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You almost have to duck when you say it in many Democratic political spaces, but today Bernie Sanders consistently polls as one of America’s most popular politicians.
Many of Sanders’ 2015-2016 professional crew have gone on to prime left consulting roles in the U.S. and abroad. Some folded into eponymous institutions or the organizing arm of official Sanders politics, Our Revolution.
So where are the all the people who filled those stadiums for Bernie last year? All those folks who gave $27? What are they doing politically? And most importantly, how do we activate them for our campaigns?
The Sanders “Political Revolution” has spun off in thousands of directions, but elements are coming together for the midterms.
This is unusual because the Democratic Party and even its presidential candidates haven’t made much of the grassroots in recent years. In previous cycles, campaigns have craved the cash that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attention can bring, while their grassroots teams feared DCCC attention that could push them out of a hot campaign as consultants from DC sweep in late in the game.
But the Sanders phenomenon and its truly epic use of grassroots donors to fuel a full-scale national campaign has candidates and their campaign volunteers and staff thinking differently this cycle. Rob Quist may have been the first candidate to reportedly discourage DCCC involvement in his campaign, but there will be more this cycle.
This year, 209 Democratic challengers running for Congress have each raised $5,000 or more at second quarter reporting, double the previous high mark in 2003. So what does an emboldened, energized post-Sanders 2016 grassroots look like?
Inspired by Sanders’ unpredicted surge, many progressives feel that the time for their ideas has come to fruition. And these same grassroots activists are seizing an opportunity to continue the movement into 2018 and beyond. That presents an opportunity for upstart campaigns who want to tap into the Sanders’ camp’s energy.
Everyday folks and independent media activists who found their voices in the Bernie primary run have created new projects and ventures at unprecedented levels. These ventures aid in passing progressive policies, electing progressive legislatures, and in creating and using new technology to recruit supporters, register voters, and raise money.
Here are some of the newest and most exciting ventures:
Support Fellow Progressives: La Donna Lokey, formerly a social media corporate recruiting manager, and Persephone Bellows, campaign manager for Jesse Sbaih’s U.S. Senate run in Nevada, first began using “#supportfellowprogressives” to share important news and encouragement on the congressional races they were both promoting. Soon Sbaih (“S-bay”) was tweeting with two dozen other progressive candidates across the country, some represented by Brand New Congress and many independent. In August, thousands of messages were sent and retweeted during a two-hour tweetathon organized by the informal group, which reached 300,000 unique people during the first of many planned collaborative social media events.
Progressive Coders Network: This fast-growing coalition of independent coders grew out of “Coders for Sanders,” and an event mapping tool built for the presidential campaign. Today, its hundreds of members collaborate on Slack and host regular video meetups. Expect to see ProgCode members contributing technical skill to scores of Congressional campaigns across the country this cycle.
Justice Democrats: This political committee, an amalgam of The Young Turks, YouTube leftcasting, and Zack Exley’s Brand New Congress, is using national digital fundraising tactics to bring in money for first-time candidates and also pairs them with an in-house consulting group to provide professional campaign advice, similar to the DCCC model. After pausing at seven candidates who have signed on to its Sanders-esque platform (including mold-breaking incumbent Ro Khanna), Justice Democrats has begun recruiting candidates beyond these hand-picked endorsees. With a large national email list and a large and fervent independent media following, Justice Democrats figures to play a real role in the midterms.
Uphill Media: Formerly “Bernie2016tv,” this Portland-based YouTube livestreaming channel has become a key voice for scores of candidates who are looking to keep up the momentum of 2016’s presidential primary. Volunteer run, it’s incorporating as a nonprofit to begin scaling to ensure the left has live event coverage on demand and to feature live roundtables with call-ins and studio guests from its West Coast studio (Uphill plans to open a second live studio later this year).
Revolution Funding: Many of the candidates organized under Support Fellow Progressives have also partnered with Revolution Funding, a woman-owned small business that is working to turn its 2016 DNC Sanders delegate community fundraising, successful to the tune of $1.8 million raised across the country, into a funding engine for the candidates who must re-ignite the national Sanders donor network if they’re to take 2018. Revolution Funding works by spreading candidate messaging and fundraising links across the web, especially in the thousands of Facebook groups that sprung up around the Sanders campaign.
The Institute for Progressive Memetics: The study of memes and their influence and effect goes back to the 1970s. But left politics meme culture truly came of age with the Sanders campaign, as millennial meme-makers took a special liking to the curmudgeonly democratic socialist. The Institute (IPM) is a tight-knit coalition of artists and multimedia editors who came together over a shared love of visual culture-jamming on Twitter. IPM recently announced that not only will it continue its tradition of mocking establishment figures and glorifying left political heroes, it is organizing to create political art and ads for progressives with “Madison Avenue quality at Red Square prices.”
Candidates and campaigns are using these left-networks not just to boost their profiles, but to fight off attacks from Clinton and DCCC loyalists. Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s challenger Stephen Jaffe, a 72-year-old secular Jew who has been attacked as a man-bun-wearing Ken doll Bernie Bro (you’d have to see it believe it), is teaming up with Sbaih, a Jordanian immigrant who would be the first Muslim-American Senator. Still, Sbaih is facing attacks of sexism as he runs against a Harry Reid protege who defeated him for the House in 2016. Sbaih and Jaffe are teaming up for western state fundraising events to highlight the diversity of the progressive coalition.
These emerging networks, committees, organizations, and collaborations have a good shot at turning the passionate Sanders base into a real force to deal with in 2018.
Adriel Hampton runs a progressive consulting firm in California and Utah. His firm is working with Stephen Jaffe, Jesse Sbaih, Revolution Funding, and several other candidates who have participated in Support Fellow Progressives.