Is Philadelphia feeling the Bern?

The race for the White House was supposed to be Hillary’s. But after a series of missteps and the public shaming of her for taking money from big money interests, her only real Democratic challenger is surging in the polls.

Bernie Sanders, a Senator from Vermont and a democratic socialist, was once trailing Hillary Clinton by 50 points in most polls. Now, it’s reported he trails her by just 10 points in New Hampshire and his support in Iowa has doubled in the last several weeks alone.

How’s he doing it? In some ways, it’s through grassroots organizing and volunteers who grew largely out of the Occupy movement — those who support Sanders because of his staunch opposition to America being controlled by big banks and large corporations.

There’s movement to organize here in Philadelphia, and the support for Sanders here has grown over the last several weeks alone. On Facebook, Philly for Bernie 2016 has almost 250 members, and another group of volunteer organizers called Philadelphia for Bernie Sanders 2016 has more than 130 members discussing how better to get the word out about their candidate of choice.

Larry Swetman, a 29-year-old West Philly resident, said he takes pride in the Facebook group being grassroots and not officially affiliated with the campaign, saying he’s organizing weekly conference calls through the Philadelphia for Bernie Sanders 2016 Facebook group so members can discuss the best ways to go about campaigning for Sanders in Philly.

In addition, Swetman is organizing national conference calls with volunteers that are essentially “organizing 101.” He’s experienced in online campaign organization, and he’s training others to do the same.

Local organizers are also working to schedule an in-person meeting. A poll on dates to schedule that meeting for can be found here.

“It’s not going to be people giving us permission,” he said. “But it’s me and you getting excited and building emotional connections, and literally going out on our street and knocking on doors. And people have been very inspired by that.”

Swetman said everyone’s ideas are different about how best to get word out about Bernie Sanders and his values — especially as he’ll be taking on someone with virtually 100 percent name recognition. But he said he values good old fashioned knocking on doors in neighborhoods in the city and tapping into people’s emotions.

Sanders has been talking about issues of social justice for decades that his supporters say aligns well with movements like Occupy and #BlackLivesMatter, whether it’s gender and racial equality or better access to social services for the poor.

His organizers say more people would agree with Sanders’ political stances if they were properly educated about them.

“There are parts of his platform that everybody has some emotional connection to,” Swetman said. “That’s why you’ve been seeing these increases in numbers. So when you combine that real domino effect of emotion with digital infrastructure, when those two things combine, it’s a real force to be reckoned with.”

But is Sanders’ campaign built to go the distance? Analysts say probably not. The New York Times points out that he’s surging after mobilizing liberal voters, but Clinton still has moderates and conservative Democrats on lock and nearly half of the Democratic electorate identifies as such.

Swetman says keeping the momentum is going to be about small groups organizing in cities like Philadelphia.

“How do you move people toward Bernie? You crystallize the narrative: This is people vs. money,” he said. “If Bernie’s going to have a name in Philly, it’s going to be about people taking action to learn. They are the ones who have got to take action.”

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.