November 27, 2021
Bernie Sanders supporter Moumita Ahmed

Ripples of a revolution: what will Bernie Sanders’ supporters do next?

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The hope is that others inspired by Sanders’ campaign will also stay involved in politics, whether their man is elected or not.

“It was never supposed to be about going home after electing Bernie,” Ahmed says.

“It was always to be about building a full-fledged political revolution. Not just electing Bernie into office, but electing an entire government that shares our values.”

Powered by article titled “Ripples of a revolution: what will Bernie Sanders’ supporters do next?” was written by Adam Gabbatt in New York, for on Thursday 9th June 2016 10.00 UTC

In early 2015, before #feelthebern existed, before there was A Future To Believe In, before the nation was introduced to the Brooklyn pronunciation of the word “huge”, Moumita Ahmed wanted Elizabeth Warren to run for president.

Ahmed, 26, was part of Ready for Warren, a group that was calling for the liberal senator from Massachusetts to run for president. There was one problem: Warren herself was not ready to run.

“I thought: ‘I don’t know about Warren, she keeps saying no’,” Ahmed recalls telling a fellow member of the organisation.

“But I hear Bernie’s thinking about running. If that happens I’m going to buy a tent and just go wherever I can for him.”

Fast-forward 18 months and Ahmed has travelled to six different states, campaigning for Bernie Sanders as his bid to become the Democratic nominee for president gathered pace. The journey has taken her from door-knocking in freezing, snowy New Hampshire to canvassing in the balmy heat of Miami.

Along the way Ahmed has picked up a tattoo of the leftwing Vermont senator’s face – an artist was giving them away free in South Carolina – and helped organise a series of marches in New York City. Organisers said more than 15,000 people turned up to a march on 16 April, three days before the New York state primary.

For Ahmed, like other Sanders supporters the Guardian spoke to for this piece, Sanders’ entry into the presidential race proved to be a coming-of-age moment. Here was a man who represented and articulated their disillusionment with politics and gave them an opportunity to do something about it.

Even before Sanders announced his candidacy, Ahmed was involved in liberal activism, which she says was spurred by a teenage visit to Bangladesh, from which her family emigrated to the US when she was five.

“I witnessed income inequality, where capitalism is detrimental to our planet. I saw child slavery, I saw dried-up lakes, I saw displaced farmers,” Ahmed says.

“When I came back I got more involved, because that’s when I realised America is the leader of the free world, we can make a difference.”

In college – she went to school at Stony Brook, in Long Island – she canvassed for Democrat Tim Bishop to be re-elected to Congress. After that she campaigned for Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University and leftwing activist who ran against Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York for the Democratic nomination. She lost, and Ahmed moved on to Ready for Warren.

It’s a journey that has left her considering her own run for office, one day.

Sanders’ campaign has produced some of the most memorable moments of the political year. On 9 August an estimated 28,000 people came to see him at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. The next day, in Los Angeles, he drew a crowd estimated at 27,500.

Clinton had the name recognition that comes with having been secretary of state and first lady, and having spent a lifetime, along with her husband, in the upper echelons of US politics.

But it is Sanders who has been seen as the one who has excited voters, and who, crucially, has gotten young people to turn out and vote in the primaries.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (Circle), which conducts research on the political engagement of young Americans, compiled data on youth voting from 20 states. It classed youth voters as between 17 and 29 years old (17-year-olds can vote in primaries if they turn 18 before election day in some states) and found that there was overwhelming support for Sanders compared with other candidates.

More than 1.94 million young people voted for Sanders in the 20 states Circle analysed. Some 727,000 voted for Clinton. On the Republican side, about 746,000 voted for Donald Trump, fewer for former rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

Jasmine Brown cries while Bernie Sanders is introduced at a rally in South Carolina.
Jasmine Brown cries at Bernie Sanders rally in South Carolina. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Jasmine Brown, a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, is one of those young voters. She grew up two hours east of Orangeburg in Georgetown, where, according to the 2010 census, 24.1% of people live below the poverty line, a figure that rises to 34.9% for those younger than 18. The median household income is ,424, compared with ,939 nationwide.

“I moved a lot. I went from the projects. It wasn’t until I got in high school we finally got a home and some place, you know, sturdy. We had to live with my grandmother for a while,” Brown says. “It was very difficult.”

In February a photograph of Brown, taken at a Sanders rally in Orangeburg, was widely shared online. The picture showed the 20-year-old looking up at the stage, tears rolling down her cheeks. It was Nina Turner, the former Ohio state senator who spoke before Sanders, who made her cry.

“She was speaking, and hearing her story and her background just made me tear up,” Brown says.

“What she was talking about is she’s coming from a poor family type of thing. Her mother’s a single mother, my mother’s a single mother and everything, and her rise to where she’s at is very inspiring.

“[Because] you know me and her share some of the same struggles and it’s like: ‘Wow.’ To see someone who actually made it out is like: ‘I can do it, too.’”

It was the first political rally Brown had been to. As well as Turner, the event featured Killer Mike, the rapper who became a Sanders surrogate early in the senator’s campaign.

Sanders was polling well behind Clinton in South Carolina – he would go on to lose the state by 47.5 percentage points – and the attendance at the rally was underwhelming. But Brown came away from it inspired. She would go back to Georgetown, back to the projects where she grew up, to tell young people – some of them in danger of going down the wrong path – that there was hope for the future.

On the other side of the country, Sanders’ bid for president was a turning point for Paige Emery, a 23-year-old artist from Los Angeles.

“I’ve never been crazy into politics,” Emery says. “But he’s definitely the first person where I’m like: ‘I’m really interested in politics now, because this is like the first person I actually believe in and trust’.”

