Volunteers #StillSanders at the Wynwood Bernie Sanders Headquarters
Coverage of 2016 pre-election Bernie fever in Miami's neighborhood of Wynwood.
Groundswell — that’s what volunteers are counting on at the regional Bernie Sanders headquarters located in the Miami neighborhood
of Wynwood. Sanders is tailing his opponent, Hillary Clinton,
in delegate count in the primary voting election.
The Sanders campaign is wasting no time, organizing regional volunteer hubs nationwide. Florida alone has three locations: Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville. Inside, volunteers run phone banks
and organize events to rally local voter support.
The Wynwood headquarters, officially open since Leap Day 2016,
is in a small warehouse located at 48 NW 25th St. A local muralist painted the outside red, white and blue. Tonight, on grand opening, there’s a live band and a Sanders impersonator, plus free wine and beer. Folding chairs and tables line the walls. Parents have brought their children. Balloons are festively floating about the floor.
It’s Friday night, and the crowd could yield to the “Shillary” machine, drowning their cares into complacency with cocktails at a nearby drinking hole, such as Gramps or Wynwood Kitchen and Bar. Instead, strangers are introducing themselves, eagerly discussing topics like the military industrial complex and institutional racism.
This is an unprecedented level of engagement in an as-of-late lethargic voter population. As one Bernie Sanders Facebook post reads, “Our campaign is being called the most serious threat to establishment politics in a generation. They ain’t seen nothing yet. #OfThePeople”
Volunteers are at an outside table signing up for three-hour shifts in the upcoming weeks, from the hours of 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Some stay all day, like Pablo Menvielle, a dedicated full-time volunteer, who has never involved himself in any former presidential campaign beyond voting.
After graduating Florida International University in 2012 with a double-major in international relations and political science, he was fed up with politics.
“I saw the nature of politics — how much money influences politics.” Clinton is a prime example, he says, flipping her position according to the winds of big money and popular opinion.
“Hillary originally supported traditional marriage.” Yet, as soon as the courts ruled in favor of marriage equality, her campaign logo suddenly sported the LGBQT’s rainbow color scheme.
“I’m not saying that people can’t change their minds,” says Menvielle. “But it comes off as disingenuous if you are positioning yourself as this progressive all along.”
Conversely, he stresses, Sanders has had consistent policy positions over his career. It’s this integrity that motivates Menvielle to stay late at the headquarters.
Sanders is known for a high-road campaign, refusing to get muddy with Clinton’s email scandal, focusing instead on relevant concerns of the American people. This approach may cost him, but it makes for a positive campaign message.
This philosophy is echoed throughout the ranks. An anonymous Sanders supporter, standing in front of a handmade, backlit Sanders sign, speaks critically of Clinton’s association with big banks. Then she stops herself: “I don’t want to talk about Hillary. I want to talk about Sanders and the good things he will do for the American people.”
She speaks, instead, of his bipartisanship in Congress, where he was dubbed “amendment king” by Rolling Stone in a 2005 article, Inside the Horror Show That is Congress. When asked why Clinton is the one often portrayed as most likely work both sides of the aisle, she says: “That is what the media wants you to believe. The media that is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Hillary is divisive. She always has been. Sanders brings people together.”
Tim Canova, who is challenging the DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, for her seat as Florida’s 23rd Congressional District Representative, is piggybacking on the Sanders message.
He’s walking around, shaking hands with the Sanders supporters. Many didn’t even know of him until tonight.
Canova has a history with Sanders: He was chosen by the senator
in 2011 to join a special advisory committee for reforming the Federal Reserve.
“I’m a legal scholar and a law professor,” he says. “I never thought I’d run for Congress.” This echoes Sanders’ sentiment, who states his motivation to run for President is policy reform, not political power.
The idea to run began when Canova reached out to Shultz with his concerns about the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. She was unresponsive. She didn’t even return his calls. Someone needed to take her out.
What is so troubling to him about the TPP?
“It will outsource a lot of jobs overseas,” he says. “As a legal scholar, I focus mostly on the investor-state dispute settlement provisions. These allow foreign corporations to challenge U.S. federal state and local laws — not in U.S. courts — but in form of arbitration panels. Arbitrators are mostly corporate lawyers, usually representing these same corporations, but now suddenly they’re wearing hats as arbitration judges.”
This conflict of interest costs taxpayers, since arbitration panels have the power to order the federal government to pay out for a corporation’s incurred profit loss caused by federal regulations.
