Why People From Around the World Have Volunteered for Bernie Sanders

A volunteer points to canvassing materials at the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign field office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 25, 2020. (Photo by STEPHEN MATUREN/AFP via Getty Images)

“It affects all of us,” says Arturo, a volunteer who hails from Spain.

Gabe Levine-Drizin March 11, 2020

Going door to door to can­vass can be a tough expe­ri­ence for even the most sea­soned vet­er­an, but for Rei­dar Stris­land there’s a minor added dif­fi­cul­ty: He’s Nor­we­gian, and can­vass­ing in a new country.

Those who volunteer their time for Sanders see this election as an event whose ramifications will affect them too.

Rei­dar, 30, has been in the Unit­ed States since Feb­ru­ary 5 vol­un­teer­ing for the Bernie Sanders cam­paign. After spend­ing time in New Hamp­shire and Texas, he fin­ished up his trip by can­vass­ing in Los Angeles.

His ded­i­ca­tion to the cam­paign is by no means unique: Hun­dreds of inter­na­tion­al vol­un­teers around the world are call­ing, tex­ting and — when they can — even com­ing to the Unit­ed States to knock doors for a can­di­date that has inspired them.

A pletho­ra of volunteers

These inter­na­tion­al vol­un­teers mobi­lize both indi­vid­u­al­ly and in groups, hail­ing from a vari­ety of coun­tries, some as far away as Japan or Aus­tralia.

Some groups have emerged to both reg­is­ter Democ­rats abroad and can­vass oth­er expats in sup­port of Sanders. France for Bernie 2020,” for exam­ple, is a mix­ture of Amer­i­can expats and locals like Lau­rent, a 41 year-old art his­to­ry teacher and French cit­i­zen who talks about Sanders with Amer­i­can stu­dents in his class.

Groups like this exist all around the world, although the groups that appear to have the largest online fol­low­ings are in West­ern Europe and Aus­tralia. Char­lotte and Arturo, who are both mem­bers of Madrid for Bernie,” told In These Times the group has expand­ed beyond mak­ing calls and texts to become a small com­mu­ni­ty of polit­i­cal­ly engaged people.

Though the group is still in dis­cus­sion about how to move for­ward, Char­lotte said that its mem­bers are active­ly look­ing towards the future by build­ing links with oth­er par­ties and orga­ni­za­tions. Right now we are try­ing to con­nect and build a gen­er­al net­work,” she said.

Build­ing a movement

Though groups like Madrid for Bernie are cur­rent­ly small, they are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a wider grass­roots pro­gres­sive move­ment that has been tak­ing shape across West­ern Europe. The Sanders cam­paign has both ben­e­fit­ed from and con­tributed to the revi­tal­iza­tion of a broad­er Euro­pean Left found­ed on grass­roots orga­niz­ing and sol­i­dar­i­ty: Claire Sand­berg, Sanders’ Nation­al Orga­niz­ing Direc­tor, for exam­ple, toured Europe in the wake of the 2016 elec­tion to teach par­ty activists about dis­trib­uted orga­niz­ing. Invest­ing in the tight­en­ing of these links has paid off. Rei­dar him­self was one of those activists who invit­ed Claire to Nor­way to train his fel­low par­ty activists.

Math­ias, a 45-year-old copy­writer from Muen­ster, Ger­many, spent 12 days knock­ing doors in New Hamp­shire and South Car­oli­na. Before his Bernie Jour­ney,” he had knocked doors in Craw­ley, a town 30 miles south of Lon­don, for Jere­my Cor­byn in 2019.

Transna­tion­al con­nec­tions are also being revi­tal­ized at the par­ty lev­el. In the ear­ly weeks of March, for exam­ple, activists from Euro­pean-left par­ties and orga­ni­za­tions like Social­ist Youth of Aus­tria, JUSOS (Young Social­ists in the SPD), JUSO Switzer­land (Young Social­ists Switzer­land), and the orga­ni­za­tion Momen­tum (Unit­ed King­dom), came to knock doors in Illi­nois with the Chica­go Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ist of Amer­i­ca (CDSA)’s Sanders campaign.

