In 2016, Bernie Sanders’ campaign was akin to a start-up: scrappy, understaffed, and flying by the seat of their pants.
The only difference: most start-ups don’t spark a nationwide movement in just a few months; a movement met with as much negative pushback—from the corporate media and the entire federal, state, and local Democratic Party establishment—than otherworldly love and adoration from millions of believers across the country.
Three-and-a-half years later, Bernie 2.0 is being run by campaign manager Faiz Shakir, 39, a former National Political Director at the American Civil Liberties Union, and the first Muslim-American to run a presidential campaign.
“A lot of the movement that was generated in 2015 and 2016 is still strong and growing stronger, but this time, and this campaign, you’re also seeing far more organization happening earlier in the schedule,” Shakir told Status Coup in an interview.
That organizing includes Sanders’ campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, and California—and building up the state-level structures in each one of those states—months earlier than he did in 2016.
“This time around you’re seeing heightened levels of volunteer activity at an earlier point in time which are affirming that the work of 2015 and 2016, which was powerful, remains in place today and is benefiting this campaign—obviously with the goal of having a different result this time around,” Shakir said.
There’s also been heightened levels of criticism, and in some cases, downright smears, coming from corporate media outlets that have a clear disdain for the type of big-scale reform Bernie Sanders stands for.
Shakir noted that elite media journalists are already declaring Sanders campaign dead, which is actually something the campaign feeds off of. But many of these time-of-death pronouncements have been based off of polling that, as Status Coup has reported, has been oversampling voters over the age of 50 while sampling less voters under 50. Unsurprisingly, these polls have found former Vice President Joe Biden having a wide lead over Sanders, who has disproportionate strength among younger voters.
“You’re exactly right,” Shakir said. “Obviously we know the senator’s strength tends to come from younger voters, and those younger voters are often underrepresented in these landline-based polls. And if those polls are not doing a good job of trying to account for young people, or figuring out different ways to reach them, then those, by our own estimation, should be deemed a bit suspect”
Shakir added that these skewed polls are eaten up by corporate journalists, who just look at the top line of the poll rather than reviewing the methodology. These journalists then propagate the skewed polling into the daily news cycle “without really anyone questioning some of these basic factors that you and I are discussing.”
Many of the corporate journalists pushing these polls without context or caveats work for parent companies with clear conflicts of interests when it comes to the 2020 campaign—and Sanders.
For example, both workers for and the corporate pac of CNN’s parent company AT&T have combined to donate close to $51,000 to Senator Kamala Harris’ campaign thus far; Comcast, which owns NBC News and MSNBC’, had one of its VP’s host a fundraiser for Joe Biden; and of course, there’s The Washington Post, owned by Amazon and Jeff Bezos, who were on the receiving end of Sanders’ months-long social media ire before ultimately deciding to raise Amazon’s minimum wage to $15.
The fact that many of these outlets have offered a steady stream of attacks on Sanders—without disclosing their financial support for other candidates or previous conflict with Sanders—isn’t lost on the man at the helm of Sanders’ 2020 campaign.
“Those kind of disclosures are really important to make…structurally, it is important for people to understand and know how their media is funded, what they decide to cover, and why they may have certain biases about what they’re covering,” Shakir said, stressing that he didn’t want to call out each individual reporter for their bosses political ties.
Ultimately, Skakir thinks, an iconoclastic reformer like Sanders—who is explicitly charging at corporate power— will predictably be met with fierce resistance from that corporate power: “Those kinds of things are exactly the issues that many in the corporate elite world are deathly afraid of and would understandably would want to influence in any way that they can.”
One powerful entity progressive Sanders supporters are concerned about is the Democratic National Committee, which was exposed as having worked to sabotage Sanders’ 2016 campaign while propping up Hillary Clinton’s. Despite DNC Chair Tom Perez’ repeated pledge of neutrality, the chair just hired Chris Korge as Finance Chairman—a man that Status Coup reported was a major donor to Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (and publicly disparaged Sanders just a few months ago).
“They [the DNC] did gave us a call, we had a conversation about it,” Shakir said about the DNC calling Sanders’ campaign as they were about to announce Korge’s hiring. Shakir said the DNC has taken steps to fix some of the problems that sprung from 2016, but the campaign is keeping a “very cautious eye out” for any impropriety coming from the party. And if they come across shenanigans, Shakir vowed to raise the issue publicly.
He understands progressives’ natural concern over fairness during the primary process, but also made it clear—2020 is a different ball game.
“This race is nothing like last time; we shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing that it’s going to be the same…the context of this race is so different that I’m constantly trying to make sure we don’t fall into the wrong assumptions of where this race is.”
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