“For instance, TransCanada, a gigantic energy company, is challenging President Obama’s decision not to build the Keystone pipeline. TransCanada is asking for $15 billion by claiming loss-of-profit opportunities. They’re doing it, not under the TPP which hasn’t passed yet, but under NAFTA, which has the same provisions. It is a way
to transfer the cost of complying with regulations from corporations to taxpayers.”
Although is campaign has only been around for two months, he has seen significant grassroots support. Sanders, if elected president, will need a progressive Congress with him to achieve his goals. It’s Sanders’ campaign that has inspired Canova to quit his day job and run.
“This guy is putting it on all on the line. I thought, if he’s putting it all on the line, others of us have to step up and help him.”
Phone banking is the secret weapon of the Sanders campaign. Alan Fox, who runs a phone bank out of his home, speaks of the evolution of political campaign management. Traditional door-to-door canvassing allowed campaigns to identify voter candidate preferences in specific neighborhoods. This allowed for efficient allocation of resources: advertisements, media-worthy events and ambassadors could target the regions needing the most persuasion. Phone banking is the modern update. Volunteers canvass using a virtual predictive dialer such as HubDialer. The Obama campaign was very sophisticated for its time, he notes, but they still used a combination of door-to-door canvassing and phone banking. It was the beginning of mobilizing grassroots volunteers to call voters using software.
“A number would appear on the screen, and you would dial it,” says Fox.
The Sanders campaign phone-banking methodology began at this level. In a recent update, a volunteer calls hooks up a mobile phone with a laptop. The numbers are automatically dialed.
There are two types of calls: voter identification and persuasion. Voter identification calls follow a script, recording each voter’s candidate of choice. Those voters indicating “undecided” are then targeted with persuasion calls by skilled phone banking veterans.
The Miami for Bernie Sanders Facebook page has cell-phone footage of a 13-year-old Eva Milashevshkaya making a voter identification call.
“Hello, I’m a volunteer for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.” She listens intently to the voter’s reply while scanning a printed script.
“Okay, great,” she replies. “So when you vote tomorrow, um, can Bernie Sanders count on your support?”
“Fantastic. Thank you for being a voter,” she reads off the page.
“We’re calling voters all across the state, and while it looks like voter turnout is going to be high, the race is close, and your vote could be the one that makes a difference.” She asks if the caller knows their polling place.
“Perfect. Thank you for being a voter and for voting for Bernie. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the primaries.” She ends the call, and the cell-phone-recording volunteer gives her a high five.
Most people don’t answer the phone, and some are vicious when they discover the intent. Kelsey Tatro, a Facebook commenter on the video, envied Eva’s friendly caller: “I was phone banking for Bernie the other night and majority of my calls either were republicans (sic) or had no interest in voting for Bernie. One even called me a communist!!
The only Sanders national representative at the headquarters deflected all attention to the grassroots nature of the headquarters when pressed for comment: “Don’t talk to me. Talk to the volunteers. They’re the ones that run this place. I think the story is in the fact that this is an entirely volunteer-driven campaign.”
Five days after the Florida primary, where Clinton walked away with 64 percent of the vote, the morale at the headquarters is uncertain. It’s the same optimistic pragmatism that fuels Dolphins players despite a bad season. Not many volunteers are checked in for the evening.
Sanders headquarters often close shop once the primaries are over, unless volunteers want to keep it running. Dedicated volunteers switch back to hosting phone banks in their homes.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” says Gregory Saint-Jean, who compares Sanders’ loss in Florida as the equivalent of a sports team in need of a comeback.
A person in a passing car hollers, “Feel the Bern!” Gregory responds
“We just need to get organized,” Diana Burnet chimes in. She’s heard that the space will keep holding watch parties, “Barnstorm” brainstorming sessions, and possibly a Spanish-speaking phone bank.
Burnet has been following Sanders since she was a teenager in the 1980s. She remembers a Reader’s Digest article that painted Sanders in an unfavorable light: It hinted that communism was creeping into America. She didn’t think that he was that radical.
“I thought he was a righteous dude even way back then.”
She has followed his ascent into Congress and admires he is an outsider in Washington politics who get things done. The Florida loss, to her, is but a minor setback. The upcoming states are promising. And even if he doesn’t win the nomination this July, she says his progress this far is exceptional.
“There’s a long history of people not taking Bernie seriously — I don’t feel disappointed because I can’t believe that he got nine states so far.”
Although the future of this local headquarters is unclear, it is apparent that diehard Sanders fans aren’t giving in yet. Not here, and not across America. They continue to phone bank, donate money, wait in rain outside his rallies, and stand in long lines to vote — in doing so, they’re #stillSanders.
Written while enrolled in Writing Strategies in the creative advertising program in the School of Communications + Journalism at Florida International University.