Thanks to Citizens United and lax rules governing political action committees, we all might as well get comfy and enjoy another seven-times-70 years of wealthy donors’ inserting themselves into U.S. politics.
But Sky Allred and Mike Jeffcoat have a novel approach to ending the corrupting influence of money in political campaigns: Don’t take any.
“One of the reasons people donate to PACs or other [formalized] groups is so they [do] not have to participate,” Jeffcoat said. “There’s nothing more powerful than seeing a group of unsolicited volunteers showing up to participate. … We’re not going to have a single paid person on our crew.”
The “crew” that Jeffcoat is talking about is Fort Worth for Bernie Sanders, which he co-founded with Allred.
That’s right, Fox News fans. There are socialist Democrats among us.
Allred and Jeffcoat have been friends for several years, but neither has experience in politics. (Hooray!) Allred makes his living waiting tables at Spiral Diner & Bakery, while Jeffcoat works as a licensed family and marriage counselor. When Vermont Senator Sanders announced he was running on April 30, Allred immediately contacted the senator’s campaign headquarters to see how he could help.
The reply: Start a Meetup.com page.
They did, and that led to a meeting in July at Avoca Coffee Roasters on the Near Southside. Jeffcoat said around 15 folks came. A week later at Fairmount Community Library, an even larger group showed up ready to start working.
“We were thinking that [second] meeting would be more educational, but people were already on board and knew the issues,” Jeffcoat said.
Allred and Jeffcoat split the volunteers into three groups: One oversees outreach, largely through social media; another heads up voter-registration drives; and the third focuses on public art projects that highlight issues of social injustice and inequality.
The art group, Jeffcoat said, has been the most popular.
“If you look at the history of revolutions and changes in the world, that history has always had an artistic component around it,” Jeffcoat said. “Every single shift in thought had an artistic edge that expressed things that cannot be articulated in words. With 50 people signed up for this group, that sends a clear signal that people want to be a part of something creative, where their vision of the future is represented in some type of artistic expression. I think there is nothing more powerful than giving people who have talents expressive opportunities to organize, plan, and then execute a beautiful mural or statue and attract people outside of the rhetoric and talking points.”
Fort Worth for Bernie Sanders got a big boost on July 29, when 185 folks piled into Shipping & Receiving Bar on the Near Southside to watch a live-streamed video of Sanders speaking directly to viewers and offering them guidance on how to form grassroots groups to get his message out. Several watch parties were held across Tarrant County, but since Fort Worth for Bernie Sanders had been active for an entire month beforehand, Allred said, they were able to draw the largest crowd.
The next project for Fort Worth for Bernie Sanders is a Labor Day voter-registration drive on the North Side. The event (12:30 p.m. Monday at Marine Park Aquatic Center, 303 NW 20th St., 817-392-7690) isn’t a blatant plug for Sanders. Jeffcoat said volunteers from his group won’t be pushing one candidate over another.
“We’re there to listen to people in the Hispanic community,” he said. “We’re not going out there to get votes. We’re going to get to know people.”
The drive will end with a potluck-style barbecue dinner.
The movement will have a life after the presidential elections, Allred said. The group leaders plan to support local officials who take progressive stances on a wide range of social and economic issues, such as voter ID laws, unfair work conditions, racial profiling, and environmental concerns.
Those topics may not be important to the average Texas politician, but Jeffcoat said they are in line with movements that have helped make the United States great.
“Some of the most important changes that occurred in this country over the past 100 years came from a socially conscious place,” Jeffcoat said. “Any anti-social policy is going to leave people behind. Fear-based politics do not have a future in America. This is a global world, by virtue of the internet, and this sort of us-versus-them politics is a dying ideology.”