Over seventy Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign staff and volunteers gathered Friday night, November 23, 2019, at the United Teachers of Los Angeles Wilshire Blvd union hall. A fitting location indeed, for this was the union whose 30,000 members struck for seven school days last January to defend public education in a school district with the most bilingual students in the country. The teachers’ victory catalyzed a strike wave and Democratic blue wave, reversing the momentum of Trump’s month long federal worker lockout, hate filled tweets, and white nationalist terrorist attacks, leading to Democratic gubernatorial victories in Kentucky and Virginia, and pushing recalcitrant Democrats to impeach.
We sat, would be volunteers, as Bernie campaign staff introduced their regional directors and campaign workers. They described how, with a massive turnout of Bernie supporters in Los Angeles, Sanders would decisively win California. A win in this state, combined with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, will break through the media blackout, build momentum, gain majority support at the Democratic National Convention, and defeat Donald Trump in November 2020.
Campaign staff introduced the Bernie LA Field Directors and Regional Directors, unveiling a plan, where starting on December 3rd, they would organize a hundred ‘barnstorm’ sessions in one night like this one, rallying volunteers and recruiting canvass captains to train volunteers, and lead groups of concerned citizens who would knock on their neighbors doors, talk to residents, register them to vote, convince them to support Bernie Sanders, and turn them out to vote in the March 3rd 2020 California Primary.
A former SEIU organizer, one of two regional directors, pounded the table as he spoke. For generations, turnout in Democratic LA has been low; 10, 15, at most 20% turnout. It was all that the political elites, what the mayor and councilmen needed to win elections. The Bernie campaign will transform America, the speaker announced, by reaching out to everyone, not just the high likelihood voters, those forgotten Americans disregarded by the political establishment.
To my right a young college age Latino, a legal permanent resident who couldn’t vote himself, knew his fate depended on convincing family and neighbors to vote. It was his first time participating in an election. He didn’t share much, but asked questions, eager to learn and help. Bernie’s platform gave him hope; and he wanted to participate in the Democratic process.
Last week, Sanders held a rally at Wilson High School in the heart of Chicano east LA. Unlike his rivals, he opposed the recent military coup in Bolivia, and has consistently opposed foreign interventions in Latin America that have forced refugees to flee North. Sanders opposed Reagan’s Contra war on the Nicaraguan Sandinista government in the 1980’s. He opposed NAFTA, a free trade agreement that led to both the loss of good paying union jobs in the United States, and annulled peasant land rights enshrined in Article 27 of the Mexican constitution, forcing millions off their land to urban maquiladora sweatshops and north to the United States to sustain their families.
To my left, sat a white man. His hair graying, he was an unemployed college lecturer who arrived with his wife and two kids. He had worked at UCLA and Cal State Long Beach, but was laid off; people with experience cost too much, he said. He had been working a few different gigs to get by. He and his family were on Covered California, but he got something in the mail saying that they had made an error. Some difference between state and federal benefit calculations; he owed extra money for his premium, but didn’t know how much, he was trying to still figure that out. Sounds stressful, I smiled, glancing at his two young boys, one kicking his legs dangling off a plastic chair. That’s one reason he supported Bernie, and his platform of Medicare for All.
I went to UCLA for grad school after the economy crashed, I confided to the professor. I applied for school to keep health insurance, and try to get ahead.
I had a full scholarship my first year, and if I did well they said I could get it again. But Arnold Schwarzenegger and the UC Regents raised student fees by 20%, and suddenly I had to pay more mid-year. I got nothing but work study my second year. I’m still trying to pay off my graduate school loans.
It was on purpose, the unemployed lecturer smiled grimly. They had the money, but they were just trying to attract a specific student profile. Only 63% of UCLA freshmen were California residents in 2018, compared to eighty two percent in 2009.
The group all took out their phones at the instruction of a regional field director, a woman in her mid-twenties. We downloaded the Bern App, created accounts and entered in names of friends we were to reach out to. Each volunteer stood up, pledging to talk to 20, 30, 40, or even 75 voters each. This, the field direct told us, was how we would win; by engaging our friends and family, through volunteers and people power. Over four million people have donated to Bernie Sanders, and he has a strong network of committed supporters who volunteered in 2015 and ‘16, and had been on the front lines of the resistance to Trump ever since.
The meeting wrapped up. We all took a group photo. It was Friday night. We were determined, ready, and had a world to win.