Emery lives in Echo Park, an artsy neighbourhood in central Los Angeles. In April, when Sanders opened his first California campaign office in Hollywood, she contacted the campaign and asked what she could do to help. A woman helping set up the office called Emery on the day it was due to open.

“She called me and was like: ‘Oh, do you want to paint a mural at our opening tonight?’

“She’s like: ‘I know it’s super last minute, but I just thought we could do it, and if you want to do it that’d be great.’ So I just bought a bunch of supplies and went over there.”

Paige Emery paints a mural of Bernie Sanders
Paige Emery paints a mural of Bernie Sanders. Photograph: Paige Emery

Emery clambered up a “rickety, broken ladder” and, with someone holding it in place, painted a 15ft mural of Sanders as supporters milled around the opening night party. The painting shows Sanders at a podium, arm raised, finger pointing in the air in a manner familiar to anyone who has seen him speak.

Sanders revealed he was running for president in a hasty news conference in Washington DC on 30 April 2015 but he formally launched his campaign on 26 May in Burlington, Vermont, where he was mayor from 1981 to 1989. In bright sunshine, with Lake Champlain behind him, Sanders told the crowd that “now is not the time for thinking small”.

“Now is not the time for the same old same old,” he said. “Now is the time for millions of working families to revitalize American democracy.”

Ahmed had travelled up from New York City to be there. After that, things started moving quickly. With the help of Charles Lenchner, who founded Ready for Warren and was the digital director on Teachout’s campaign, she set up Millennials for Bernie, an independent group in support of Sanders. The group now has more than 95,000 likes on Facebook.

“We came up with this whole social media strategy,” Ahmed says, “and the idea was that we have to make him cool.”

Millennials for Bernie was an offshoot of the larger People for Bernie – that group has 806,000 Facebook likes – and together they created the #feelthebern hashtag. The slogan was quickly picked up by the Sanders campaign and became synonymous with support for the candidate.

“We were building all these digital villages,” Ahmed says. “Kind of like Obama, where you had African Americans for Obama, teachers for Obama, similar to that.”

The groups were at least partly responsible for the 74-year-old – who might have seemed an unlikely millennial hero and internet superstar – becoming the go-to candidate for disaffected young Americans.

Away from the internet, People for Bernie was involved in more eclectic events. There were T-shirt printing parties in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Indie musicians played benefit gigs in nearby Williamsburg. Ahmed helped organise more traditional events, too. On 23 January there were marches in some 30 cities nationwide in support of Sanders.

Emery was at one of the Los Angeles marches, on 23 March. She put her artistic skills to use, designing posters to take to the demonstrations and post online. She has poured her newfound passion for activism into other efforts.

“I did a series where I painted Syrian refugees,” Emery says. “And I would post an article with them every time I posted on social media, and I’m selling them for charity to raise money.”

In South Carolina, Brown has been using more traditional methods to engage people. She travels back to her home city every weekend, revisiting the Georgetown projects where she grew up, speaking to students from her old school.

“I hang out at the high school or the park – East Bay park,” she says. “Hanging round there or, like, something called the ghetto. That’s where I’m from, I hang out in the projects.”

Brown says many students look up to her as someone who came from that neighbourhood and made it to college. “I don’t brag about what I’m doing, but I let them know: ‘Just because you’re from this area you can go out and, you know, do big things.’”

‘It was never supposed to be about going home after electing Bernie,’ Ahmed says.
‘It was never supposed to be about going home after electing Bernie,’ Ahmed says. Photograph: UPI / Barcroft Images

She encourages students to vote – although she says she doesn’t “beat them in the head with it” – and talks about Sanders’ plans for free college education and universal healthcare. Even if Sanders does not win the nomination, Brown says, she will continue to support him away from the presidential race.

“I’m always gonna represent or vouch for Bernie in any way, shape or form, because he’s the man who cares,” she says.

“From researching him and looking at how he marched with Martin Luther King, it’s like: ‘Wow, he’s legit.’

“It brings me to tears almost. It’s like, I never knew someone who is not of my race to represent us so heavily. And that really is a wild and amazing experience for me.”

Emery, too, said Sanders’ campaign has been a turning point for her. It has been the first election she has taken interest in, the first campaign she has been a part of.

“Seeing such a community of likeminded people all getting together, like all people like me who usually don’t care about politics and are [now] all so hopeful, just volunteering and putting in time and energy,” she says.

“I feel like this is the most hopeful thing to happen in politics that I’ve ever known really.”

At the end of May this year, Sanders began asking his supporters to donate money to eight state legislative candidates across the country. The recipients, who include Jane Kim, running for state senate in California, are Democrats who, Sanders said, “embody the spirit of our political revolution”.

He has also requested supporters donate to congressional candidates Lucy Flores, from Nevada, and Tim Canova, a progressive who is running against the Democratic National Convention chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in Florida’s 23rd congressional district.

Ahmed plans to canvas and fundraise for those candidates, and is considering an election bid of her own.

She would “start with something small”, she says, perhaps running for a district leader position, representing the Democratic party to a small community, in her neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens.

“I think my story is not necessarily unique. And I think that’s why it’s important for me to run, because I come from a working-class family, my parents are immigrants, I have a lot of student debt. So I understand what most people are going through.”

The hope is that others inspired by Sanders’ campaign will also stay involved in politics, whether their man is elected or not.

“It was never supposed to be about going home after electing Bernie,” Ahmed says.

“It was always to be about building a full-fledged political revolution. Not just electing Bernie into office, but electing an entire government that shares our values.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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