Bernie Sanders held what he said was the largest grassroots campaign event of the 2016 president race so far Wednesday night, broadcasting a video message over his website to tens of thousands of people at gatherings around the country.
“Tonight really is an historic night,” said Sanders. “To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a political online organizing event this early in the campaign which involved 100,000 people in 3,500 locations in every state in the United States of America. And that’s pretty impressive."
While those numbers could not be independently verified, there was a good deal of online chatter leading up to the live broadcast.
The events were held in bars, backyards and basements. The number of people who RSVP'd to each ranged from four to hundreds of people. A few hundred people gathered at a downtown bar in New York City on 4th Avenue in what was hailed as one of the largest gatherings. Prior to Sanders' speech the crowd shouted out the reasons they were supporting Sanders, citing paid family leave, free college and overturning Citizens United.
“We never dreamed that this campaign would move as quickly as it has and in fact the problem that we are having is that the campaign is moving much faster than our political infrastructure," said Sanders after his video message. "We have been in this campaign all of three months. We started with nothing, zero.”
Ellee Spawn in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said she was not sure what to expect, but then received RSVPs every hour after posting her event. She ended up moving her event to a new location after over 200 people signed up to attend. “We are just completely overwhelmed, mystified by how many people have signed up,” she said.
People signed up to host through the Sanders campaign website and volunteers helped answer questions. “What we gave seen across this campaign is RSVPs actually under-sell the Senator’s events, and we're expecting the same thing tonight,” said the campaign’s digital director Kenneth Pennington.
After the senator delivered his message, one of his campaign organizers spoke to viewers about need to turn their enthusiasm into a “coordinated grassroots movement.”
“To win this election and build a real political revolution we need to be everywhere. We need you to bring this movement to your community by doing un-glamorous but essential work like knocking on doors, calling voters,” digital organizing director for the campaign, Claire Sandberg, told those watching online.
Asked whether he thought his campaign compared to President Barack Obama's back in 2007 and 2008, Sanders said he thought he was out-pacing Obama.
“In all due respect, there is no question that in 2008 Barack Obama ran one of the great campaigns in American history. That’s a fact," he said. "In some respects, as I understand it, we may a little ahead of where they are… Did they put together an event this size this early in their campaign? No.”
In August 2007, Barack Obama’s campaign boasted of 200 ‘Birthday for Barack’ campaign events nationwide, where supporters knocked on doors and threw parties in support of the candidate, but the then-Senator and candidate had raised twice as much money then as Senator Sanders has today and had more paid staff in early voting states.
Manisha Sharma, who hosted the house party in southeast Washington, D.C. where Sanders delivered his message, said she wanted to host to help spread the word.
“He doesn’t have name recognition,” Sharma said. “He has conscious recognition. I feel he's doing God’s work,” she said. She has a tech start up and said she believed in his message about regulating banks and supporting community banking.
Sharma signed up online like thousands of others about a week ago to host an event, and a few days ago was asked by the campaign if they would let the Senator deliver his message from her party. Besides the network cameras and intensive internet setup, it looked like a regular house party with homemade signs, guacamole and Bernie cocktails.