Ever since the Bernie Sanders campaign gathered more than 100,000 supporters in 3,500 events on one night in July 2015, it’s been clear that the senator from Vermont was building a massive base for his upstart push for the presidency. By the end of the year, it had generated more than 2.5 million contributions to his campaign, topping the 2.1 million tallied at the same point by incumbent President Barack Obama during his re-election bid. That juggernaut has continued to expand, with another 2.5 million contributions since the beginning of 2016.
Both the Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigns are organizing in a context that has never existed before in American politics: Close to 70 percent of Americans now own a smartphone, and two-thirds of all adults and a whopping 90 percent of young adults use social networking sites like Facebook. Both are experiencing massive amounts of online engagement outside traditional campaign structures. For example, Sanders has about 165 Facebook pages with 7.3 million likes, and nearly 200 Facebook groups with more than 358,000 members; Clinton’s numbers are roughly half that.
The question for campaigns today: how to rapidly absorb and deploy the energy of volunteers as effectively as possible. As senior advisers to the Sanders campaign, Zack Exley and Becky Bond bring a unique degree of wisdom to that challenge. Exley was MoveOn’s first organizing director, an adviser to the Howard Dean campaign in 2004, John Kerry’s director of online organizing and communications, and worked on field organizing technology with Obama’s 2008 general election campaign. Bond has been the political director of CREDO Mobile since 2004, where she most notably built the group’s 2012 campaign that successfully defeated several Tea Party members of Congress with intensive field operations. In the following exclusive interview, they explain how the Sanders campaign is evolving a new model of tech-powered organizing.
Micah L. Sifry: What are your roles on the Sanders campaign? How long have you been there? And what’s the team you work with?
Becky Bond: Zack and I are senior advisers on the Bernie Sanders campaign, who work full time as organizers on the national team. Bernie’s call for a political revolution has lit a fire underneath millions of folks nationwide. Our job is to help Bernie supporters around the country turn that grassroots energy into effective voter-contact work that helps Bernie actually win. Because we organize people all over the country and not just in one place, we rely on technology as well as a lot of in-person and on-the-phone organizing to do our part to help Bernie win.
Zack Exley: Claire Sandberg, who is our director of digital organizing, and I joined the campaign in the first week of July. For a few months, just the two of us had 46 states, DC, and the territories on our plate. Eventually, we were able to hire Corbin Trent, who was a great volunteer leader from the movement in Tennessee, and Saikat Chakrabarti, who had just started volunteering as a software developer. And that was the start of our “distributed organizing” team. Then Becky shocked us by telling us she wanted to take a leave from CREDO Mobile to help Bernie. That’s when I knew we actually had a chance to win this thing! We’ve grown the team since then by drawing from the Bernie volunteer movement and also people with campaign experience. And all along, our real team has been made up of dozens of critical full-time leaders in the movement who work virtually as though they’re part of our staff.