A per­son­al motive

Those who vol­un­teer their time for Sanders see this elec­tion as an event whose ram­i­fi­ca­tions will affect them too. Vol­un­teers told In These Times that, going door to door, they engaged with peo­ple the way all Sanders can­vassers are taught to: by high­light­ing how this elec­tion is per­son­al for them as well.

When I start talk­ing about why I’m here, I start by say­ing that it’s per­son­al for me because of cli­mate change, and I think Bernie is the only one real­ly will­ing to lead,” Rei­dar told In These Times.

Rei­dar isn’t the only one who is focused on cli­mate change: Though there were a vari­ety of rea­sons for their sup­port for Sanders, it was clear that they were unit­ed by the threat posed by glob­al envi­ron­men­tal catastrophes.

For Arturo, a 29-year-old Spaniard who makes calls in both Eng­lish and Span­ish, this elec­tion was about the future: My main con­cern in life is cli­mate change [and] I see him as the only can­di­date that will go balls to the wall,” he told me. I’m not Amer­i­can, these elec­tions are not of my coun­try, but this issue does affect me. It affects all of us.”

Char­lotte Bell­gar­dt, a 25-year-old Ger­man stu­dent of med­i­cine cur­rent­ly study­ing abroad in Madrid, also got involved because of cli­mate change. Cli­mate change has many peo­ple my age and younger anx­ious about the future and I feel like Bernie Sanders is the one who is real­ly seri­ous about it,” said Charlotte.

In addi­tion to the calls they have received, scores of vot­ers have also had their door knocked by a Nor­we­gian, an Aus­tralian, or a Ger­man who was able to skill­ful­ly echo to vot­ers one of Sanders’ key argu­ments: that his poli­cies are not that rad­i­cal.

Math­ias, when con­front­ed with skep­ti­cism about Sanders’ free col­lege and free health­care plans, would tell of his own expe­ri­ence: It’s one thing if you see it on TV but it’s anoth­er thing if some­one comes to your door and says, I went to uni­ver­si­ty and didn’t pay a penny.’”

Bring­ing in new people

Though many cam­paigns like to high­light their grass­roots” sup­port, the Sanders cam­paign has eschewed top-down orga­niz­ing for a more democ­ra­tized, vol­un­teer-dri­ven mod­el known as dis­trib­uted orga­niz­ing.” While the cam­paign uses paid staffers for tra­di­tion­al work, the Sanders cam­paign has relied upon vast num­bers of vol­un­teers to orga­nize events, can­vass their neigh­bor­hoods, and make calls using easy-to-use tools that they pro­vide to supporters.

The hope is that these vol­un­teers will gath­er in groups to begin orga­niz­ing in their own com­mu­ni­ties, bring­ing new peo­ple into the move­ment. Inter­na­tion­al groups like this now rou­tine­ly gath­er to use the cam­paign-pro­vid­ed Slack chan­nel, dialer, and tex­ting soft­ware to spread the word. 

Some are brand new to orga­niz­ing. Lau­rent, a vol­un­teer with France for Bernie 2020,” had also nev­er got­ten involved before this elec­tion. Bernie is the first polit­i­cal fig­ure that has giv­en me the guts to can­vass,” Lau­rent underscored.

Even if Sanders is not elect­ed, his cam­paign will have left a mark in that it has inspired young and old peo­ple to get polit­i­cal active for the first time. As Char­lotte told In These Times, it’s quite addic­tive to use your voice.”

Dis­clo­sure: This author has vol­un­teered with the Bernie Sanders campaign.Views expressed are those of the writer. As a 501©3 non­prof­it, In These Times does not sup­port or oppose any can­di­date for pub­lic office.

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