Bernie Sanders wins, even if he loses

Last Saturday, volunteers were knocking on doors for Sen. Bernie Sanders off Newkirk Avenue in Brooklyn. At one apartment building, after a few no-responses, someone picked up.

“Who’s this?” a female voice asked. The volunteers introduced themselves politely, greeting the resident by name.

“How’d you know my name?” the female voice wondered incredulously. Voter records are public, one of the volunteers explained.

Analyzing and utilizing voter information is a common campaign strategy. What’s different here is that the task is being carried out not by paid staffers from the Sanders campaign but by a small number of largely self-organized volunteers from “Team Bernie NY,” one of the main groups bearing the brunt of necessary field work in New York with essentially no involvement from the official campaign.

The success of Sanders’ run relies on groups like these — self-organized, deeply committed — but they also demonstrate what a post-primary future might look like for the progressive movement.

Software, software, software

Though last night’s results dealt a blow to the Sanders campaign, the Democratic race continues for now, and the campaign’s attention will turn to the next round of voting, including in New York. This could mean a paid staffer on the ground in New York City, but it wouldn’t be the beginning of the senator’s organization here.

Soon after Sanders announced his candidacy, a small group of believers in his message began to form a loose network of support groups and perform the necessary, gritty work of campaign functions: Team Bernie NY. Which is where the tech-savvy married couple Emmanuel Ackaouy and Ella Ryan come in.

The official Sanders campaign, like the Clinton campaign and Obama’s 2012 team, uses a voter file management software system, one of the functions of which is to support field organizing: collecting information about voters and using that data to direct volunteer door-knocking efforts — who is a registered Democrat, who is a likely supporter.

The campaign gave Team Bernie organizers access to the top-notch and expensive system over the summer, to help with the petitioning process to get Bernie on the ballot — one of the closest points of coordination between the groups, Ackaouy says.

But afterward, the the grassroots supporters lost access to the system, they said. So Ackaouy, an app developer, and Ryan, who works in web development, jury-rigged their own.

This involved filing a Freedom of Information Law request for voter data — which is free in New York and includes addresses and even phone numbers, crucial for phone banking, the couple said. They created a program that could organize the data into rudimentary walk sheets (distributed via Google sheets), and collect the information that other volunteers returned.

So Bushwick Berners, otherwise famous for T-shirts and parties, could also request a walk list and then knock on local doors, and send that information back to Ryan and Ackaouy at Team Bernie.

Their technological tools are made better through trial and error, sometimes messy but highly democratic, with the couple making adjustments at the suggestions of other organizers, they say.

The system’s successes are a good metaphor for the Sanders campaign, powered by popular support and linked together by technology. Like the horizontally- organized Occupy movement, they dislike the idea of top-down leadership, or even of Team Bernie as an “umbrella organization.” They hardly need the support of their candidate’s official campaign: they have appreciated the “hands-off approach.”

Beyond Bernie

Saturday’s voter registration efforts involved more than 60 volunteers who knocked on some 5,000 doors citywide, Ackaouy says.

Team Bernie NY’s efforts will have to counter the head start of the Clinton organization whose center is in downtown Brooklyn, and who this weekend held an office warming party for an organizing office in Manhattan.

The grassroots groups supporting Sanders are hoping that their combined efforts will be enough to bring Sanders a surprise win in New York.

Either way, the campaign’s reliance on such unofficial support in lieu of official state apparatuses might be one indication of what the legacy of Bernie’s “political revolution” will be, whether or not he wins.

Ackaouy and Ryan say they hope the relationships they’ve forged with other progressive groups will last. Concretely, they’ll have the tools they’ve built and the data they’ve gathered about New Yorkers interested in progressive cause.

What would they use it for? Campaigns for other causes, and “getting progressives elected” on a local level, says Ryan, “going beyond Bernie and beyond this campaign.”

This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers.