Bernie Sanders inspired an unprecedented kind of grassroots enthusiasm and creativity in terms of campaign tactics that caught many establishment Democrats off guard. Perhaps the establishment response was a case of fear in the face of something new and seemingly uncontrollable. Perhaps it was, as some have suggested, more motivated by a desire to hold onto preexisting power. Either way, Trent Champ’s story sheds light on how one grassroots activist in Texas figured out new ways to fight against the machine for the underdog campaign he believed in.
What led you to the get involved in the Bernie 2016 campaign?
I’m a lifelong Democrat and like most attentive Party members, I knew that Hillary was who the Party wanted as nominee. However, I’ve admired Bernie every since I saw his interview on Face the Nation as Mayor of Burlington around 1988. When I read that Bernie declared, I came up out of my chair and never sat back down again.
I asked around online for the first couple months of the campaign for any info on where I could get involved locally. When I couldn’t find anything, I began the “Hill Country for Bernie” page on Facebook myself. We got over 600 likes in the first 24 hours. Facebook thought I was up to something nefarious and locked me out of it two days before the Dallas – Houston Rallies and I couldn’t afford the down time. So I opened the Central Texas Page, packed my bag and drove from Temple to Dallas to Houston to Temple to rally the crowds to “ORGANIZE ON SOCIAL MEDIA!” I didn’t know anyone. I was truly a voice in the wilderness crying to the masses. For the year that followed, everywhere I went within the Texas Bernie World, people came up to me and remembered me from that day.
What did your work with the campaign teach you?
We were all new, naïve, and inexperienced. But our grassroots efforts were working. When Bernie declared in Spring of 2015, we were at 3% here in Texas according to a Texas Tribune poll (which mirrored us nationally at that time). A poll they published right around Halloween of 2015 put us at 30%. That’s a 27% increase over a 5 month period of time, during the largest concerted, coordinated, media blackout in the history of American politics. That growth is 100% attributable to grassroots and social media ACTIVISM. No one was phone banking at that time.
When the official campaign came in, they were clearly following the Obama 2008 playbook of phone banking and courting donations. What they didn’t realize is that the world had moved on since 2008. In 2008, the cutting edge of participating in politics via social media was to add your two cents to a comment string on Huffington Post. That was it! This cycle proven to be a completely different socio-political landscape.
Because of our inexperience and our desire to “get along,” we agreed to stop all the grassroots efforts that had been so wildly successful. A final poll came out the weekend before the Super Tuesday Primary. It had us at 31%. So after allowing ourselves to be shouted down and cease all actions, phone banking gained us an additional 1% over the 5 months between their taking charge, and the Primary Election.
What are some specific grassroots campaign strategies that you found to be effective?
Getting your message out there on social media is better than knocking on doors or calling people at their homes. When you come to a person’s door, you put them in a defensive posture from the outset. When you make the message available to the public on social media, you allow people to observe at a distance, safe from accusations of guilt through association, yet within eavesdropping distance of being influenced. This approach is empowering to the observer because it makes the decision to listen their choice rather than something being forced upon them as a reluctant and resentful hostage.
Sticking strictly to issues, not allowing ourselves to be drawn into discussing the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama threw the doors wide open when it came to reaching people. We had an interactive program in which we had a list of Bernie’s 12 Official Platform Points. We asked people, “What’s important to you?” They would pick a topic, and we would open a corresponding folder on our laptop which had multiple memes relating Bernie’s position on that topic and let them browse at their own reading speed. We would then ask them to pick another topic. INVARIABLY, by the time we got halfway through the third topic, they would stop us and declare, “OK! Where do I sign up?!”
Which brings me to Operation “You be Anonymous!” this is a program of guerilla activism that we love because it brings out the rebel in all of us. When you order something that requires you give a name that will be called out, tell them “Bernie”, or “Snowden”, or “Wiki”, or “Standing Rock”, this is a way to subliminally plant relevant social topics in people’s minds. And whenever you go to a place that has demonstration electronics that allow internet browsing, ALWAYS load the same socially relevant website on all of ’em!
7. What else would you like to share with our readers?
I agree with Jim Hightower when he says that Texas isn’t a conservative state. Texas is a Low Voter Turnout POPULIST State. We can win the country by sticking to message and continuing the tactics that took us from 3% to 47% in 14 months.
Hell. We Damn near WON in SPITE of EVERYTHING.
We GOT THIS!