Latino In America
The Future of Bernie’s ‘Political Revolution’ in Brooklyn

By Nikolas Kozloff

With a trio of wins at his back including Washington State, Alaska and Hawaii, insurgent candidate Bernie Sanders is now turning his sights on the Midwestern state of Wisconsin, where one recent poll places him five points ahead of challenger Hillary Clinton. If he can win the Wisconsin primary on April 5, which seems within the realm of possibility given the state’s labor and progressive tradition, not to mention the long history of student activism at University of Wisconsin, Madison, then Bernie will have some wind in his sails as the electoral contest veers into delegate-rich eastern states.

It is vital that Bernie sweeps New York on April 19, though the odds are much more challenging there. Unlike other primary contests which are open to independent voters, New York holds a closed Democratic primary. Up to this point, independents have strongly favored Bernie, whereas Hillary Clinton tends to do better in closed primary contests. Moreover, though polling is frequently wrong, Bernie is currently about twenty five points down in New York state.

To its credit, however, the campaign has just opened an official office in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. While no one should write off New York’s upstate voters, who tend to be white, concentrating on diverse New York City makes more tactical sense. Up to this point, Sanders has done well with white voters but has struggled at times with minorities. Concentrating on Brooklyn in particular is a strategically wise move. The area is New York’s most populous borough, towering over Manhattan by some one million people, and overall Brooklyn makes up about 10 percent of the state’s population.

Long eclipsed by Manhattan, Brooklyn now enjoys some clout in the form of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, a native of local neighborhood Park Slope. In tandem with such newfound clout, many hoped the Democrats would hold their convention in Brooklyn, though ultimately the party opted for Philadelphia. Needless to say, Brooklyn has historically voted democratic on a very consistent basis. As such, the borough represents an essential electoral prize in the New York primary contest.

Brooklyn’s Millenial Generation

Long before the “official” campaign showed up in Brooklyn, volunteers were quick to organize. Without an official headquarters, activists held their first meeting last spring atop one resident’s Park Slope rooftop apartment. From the outset, it was Park Slope which wound up being the epicenter of the Bernie campaign and the neighborhood displayed the highest concentration of volunteers from any area throughout Brooklyn, let alone the city as a whole. To a certain extent, this is hardly surprising: a long-held bastion of liberal and progressive politics, Park Slope is also home to a local food cooperative which is at least nominally somewhat socialist in spirit.

In recent years, many around the country and even the world have become aware of Brooklyn, which has enjoyed a meteoric political, cultural and even economic rise. Though it’s almost a cliché at this point to speak of hipsters, Brooklyn or at least parts of the borough display a dynamic and youthful energy. It is precisely this millennial generation which has helped spearhead Bernie’s campaign in Brooklyn, though to be sure some older political veterans, particularly those over 60, have also played a role. Not only have volunteers organized at the local level in Brooklyn but they have also called voters in early primary states. Not stopping there, some have fanned out to New Hampshire and even farther afield to help in canvassing efforts. With support from young millenials, Bernie has been able to consolidate his base in key Brooklyn enclaves such as Bushwick and Ditmas Park. Some of these twenty-somethings come out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, while others are complete political newcomers and may not define themselves as “leftist.”

It’s difficult to know precisely how many volunteers Bernie deploys in Brooklyn at any given time as there are different “circuits” of people at multiple levels. From the outset, about 30 hard core activists set up the larger campaign infrastructure, though new volunteers come and go from local meetings making for a total of about 200-300 people. There’s a whole other level of people, however, who show up for phone banking events on an infrequent basis or attend larger events such as marches, perhaps numbering some 500-600 people. Without the technical know-how of the younger generation, particularly when it comes to social media, it’s highly doubtful that Bernie would have developed much of an operation in Brooklyn in the first place. Perhaps even more importantly, tech-savvy activists have been able to amass an impressive amount of voter data which allows for skillful targeting come election time.

Brooklyn’s Latinos

Much has been remarked about the racial contours of the Bernie movement and the so-called dominant role of white millenials. While the media has over-hyped this narrative, and Bernie has demonstrated crossover appeal to minorities in certain states, there’s a degree of truth in such observations. These dynamics can play out at the local level in Brooklyn, where the campaign tends to attract predominantly white folk. This in turn can give rise to an undesirable dynamic in which whites are deployed to canvas in other outlying areas of the borough.

From a tactical standpoint, the borough displays many daunting and even bewildering characteristics. Geographically vast, Brooklyn is separated into discrete neighborhoods which can feel like islands unto themselves. Sunset Park is a poor and working class Latino and Chinese enclave located just two miles away from Park Slope. For the outsider venturing into the area, one may almost feel transported to Guadalajara or Shanghai. Many Latinos in the neighborhood are illegal aliens and can’t vote, let alone speak English. When local residents are engaged in a daily battle for economic survival, it can be difficult to make political inroads within the community.

Nevertheless, Mexico and Central America have their own tradition of leftist politics and many residents may courteously stop and converse on the …read more

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