How Sanders’ Iowa Grassroots Army Is Converting Family, Friends

Photo by Julie Fleming

By Isabella Murray

January 10, 2020

As Bernie Sanders’ campaign entered the new year, they touted a host of impressive field numbers: 200,000 doors knocked in Iowa in 2019, with 4 million attempted voter contacts. That’s for a state with around 3 million people.

And in conversations with Sanders volunteers at events around the state, many talk about how they work their own personal networks, not simply campaign lists, to build the movement.

“Bernie Sanders is one of the only campaigns that is doing peer-to-peer canvassing and reaching out,” said Alex Andrade, 29, a volunteer from Ankeny. “I work with a lot of my network, my family, my friends, but also I do canvassing. It’s about working within your own network, and part of that is he has an app, called the Bern App.”

The “Bern App” allows volunteers to log the name and background of anyone they talk to, tracking any potential voter or supporter. It encourages relational organizing.

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“We use the DNC’s database as well, paired with the app, and that helps the campaign figure out who’s a really good supporter, who’s opposing, so we don’t hit them again, that kind of thing,” Andrade said. “It makes it really easy, especially to go in person.”

Their efforts were rewarded as his campaign announced last week they had reached 5 million individual campaign contributions from more 1.8 million Americans — more than President Trump’s reelection campaign or any of his Democratic competitors. Sanders’ unrelenting band of supporters have long been mobilizing an energetic grassroots campaign, and the candidate’s recent swing through the state illustrated this momentum.

“When you see the establishment getting nervous, and they are getting nervous, that is because they understand that working people from all over this country are standing up and saying enough is enough. That we need to move this country in a way that works for all of us, not just the 1%,” Sanders said, at a Dubuque event during a recent campaign swing as the the crowd erupted into applause.

A new CBS/YouGov poll has Sanders in a first-place tie in Iowa with former Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg at 23%. The candidate’s standing in Iowa polls has fluctuated over the caucus cycle. In November, Sanders was ranked third at 18% and in September, he was in third place with 25% support.

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Deanna Salin, a nonprofit employee from Des Moines, attended Sanders’ New Year’s Eve event in Des Moines and said she noticed the new excitement around his campaign.

“’I’ve been a supporter since 2016,” Salin said. “I actually went to his New Year’s Eve bash for the last election. So, this is really crazy, it’s gotten so much bigger and crazier.”

On New Year’s Eve in 2016, Sanders was trailing Hillary Clinton in Iowa by more than 12 points.

Candace Peterson, a Lime Springs resident who works at Casey’s is a current Sanders supporter who said she caucused for Hillary in 2016.

“I didn’t caucus in ’16 for Bernie. I knew Bernie wasn’t going to win in 2016. I knew Hillary would get the nomination,” Peterson said at a Sanders event in Decorah. “I think Bernie’s the only one that can beat Trump now.”

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Salin’s parents are also former Clinton supporters, who in the last election was “converted” by their daughter. They now volunteer for Sanders.

“In 2015, we actually drove my parents out to a rally that was at the Iowa State Fair. My parents and my brother are out knocking doors every weekend, and calling. My dad’s in his late 50s and he said he’s never felt like a politician cared until Bernie Sanders, and now he’s out doing all this stuff,” she said.

Will Karr, originally from Des Moines, is an entertainment industry executive assistant living in Los Angeles, and also was convinced by his network to consider Sanders.

“I was supporting Clinton in 2016 until a friend converted me,” Karr said.

These “conversions” may have allowed for the creation of the Vermont senator’s “biggest grassroots army in the state,” turning out an “unprecedented amount of working people.” Volunteers say they engage in traditional campaign methods like door knocking, canvassing and phone banking, but also try to sway caucus-goers wherever they can.

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“When I went home for Thanksgiving, I talked about it with my parents for the first time ever. My mom switched from a Republican to a Democrat. She always used to vote for a Republican.” said Andrade. “I took her to a rally, she loved the stances, the values, and she doesn’t even do well in big crowds. It really shows that his message is one that really hits home for all working class people.”

Sanders leads the pack in gathering enthusiasm among Iowa Democratic likely voters sampled in the CBS poll. Sixty-seven percent of his backers feel enthusiastic about their candidate choice, compared to 61% for Elizabeth Warren supporters.

Brayson Cope is an 18-year-old student from Altoona who works at Hy-Vee. Cope said Bernie’s campaign brought him out to events, door knock and phone bank for the first time, but has also sparked his interest in politics overall.

“The Bernie campaign turned me from a do-nothing liberal, an apolitical kind of guy who’s just kind of socially liberal, now I’m a socialist,” Cope said. “Now I want — if you make over $5 million dollars, you’re paying 100% in taxes — I want fully democratized workplaces; I’m paying attention to general elections in the UK and crying when Jeremy Corbin gets destroyed.”

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Cope, like Salin and Andrade, is a young supporter who convinced his parents to vote for the candidate.

“I bullied my parents into voting for him. They’re caucusing for him. They’re Democrats, but I think my mom voted for Trump or something. She’s a very uninformed voter, she just listens to her dad talk about it. I know dad voted for [Barack] Obama because he’s a union guy,” Cope said.

And Aaron Ransavage, 22, from Minnesota’s Twin Cities, also pushed his family to consider voting for Sanders.

“I think he reaches young people, but I think it reaches farther than that, he probably inspires us to reach out to our parents and grandparents,” Ransavage said.

“A lot of my family is with the status quo, they voted for Barack Obama, they voted for Hillary. And this time around, we just had family Christmas with them, and I said, ‘Hey, this is important to me, I want you guys to look into this …’ because they will just go probably with what they see on the news, and I want them to be more aware of everything that’s going on.”

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Volunteers and supporters using the campaign’s app also help volunteers know how to participate in the caucus and register voters — which is helpful for the first-time caucus-goers Sanders expects to bring out.

Sarah Tosh, 22, from Cedar Rapids, supported Sanders in 2016 but she didn’t caucus for him — she wasn’t sure how the process worked.

“It’s really confusing in Iowa, and I had found out about it like the night that it was happening, and I was in college at the time, so I had a project due and didn’t have time,” Tosh said. “I understand caucusing better now, but I think I’ll understand the caucus fully when I’m there.”


By Isabella Murray
Posted 1/10/2020



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