Last night, in 3,500 locations across the country, about 100,000 people tuned in all at once to watch Bernie Sanders speak, and to learn how they could help volunteer for his 2016 presidential campaign. Hundreds in the greater-Phoenix area spent the night talking politics and strategizing ways to spread, as one attendee put it, a campaign that so far seems to have “a bigger supply of people wanting to help than it knows what to do with.”
The objective of the night was straightforward: meet other local Sanders supporters and try to come up with creative ways to help the campaign. Sanders attended one of the house parties in Washington DC, and spoke to the country via live-stream video.
“His opening message was a very short version of why he’s running for president and what his issues are,” explains Mike Ferguson, who hosted one of the events last night in his downtown Phoenix apartment. In the second half, members of his campaign spoke about ways to help out, and gave out a phone number to text in order to receive a list of options for volunteering. “They were asking people to walk the walk and help make change in politics,” Ferguson says.
After the speech, a local resident with experience organizing political campaigns stopped by Ferguson’s apartment to chat, and the last of his guests – who ranged in age from their early-20s to mid-60s — didn’t leave until 11:30 p.m. (After he posted the invitation online, all 12 spots filled up in a few hours. And then, after two people cancelled a few days ago, he filled those spots in 10 minutes.)
“There was this very strong energy in the group, we fit together really well even though we had no other common thread than Bernie Sanders,” he says, adding that this is the first time in his 43 years that he’s ever gotten involved in something politically, let alone volunteer for a campaign. He describes himself as a Phoenix native and small business owner, who has appreciated Sanders’ message for years.
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“I remember saying to my girlfriend, before Sanders said he was running, ‘if that guy runs for President, I’ll do anything I can to get him elected.’ Then when he announced his campaign, I heard my words in my head and [I got involved].” Ferguson volunteered when Sanders came to Phoenix a few weeks to speak in front of 10,300 people in the downtown convention center – to this day, it remains the biggest crowd of the 2016 presidential campaign, a source of pride for many Sanders supporters in Phoenix.
“I’m not naturally the type of person who would walk up to someone and say, ‘hey, let me change your opinion about a candidate,’” Ferguson says. So he’s been brainstorming creative ways he can help fund-raise and spread the word about Sanders’ platform, and was inspired by some of the things he saw last night: at one event, a few bands played and donated all of the proceeds to the campaign, and at another people baked “biscuits for Bernie.”
One of the most refreshing things about Sanders, Ferguson explains, is that he’s not all about “when I become president.” Instead, he “talks about ideas [and] explains how things happen and what needs to change.”
“Bernie Sanders’ support comes from people, not billionaires,” Ferguson wrote in his online event invitation. And true to form, an e-mail from Sanders’ campaign this afternoon says, so far, the campaign has received individual contributions from more than 500,000 people – Sanders is fundamentally against Citizens United and rejects super PACS.
Then the e-mail goes on to say, “In American politics, there are two primary sources of power: organized people and organized money. Last night proved that we have the people and that we’re well organized.”