Illustration by Steph Barahona
I don’t know exactly what it was about her that gave me an uneasy feeling. We had struck up a conversation at the Bernie Sanders headquarters in Las Vegas, where I was volunteering. She was friendly, knowledgeable about the campaign, and I couldn’t stop myself from marvelling at how her eyeliner had been drawn with military precision. It was probably that she was just asking too many questions.
I’ll admit, when you first walk through the doors of a presidential campaign office, subterfuge and malicious infiltration are the first things you dream of seeing – if not just to satisfy that guilty West Wing fetish you’ve been nurturing since your early teens. Surely this kind of intrigue would never actually surface for a dilettante campaign volunteer?
Bernie Sanders surpassed Hillary Clinton 84 to 14 per cent among Democrats aged 17 to 29 in the Iowa caucus entrance poll. Whether you support him or not, it is clear that the Vermont senator has struck a chord with young voters. What’s more, this phenomenon is occurring on an international scale, with volunteers from around the world arriving at Bernie HQ each day.
Stella Tsantekidou is from Thessaloniki, Greece, and together we were working on a presidential primary campaign in a country foreign to both of us.
Stella, who “went on one or two dates” with Jeremy Corbyn’s son (“it just didn’t work out”, she deflects), is passionate about the resurgence of left-wing politics in the United States. We spoke about why the Bernie Sanders campaign attracts so many international volunteers.
“Obviously the most important factor is that I agree with his politics. I think students always gravitate to the anti-establishment candidate and the one who seems to be the edgier choice.”
“In this case, Bernie is it.”
But Stella is only one part of a startling pattern—hundreds of young people arriving in the US to volunteer for a presidential candidate they can’t even vote for.
Bernie’s ‘revolution’ appears to be echoing the anti-establishment sentiment seen recently in Europe, exemplified in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Podemos in Spain, and Syriza in Greece. This global shift to the left is resonating with many students who have been seeking a legitimisation of left-wing politics to remind their governments not to conflate being radical with being unelectable.
The campaign’s maxim “not me, us” is manifest, with Sanders outperforming even the most optimistic predictions, and international volunteers being welcomed with open arms to sustain the “Big Mo” (momentum).
Kieran*, a volunteer from Brisbane, has been involved in the Australian political system and came to see how an American grassroots campaign is run.
“The staff here have been so helpful; organising for us to get picked up from the airport and put up in accommodation. I think no matter where any of us are from, we know we’re all working for a candidate that we really believe in.”
Kieran has been working furiously to plot the route that Las Vegas canvassers will take to speak to potential supporters. This is not a simple task considering the sparsely populated city with such a high density of impenetrable gated communities.
“Coming here was made so easy for me as I did an exchange program with my party, and the organisers here have been so keen for more foreigners join them. Bernie is refreshingly different to the neo-liberal political rhetoric that has practically been xeroxed from one speech to another.”
The day before the Nevada caucus, there was a rumour spreading across the office. Apparently, there had been an undercover James O’Keefe employee who had been attempting to extract incriminating evidence from volunteers. One of the staff members sent me a photo of the perpetrator. I opened the image. Again, I was left wondering how the woman pictured had drawn her eyeliner with military precision.
* This name has been changed due to a Non-Disclosure Agreement