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The Political Revolution does not sleep: What I learned from working on the New Hampshire Primary

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It is 5:30 a.m. up in Nashua, NH on Feb. 9, the presidential primary day for the state. Fresh snow sparkles off the ground, the streets are empty of cars, empty of noise, empty of people. Except for me, along with other Bernie Sanders campaign staff and volunteers, hanging pamphlets on doors for Get Out the Vote, a four-day campaign to encourage the community to vote in the primary election.

The first thing I learned while working for Sanders’s campaign: the Political Revolution does not sleep.

“Welcome to the Political Revolution.” Those words hung above a doorway in Keene, NH where I interned for the campaign this past Saturday. When I left my little apartment in Amherst with just clothes and tech gear packed, and my #FeelTheBern t-shirt on, I was unsure of what I would be doing, where I would be staying, unsure of pretty much everything else pertaining to these next four days.

For three and a half weeks leading up to that day, I was making phone calls almost every night, phoning volunteers. When your work revolves around talking to other people, the quality of those conversations can make or break your entire day. Luckily for me, I was calling people who already indicated some interest in volunteering, but I had the uninterested, rude caller here and there.

One woman told me she already donated, then hung up. But the wonderful conversations stand out more. I spoke with one supporter who asked me how I got involved with the campaign, why I did and about my experience with the youth generation.

I told the caller that what I see is truly a movement, especially among young people. Many of us care about different issues because of our own life experiences, education, and perspective, and we are starting to organize on the micro level. What is better than making friends you want to save the world with? The caller told me he was impressed, and I felt thankful for this chance to contribute to something in my own little corner of the world.

After all those phone calls, the day finally came to work for Senator Sanders.

A year ago, nobody thought that Sanders’s campaign would get this far. In his victory speech Tuesday night, he said, “Nine months ago we began our campaign here in NH. We had no campaign organization, we had no money and we were taking on the most powerful political organization in the United States of America.”

The same goes for Iowa one year ago as well, but what happened two weeks ago in the caucus for that state was revolutionary: Hillary Clinton at 49.8 and Sanders at 49.6, according to Real Clear Politics — basically a tie. After personally seeing all the grassroots organizing, it is easy to understand Sanders’s rise to the top of the polls.

I ended up staying one night at a field organizer’s apartment just minutes away from the Keene office. The Constitution hung on the fridge, a tie-dye tapestry of blues and greens hung on the wall in the living room and the cutest little dog ran around the place. But the thing about working for a presidential campaign is, even when you’ve headed out of the office and made your way home, you still find yourself talking about politics. What do you do? You check the news, share ideas, and continue working together, even if it’s just conversation. Forming connections is what drives this campaign.

That’s how I got involved. Last October, I saw Sanders for the first time in Springfield, Mass. Because of that rally, I heard of UMass Amherst for Bernie Sanders, a group just starting out on campus. Perfect, I thought. I went into the semester wanting to get involved with Sanders’s campaign, and this was a concrete way to do it. One of the founders of the group, Casey Pease, soon became a good friend. I missed a call from Pease while I was at work one day during winter break. When I phoned back, he asked me if I wanted to work for the campaign.

This changed my life.

Volunteers hand out Bernie Sanders stickers at the primary in Keene, New Hampshire on Feb. 9, 2016.

The second night on the campaign trail was a bit different. I stayed in a rustic home in Salem that belonged to an adorable older couple. They had pasta and meatballs on the stove waiting for us when we got there, blankets and pillows folded on the couch.

Sometimes you think, how did I get here? In a house up in the Granite State with people I just met this year, hosted by two people I had met the other day, just hours before the presidential primary, with alarms set for four the next morning. That is the magic of life, and the magic of this campaign: people come together. Sanders’s supporters are the hardest workers I have ever met, driven by their passion for social justice and political change. It is because of that hard work, those sacrifices, organizing and mobilizing, that Senator Sanders won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire.

His primary party was held inside the gymnasium at Concord High School. Sanders’s supporters, volunteers, and staff entered the gym holding signs reading “Together” and “A Future to Believe In,” throwing their fists in the air, celebrating the victory. Everything felt electric. The energy of the crowd made this moment feel powerful. There was cheering, stomping, and plenty of hugs to go around. The phrase of the night was, “We did this.”

These are the people behind this “people-powered” campaign.

What happened in New Hampshire was historical for a variety of reasons. Sanders was the first Jewish candidate to win a primary election; the campaign raised $5.2 million dollars in only 18 hours; and Sanders’s margin of victory over Clinton was the largest in any state since John F. Kennedy and Paul C. Fisher.

That night, after we headed out of the hot gym, we drove over to a bar in downtown Concord to celebrate. Surrounded by the people who made this happen, it felt unbelievable that I had somehow contributed to history. I met a sweet woman, we talked about our own lives, what we wanted to do and where we came from. We connected on Facebook to keep in touch. Every second, I could not help but think: these are my people.

People from across the world went to New Hampshire to help volunteer for Sanders. I met students who flew all the way from Denmark to knock on doors for him. This is not just about Sanders, it’s about starting a revolution and creating a more equal society. People look to this country for guidance, as we are often considered the leaders of this world. But right now we seem lost. Sanders sees what we can be, what we can do and he inspires people to get out and make that change happen.

Email Carson McGrath at [email protected].

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
The Political Revolution does not sleep: What I learned from working on the New Hampshire Primary