Canvassing in Iowa for Bernie Sanders: Takeaways

Last weekend I hopped into a van filled with fellow Bernie Sanders supporters on it's way to Des Moines ahead of the all-important Iowa Caucus, not really knowing at all what was in store for me. When we arrived 3 hours later, it was at an old, vacant loft building above a hip arcade bar and a few blocks East of the capital dome. Several dozen other volunteers where there, drinking beer and setting up their sleeping bags on the cold, wooden floor. The steady flow of hip-hop from the bar below dictated that we had a lights-off time of 1:30. Closing time. 

We got started bright and early next morning, ready to hit the streets. As I soon learned, to canvass means going to known supporters of our candidate, Bernie Sanders, and making sure they know where and when their caucus is. However, we wouldn't want to remind any Hillary supporters! I've never caucused myself, let alone canvassed for a caucus. So it was very interesting to hear how it all worked: the participates go to a gym or cafeteria and group up with fellow supporters of the candidate they support. From there, they do a head count. If one candidate has less than 15% of the participants, then those supporters have to choose a new group. 

The campaign staffers assigned our group to the low-income neighborhoods near East High School. Apparently these where the battleground turfs. I know where Bernie's infrastructure plan can start! Walking through those rundown streets, knocking on the doors of those beat-up houses, and meeting those hard working people - it was an eye opening experience. You hear about the "disenfranchised" people who are too tired, too disconnected to vote, but it's not until you see it first hand that it begins to make sense. Why bother caring about politics when your car is broken down, house is falling apart, family is hungry, and you know that every damn politician is just the same wolf in sheep's clothing? Part of me wants to complain about the snarling dogs at every door, mean stares, and slammed doors, but I get it. No one has done anything in the best interest of these people, why would anyone now?

Some coffee was badly needed after a rough first night with little sleep

What an experience. It was one of those world-view changing moments in my life that I wish I had more of. I can't say enough about how awesome the people in my group where! Something I'll never forget. Our group was diverse: we had men, women, young, old, white, black, stright, gay.

The next day, Sunday, we hit the same neighborhoods. When we discovered that the turfs had already been canvassed by another in our group or by another volunteer in another group, we brought this up with the campaign staffers at Des Moines HQ. They told us, "Some of those doors will be knocked on four times. It doesn't matter if they're pissed. I'd be pissed too if someone knocked on my door at 10am on a Sunday. But what does matter is that they show up to caucus. Either they'll get over it and go and stand in Bernie's corner, or they won't get over it but they will still go and stand in Bernie's corner." There was some mixed feeling about this, but I decided that they must know best. (Spoiler alert: they were right!)

Our group completed 29 packets with over 50 addresses in each packet. But by 3pm Sunday we were exhausted. That was until we learned that Bernie was giving a rally in Des Moines in just a few hours! We made it just in time to get into the doors of the small basketball gym, and to sum it up in as few of words as possible: it was one of the most inspiring moments of my life. My heart wanted to go back out there and canvass some more, but my feet did not! Travis of our group got to shake Bernie's hand and he told Bernie he's our hero. When he heard that, he looked Travis in the eye, and nodded, as if to say, "You're the revolution, and I thank you." We drove home that night, high on hope.

Photo credit: Ryan Shelton

The next day was the Iowa caucus. It was a virtual tie, with Hillary Clinton getting 700.59 points and Bernie Sanders getting 696.82 points. A difference of less than 4 points.

We now know that 6 precincts where decided by a coin toss. Hillary won all 6. 

Then I learned that the neighborhood we canvassed was one of those 6 precincts. It was a dead heat, and the precinct captain decided it with a coin toss. The video below shows how it went down.

Unbelievable!  It landed on the chair and then Hillary supporters started poking at it! The precinct captain has a big Hillary shirt on so obviously she was OK that it landed that way.... I wonder if it landed in Bernie's favor if she would have re-flipped it... It doesn't take a polysci major to see voter fraud when it happens in plane sight.  

I'm trying not to take it personal, but I am. What if I didn't skip those three houses on the other side of the train tracks? What if I knocked twice on every door? What if I spoke Spanish to the Mexican man who answered the door and couldn't speak English? What if I went and grabbed some Bernie literature in Spanish from the HQ and gave it to him on the way out of town? EVERY VOTE MATTERS! 

Bernie was given a 0% chance of winning Iowa when he announced his campaign. He tied Hillary! That is a huge achievement and I won't let a technicality get in the way of that. Iowa Democratic Party's 52 delegates will be split evenly no matter how you spin it. Bernie has done the unthinkable. He started with no campaign money, no name recognition and he's fighting against the most organized political candidate in history. What he's done speaks volumes for how badly people want someone pure and honest to fight for them and the working class, to fight against the corporations and elitist politicians that are destroying the whole planet.

But now is not the time to worry about re-counts and what-ifs in Iowa. And just how in the hell Hillary won 6 coin tosses in a row! (1 in 64 odds, or a 1.56% chance.) 

The next fight is New Hampshire, and the next one after that is Nevada. Voter registration deadlines in other states are passing us by every day. The revolution has begun.

fivethirtyeight.com, the polling anylitics blog, gave Bernie less than 10% odds of winning Iowa as recently as December 2015