What I learned canvassing for Bernie

Hundreds gathered at Atlanta’s Morehouse College for a Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign stop. [Photo by Steve Eberhardt]

Germantown—a working-class, primarily African American  Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood far from the skyscrapers of Center City—might look like the wrong place to canvass for Bernie Sanders. It’s filled with modest rowhomes and small, family-run storefronts, and if Philly DSA had listened to the media pundits who say that Bernie’s name doesn’t resonate in such neighborhoods,  we’d have chosen to canvass on one of Philly’s many college campuses or scouted one of our city’s trendy, rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.

But recent data show that just the opposite of the corporate narrative is true. That is, a neighborhood like Germantown, its residents mostly non-white, with an average income below $30,000 per year, is exactly where we’d find Bernie’s base.

And find it we did. On an August day, as my canvass partner and I walked toward our turf, a passing driver rolled his window down to ask us what the clipboards were for. We shouted back, “Bernie Sanders!” He quickly crossed a lane of traffic to pull into a driveway next to us, leaped out of the car and said, “Sign me up!”

Still, we couldn’t expect all of Bernie’s admirers to come to us that way, so we began door knocking. The first person we made contact with was a woman of about 50. With the door just barely cracked, she asked why we’d come to her home. As soon as we told her, everything changed. The door swung wide open. “I love Bernie Sanders!” she said. She happily wrote down her information for us and took several copies of our campaign literature, which she told us she’d use to help her friends and family understand the importance of supporting a leader like Bernie, who is “for the people.”

At house after house, we heard positive feedback about Bernie and his agenda. But an interaction near the end of our route made the biggest impact on us. A middle-aged woman began to talk to us about Sanders’s Medicare for All legislation. She shared with us her heartbreaking personal story of losing a 24-year-old daughter to cancer. Her grief went beyond anything that could be addressed with a political agenda, but she also felt a sense of outrage at having to spend so much of her daughter’s final months on the phone arguing with insurance adjusters. She also wondered if her daughter might still be with her if we had a healthcare system that didn’t prioritize the health of those with the most money.

Her story helped illustrate why the people we’d been talking to all day had a different take from the one you’ll hear on cable news or any major newspaper’s opinion page. Bernie’s Medicare for All legislation has gone from being a fringe policy proposal to a wildly popular plan copied by other Democratic contenders.

In Philadelphia, the issue is achingly real. Hahnemann Hospital—a community hospital that serves tens of thousands of Philadelphians every year—is at risk of becoming the latest victim of our for-profit healthcare system, as venture capitalists seek to liquidate its assets and turn the land into luxury housing. As a community coalition rose up in opposition to this sleazy scheme, Bernie was the only 2020 candidate to show up and amplify our struggle.

The residents we spoke with in Germantown on that sweltering Saturday afternoon gave us such overwhelmingly positive feedback because they know that we need real change on behalf of working Americans. And they believe Bernie Sanders is leading a movement to deliver it.

Paid for by Democratic Socialists of America (www.dsausa.org) and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.