The Bernie Sanders Revolution Has Moved to Mom’s Couch

The Bernie Sanders Revolution Has Moved to Mom’s Couch

With the country in crisis mode, Melat Eskender, 19, has assumed battle position: In her parents’ living room making phone calls for Senator Bernie Sanders, with quarantine rations of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos at her side.

The coronavirus outbreak has scattered college students across the country. Thousands left their campuses to return to their childhood bedrooms, as universities have announced that they are moving to remote learning and recommending, or requiring, that students leave. For many, that can mean a wistful sense of time lost with friends and school rituals missed, not to mention cabin fever. But there’s an upside, as Ms. Eskender put it: “Being isolated in my home and not having classes, it gives me time to focus on this campaign.”

Ms. Eskender, a Yale freshman from Columbus, Ohio, believes that the Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on Mr. Sanders’s strengths as a candidate, both in his health care-focused policy platform and leadership style. “I don’t see him as an authoritative leader, I see him as a healer,” Ms. Eskender said. “His policies and leadership are what the country need right now.”

For many young Sanders supporters, recent weeks have brought a sense of angst and grief: Their preferred candidate’s shot at the nomination has rapidly declined, as the country has been swept into a public health disaster. And the coronavirus pandemic has underscored their belief in Mr. Sanders’s “Medicare for all” plan, just as his chance of election seems more elusive than ever. He is behind former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who ended Tuesday with victories in Florida, Illinois and Arizona — and overtures to the Sanders base in remarks over a livestream from his home in Delaware. “Let me say especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you.”

Many of those young voters, though, aren’t so ready to move on.

“It feels like everything is so dark and spiraling quickly for our country,” said Kathe McCormick-Evans, 23, a Sanders supporter in Cambridge, Mass. “Coronavirus feels really scary and uncertain and I was previously feeling a lot of hope around Bernie and the primaries. Seeing him fall in the polls is just another reminder that things are slowly falling apart.”

Before the world was completely upended — a.k.a., earlier this month — Ms. McCormick-Evans defended Mr. Sanders’s merits in a “heated” group chat with family and friends who supported Senator Elizabeth Warren, in the days leading up to the Massachusetts primary. She fended off accusations that supporting Mr. Sanders was sexist, and told her mom how excited she would be to live in a country led by a Democratic Socialist. Now the pandemic feels to her like proof of the country’s leadership crisis, but the unease of the moment makes it hard to hold onto the hope she had just weeks ago, when she cast her ballot.

It’s a blow to the young people fueled for months by the sense of possibility they felt in his candidacy. But a belief in the underdog is something endemic to the Sanders base, and many are intent on transferring their anxieties into action.

Ruth Geye, 21, a college student in New York, was disappointed to see her senior spring cut short when New York University announced on March 9 a move to remotely hold classes. But she quickly realized that going back to Shaker Heights, Ohio, meant closer proximity to family members she can enlist in campaign work for Mr. Sanders. “My parents pride themselves on doing a lot of driving people to the polls, but given that won’t be a thing, maybe I can channel that energy into making calls for Bernie,” Ms. Geye said.

For Ms. Geye, the pilgrimage home to her boomer parents was a reminder of the generational fissures that Mr. Sanders’s campaign exposed. While she was able to persuade her mom to pledge support for Mr. Sanders in the now delayed Ohio primary, it took some convincing.

Earlier in the primaries, they disagreed especially on the role of female representation. Ms. Geye’s mother liked the idea of supporting “a very smart woman” like Ms. Warren, while Ms. Geye’s view on gender was more straightforward: “I truly don’t care.”

She wasn’t impressed by Joe Biden’s commitment to selecting a female vice president at Sunday’s debate, the first since Ms. Warren dropped out of the race, nor deterred by Mr. Sanders’ lack of a commitment.

Like other young female Sanders supporters, voting for a woman doesn’t feel pressing — especially at a time of social, economic and now public health crisis.

“Seeing yourself in political leaders only goes so far,” Ms. Geye said. To ensure her mom’s support for Mr. Sanders, she reached deep into her political arsenal: “I told her the only way I could afford grandchildren was the world Bernie was working toward. So I may have leveraged grandchildren, but it worked.”

That desperate times call for desperate measures is a view almost axiomatic to some Sanders supporters. And some feel that in upending work, school and economic routines, the coronavirus outbreak could make voters more sympathetic to Mr. Sanders’s message of remaking government and a larger social safety net. Mr. Sanders made the point himself during Sunday night’s debate, telling viewers that the pandemic exposes “dysfunctionality” in the country’s health care system.

Kirsten Gronlund, 24, who is in self-isolation in her East Village, New York City, apartment, said amid her fears about the coronavirus, she’s also held on to hope that it could be a catalyst for “sweeping, fundamental changes to American life.” The anxieties of quarantine make it challenging for her to focus on day-to-day work, she said, but more meaningful to talk to voters about a brighter vision for the country’s future.

“It’s hard to focus on work when everything feels so apocalyptic,” she said. “It feels like we’re so helpless watching world leaders scramble and flail. But something like organizing for real political change feels like an appropriate response.”

The coronavirus quarantines could even offer Sanders phone-bankers a logistical boost. Shivam Shukla, 20, a student at University of South Florida, said he thinks people might be more willing to answer his calls for Sanders and engage rather than hanging up immediately, since many are home and lacking social interaction.

Mr. Shukla realizes that the weeks ahead will be rocky for the Sanders campaign, but he’s known since the start that the campaign would be an uphill battle. “It was always going to be a tough ride, but if anytime now is the time to pitch health care for all,” he said. So he’s stocked up on M&M packets and decked out his parents’ Tampa home with cutouts of Mr. Sanders. “My bedroom looks kind of like a campaign office,” he said.

Some young Sanders supporters say they’re already seeing the effects of their quarantine campaigns. Katelin Penner, 19, a sophomore at Wesleyan, moved back in with her parents in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, for the remainder of the semester. Since returning home she has been phone-banking for Mr. Sanders from her bedroom, but she’s living in a house divided; her parents and sister support Mr. Biden. For months, she’s argued with them over policy and electability to no avail — until last weekend.

Watching the news on coronavirus in her living room, Ms. Penner’s mother turned to her and said she was beginning to see the appeal of Medicare for all.

“I think coronavirus might make it a more palatable idea,” Ms. Penner said. And fortunately, she added, she has more than a month left at home before the New York primaries.

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