What happened in Georgia, Bernie?
By Alexander Hernandez
The primary vehicle on the ground in Georgia was not the Bernie for President campaign proper, but the Metro Atlanta DSA for Bernie IE. Over the course of the campaign this effort hosted debate watch parties, pub crawls for Bernie, canvasses knocking over 10,000 doors, and reaching more voters via phone/text bank, but as we know politics begins with the millions - or at the very least the hundreds of thousands; and this effort alone was clearly not enough.
In a state fending off the worst kind of racist voter suppression, the amount of organizational work required to build a viable statewide operation needs time; and the Sanders campaign either ignored this reality or was unaware, either way, this failure was of the campaign’s own doing. Stacy Abrams’ efforts in both voter registration through The New Georgia Project and more recently taking on voter suppression explicitly with Fair Fight, show us what building a viable grassroots operation to contest power in Georgia looks like - it requires investing time and money, both of which the Bernie campaign never committed to the state.
During Bernie’s first campaign stop in Atlanta in May 2019, in a room of 100 organizers and activists, the Senator was doing his best to speak to voter disenfranchisement and local efforts, but was laughed at when he talked down racism in the South towards the end of his comments. This missed the reality of systematic racist disenfranchsment and Bernie’s own inability to connect to the issue, leaving some folks less excited than when they had arrived.
The narrative, “Bernie’s out of touch on race,” reinforced by years of media repetition, bad faith attacks, and self inflicted wounds, itself may have been insurmountable. A giant tell of how difficult this narrative was going to be to counter occurred during an initial canvass in September 2019. On a turf training 2 Black women, we arrived at a 2016 Bernie supporting household turned Warren 2020. The white couple could not get past “how he treated Hillary” and “not drawing in POC.” We did not have an effective counter to the false baked in narrative, even as 2 Black women and a Latino stood at their door, our very presence their debunking the claims.
Another significant miss of the campaign’s own doing came during the primary debate hosted in Atlanta. One of the preeminent Atlanta events was hosted by Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight organization. In the days before and after the debate, candidates dropped by Fair Fight events that included phone banking and voter outreach. Notably absent from making an appearance was Bernie. The man himself has said he is “not very good at bull shit,” but passing up an opportunity to drop in and phone bank was a self inflicted wound that did not help the narrative.
The pandemic caused all in person outreach efforts to cease, the primary was delayed 11 weeks, and Bernie suspending his campaign was the final nail in the coffin - it’s hard to motivate anyone to make calls for a suspended campaign. Leading up to the June 9th primary, in an effort to garner more delegates, the only visible GOTV effort came from Nina Turner’s Once Again PAC, hosting a web panel days before the election. Without a commitment of investing time and money, it will be difficult for any insurgent candidate to overcome the obstacles to winning in Georgia and the South.