Despite the cold that had descended on Washington Square Park Monday evening, a half dozen activists were clearly feeling The Bern. Their task: get Democrats registered to vote in New York’s April primary — hopefully for Bernie Sanders, their feisty man of the people.
“You can’t tell them how to register, but make sure they fill out the form and we’ll turn it into the Bureau of Elections,” counseled Sean Patrick Murphy, a 30-year-old organizer for the loose-knit New York Bernie Sanders campaign who was training volunteers. “Tell them Team Bernie New York is growing. Get them involved. Hand them a flyer and show them how Bernie is different than Hillary.”
The six activists fanned out across the park. Among them were Murphy’s parents, who had flown in from San Diego. Murphy, a corporate recruiter for the tech industry who lives on the Upper East Side, stayed close to a grassy spot near the arch where he had placed signs plugging Sanders. Within a few minutes, he signed up a couple of people who were walking past him.
Murphy has been doing this since June at locations in Brooklyn, the East Village and Central Park. His advocacy for Sanders took on special urgency last month when he showed up at the Deep End Club, in the East Village, to train about 30 people on how to persuade voters to switch to the Democratic Party by October 9, their last chance to do so. “Now that October 9 is wrapped up and finished, we’re going after Democrats,” he reminded the volunteers in the park yesterday.
A few minutes earlier, B+B asked the lean and restless Murphy what drew him to the Sanders campaign.
“Basically, the Bernie campaign is the only campaign that’s anti-corruption, anti dark money,” he said. He noted that Sanders didn’t even want to run until Sen. Elizabeth Warren “made it abundantly clear that she was not going to run. So Bernie Sanders stepped up. I, as a life long Independent, filed for the Democratic Party because I think he wants to save our democracy.”
Murphy, who worked before as an Independent for president Obama, believes that the Democrats can retake the U.S. Senate if there’s a large voter turnout in November 2017. His father, Paul Murphy, was more hesitant, saying he wonders how “viable Sanders can be in taking on the big money” flowing to the more conventional candidates. But he is a Sanders supporter. “He could be a catalyst for some impressive change.”
Other Sanders activists in the park said the Vermont senator’s political philosophy meshed with theirs on issues like climate change, the environment and income inequality. “I’ve been a social democrat for about ten years so it’s actually incredible to me that there’s someone out there running under that platform,” said Paul Schulmann, 28, who works for World Education Services and lives in Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood.
Kathleen Willis, a recent graduate of the New School, said simply, “I like Bernie because he’s not a politician,” adding that she was trying to organize a student group at her alma mater.
A 37-year-old volunteer from Gramercy Park said he met Sanders at the University of Vermont 20 years ago. “I didn’t know much about socialism but I told him if he ran for president I would vote for him. I want to help out with volunteering.”
By nightfall, other volunteers had arrived with jack-o-lanterns carved and festooned to look like Sanders. One of them said that 13,000 Republicans were supporting their guy. “It’s on Facebook!”Guitarist Armand Aviram, who organized the Oct. 8 “Berning Up Brooklyn” fundraising concert at the Paper Box in Bushwick, showed up with a portrait of the candidate drawn by his mother.
Aviram also appeared last month at the Sanders volunteer training program with Murphy, where he met Deep End owner Tennessee Thomas, a British-born drummer and founder of the now defunct Los Angeles rock group The Like. She is also a daughter of Pete Thomas, the drummer for Elvis Costello and The Attractions.
Thomas, 30, told us that she had contacted Murphy to run the volunteer training session at her East Village shop, which features retro clothing from local designers and a decided ’60s vibe. She may hold a similar event next month to drum up support for Bernie Sanders.
The Sanders campaign is mainly composed of volunteers and doesn’t appear to have much of a leadership hierarchy. But it does have organizers like Murphy and Thomas, who has written an article for Vice’s i-D site on why she’s supporting Sanders.“It’s all grassroots organizing–it’s not like he has an official campaign,” said Thomas, who met the senator during a town hall on 42nd Street. “It’s reliant on people self-organizing” and holding events like house parties “and listing them on BernieSanders.com.”
Thomas has been politically active in New York since arriving here from Los Angeles four years ago, participating in Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park and hosting events at her shop on issues like reproductive rights.
While parts of Brooklyn appear to be the most active hotbeds of Sanders supporters, his presence will be felt in downtown New York for Halloween. There will be a “Barking for Bernie” spot at the annual Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade on Saturday, Oct. 24, starting at 11 a.m., and there are efforts to get a Sanders contingent together at the Whiskey Tavern for the 42nd annual Village Halloween Parade on Oct. 31. Check out other events here.