David Sanchez puts in a lot of overtime. Three months ago, the 32-year-old Denton native was appointed by longtime labor union magnate Larry Cohen to manage Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign efforts in the North Texas region, from Texarkana to New Mexico.
From Sanchez’ first day, late last October, he estimates he has logged about 80 hours per week helping the Vermont senator work toward earning the Democratic nomination.
Why? Because Sanchez has firsthand experience with poor public policy. His older sister recently accumulated nearly $500,000 in medical expenses from an unexpected illness. And that was with health insurance. And since Sanchez has more than $40,000 in student loan bills, he can relate to the plight of current and future scholars, also staring at perhaps insurmountable debt merely for a degree, also inspired by Sanders’ message of free college for all U.S. citizens.
Along with fellow Bernie 2016 staffers and thousands of volunteers across the country, Sanchez is working for the kind of political change that could also potentially lift millions of working Americans out of poverty by raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour, open a pathway for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship, and eliminate the influence of billionaires and special interest groups in national politics.
But before all that, there’s a much more pressing issue at hand.
“We’re focused on early voting,” Sanchez said.
Having started last Tuesday, early voting will decide which candidate –– Sanders or former Secretary of State and current W.O.B. (Wife of Bill), Hillary Clinton –– wins the state’s 252 Democratic delegates. The primaries are March 1.
Self-described Democratic Socialist Sanders has to get past Clinton before he can take on either the tinfoil hat-wearing Bible thumper from Canada or the orange-haired racist. The line between the Bern and Hillary may seem thin to some voters, but Sanders supporters see the difference as a divide between business as usual and a political revolution.
Without updated polling data, Sanchez has to rely heavily on feedback from North Texans to compare local support for Clinton versus Sanders. What he has seen, he said, makes him confident of a Sanders victory. A recent Wall Street Journal poll puts the Vermont senator ahead of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump by 15 points.
Sanchez does a lot. He is always training new volunteers, with even more showing up every day to the North Texas region’s office, in Dallas. He also analyzes voter data, assists with social media campaigns, and provides training to grassroots organizations such as Fort Worth for Bernie Sanders, whose 40 members have been registering voters and knocking on doors for several months, all without official support from the Sanders campaign until recently.
Sky Allred was one of the Fort Worth group’s first volunteers. Starting last summer, he and other local Sanders supporters began organizing voter registration drives across town. Sanchez recently asked Allred for help with phone banking, a process in which volunteers call registered Democrats around the country and ask which candidate he or she is voting for.
Because it could be done in his free time, Allred was able to put in several hours a week without too much trouble.
“It feels amazing to be a part of this,” he said. “I’ve never felt this good about a candidate for president before. I feel like I’m part of something bigger as well.”
Last Sunday afternoon, a Bernie 2016 event on East Hickory Street in Denton attracted approximately 350 people, primarily for a keynote address by Jim Hightower, former commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture and a progressive political activist and journalist.
Hightower spoke about the political climate in Texas, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle, and how Texans now seem receptive to populist ideas, whether the voters are Democrats or Republicans.
Sanders “is making this a truly historic race,” Hightower told the audience, “going right at the politicrats, autocrats, and kleptocrats who are knocking down the middle class and holding down the poor in our country.”
And it’s not just millennials who are feeling the Bern and showing up to North Texas Sanders functions.
“At rallies, we ask how many people have never been involved in the political process before,” Sanchez said. “We regularly see 80 to 85 percent of people of all ages respond that this election is the first for them. We’re giving people skills, not only to influence the presidential race but their city council elections, senate races, and communities in general. This isn’t just about electing a president. It’s about a political revolution.”
The task would be that much harder if grassroots groups like Fort Worth for Bernie Sanders and dozens of others across North Texas had not self-organized last summer, Sanchez added.
Hightower was a great guest for the Denton rally, Sanchez said, but there’s only one speaker who can draw tens of thousands of supporters and turn out voters in high numbers. And that guy’s campaign headquarters are in Burlington, Vt.