, can have a world-class education
  • Guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, so all women are able to spend time with their newborn child in the most important moments of its development

The organizing kick-off was merely a culmination of the unexpected and drastic rise of Bernie’s campaign.

Earlier this month in Phoenix, Sanders spoke to a crowd of 11,300, the largest gathering for a Presidential candidate yet in the cycle.

Sanders at Phoenix rally
Sanders at Phoenix rally

In only the two months after his announcement, Sanders raised over $15 million from over 250,000 donations, of which 99% were $250 or less. Sanders is also the only candidate not use a Super PAC in order to raise unlimited sums of money from wealthy donors, instead relying solely on individual donations from “everyday” people. More people have donated to Bernie Sanders than for any other candidate running for President.

So why are voters, from progressives to even some moderate Republicans, flocking to the self-described democratic socialist?

First off, as stated before, the stigma of using “socialist” as a derogatory slur has begun to wane in our Post-McCarthy world. Bernie really isn’t such a radical candidate that many in the media have made him out to be. He falls into the category of “Social Democrats,” or members of a branch of socialism prevalent in Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and many other nations that don’t wish to do away with capitalism or start a bloody uprising against the wealthy, but rather curb the excesses of capitalism by creating a strong social safety net, finance regulations to prevent misuse of people’s money, and public services such as tuition-free education and single-payer healthcare to lessen inequality.

When the dreaded scarlet-“S” is taken away from Bernie, his platform has widespread appeal among not only Democrats, but Americans alike:

In a poll by the Progressive Change Institute in January 2015, 80% of Democrats and a majority of the population supported creating a single-payer healthcare system Ala “Medicare-For-All.”

In a recent Gallup poll, 67% of Americans stated they were “dissatisfied” with how income was distributed in the United States and in a recent Pew poll, over 60% of Americans agreed that corporations and the wealthy need to be contributing more in taxes.

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A majority of Americans approve of creating some form of tuition-free college.

Sander’s proposition of overturning Citizens United may have the most widespread appeal, and discussion of it in the Republican primaries is virtually nonexistent. A New York Times poll showed that 84% of respondents believed that money has too great of an influence on political campaigns and 77% want to limit the amount of money individuals can donate to campaigns.

Not only do his beliefs resonate with those across the country, but he also comes across as one of the most authentic candidates, in a day-and-age where every little word is the result of scientific polling and candidates act as more of cult of personalities. Candidates like Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Scott Walker and obviously, Donald Trump, talk consistently of their own personal success stories on the campaign trail, whereas Sanders has made it distinctly clear that his campaign is not about him, but rather a “political revolution” among everyone. While other candidates say, “look at what I’ve done,” Sanders says, “look at what we can do.”

This doesn’t mean his record doesn’t matter, if anything, it’s more impressive and by far the most consistent of any candidate in recent memory.

He could say that been supporting gay rights since the 80s, when he fought for protections for the LGBT community as Mayor of Burlington, VT, and stood up for the gay community in the 90s, while the Clinton administration passed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton did not support same-sex marriage until 2013, yet acts like a gay rights champion.

He could say that he’s been protesting against mass incarnation and failure of deterrence methods and fighting for racial equality (Sanders was present for MLK’s “March on Washington” as a college student) for decades, while the Clinton administration pushed to get “tough on crime” and increased the “War on Drugs.”

He could say that he’s been warning against trade deals like the Trans-Pacific-Partnership that he argues are hurting America’s working class since the 90s, when he opposed NAFTA, while Hillary Clinton has yet to determine her position on the TPP.

He could say that he’s been fighting to curb income inequality and dangerous lending practices on Wall Street for his entire career, and introduced legislation that to break up the big banks on Wall Street, while Hillary Clinton’s top donors include Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase, yet she says she’ll be “tough” on Wall Street.

He could say he’s warned against entangling American interests in the Middle East, in voting against the Iraq War, while Hillary Clinton voted for it.

But he doesn’t.

Not only because he’s never run a negative campaign ad in his life, but because he’s going to let his message speak for itself. He said that his campaign is “going to do something radically different”: tell the truth. While Sanders without a doubt still faces an uphill battle against the universally-known Hillary Clinton and her political machine, his campaign is just getting started and has already made immense gains in the early primaries of Iowa and New Hampshire.

[Politics] should be about people coming together, taking a hard look at the problems we face, hearing different ideas, and going about solving those problems.Bernie Sanders speaking at Madison, WI rally

Photo Credit to Scott Olson / Getty Images / Stephen Crowley / The New York Times / Patrick Breen / The Republic / AP Photo

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