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Sanders movement taking off in Michigan

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This weekend’s road trip to Iowa started with local Bernie Sanders organizer Kelly Collison and a few friends.

Now, the door knocking/canvassing team from Lansing is up to 10 people, three cars and two Airbnbs. It’s kinda like this whole Sanders movement in early 2020.

Organizational events like the Jan. 9 gathering at the Sanctuary that gathered a handful of diehards back in 2016 are turning into gatherings of 30-some people. All of them want to knock doors, make phone calls or do whatever they can to help the Democratic presidential hopeful, who is surging in the weeks leading to the Iowa Caucuses.

The drive to elect Sanders, which seemed to stagnate for a while, is back and is growing.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for,” said Collison. “I’ve been telling myself, ‘Bernie, please don’t peak, yet. Then his heart attack happened. He recovered and he didn’t peak. Now he’s peaking. Right before Iowa. This is perfect.”

National outlets like The New York Times are feeling the surge. They’re beginning to frame the race for the nomination in terms of a two-horse race between the U.S. senator from Vermont and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Volunteers like Marshall Clabeaux of Lansing are committed to the unabashed liberal four-square. Sanders won Michigan four years ago. They firmly believe it will happen again.

“Back in 2016,” he said, referring to the presidential primary, when Sanders beat Hillary Clinton, “I walked 500 miles in the month leading up to the election. I got pneumonia knocking on tens of thousands of doors,” Clabeaux said. “I’m willing to do it again.”

The diverse collection of Sanders supporters doesn’t need a lot of inspiration to run through a wall for Sanders. They certainly know what they’re getting into.

“How many people here have the Bernie app?” Collison asked Thursday’s group.

Nearly every hand went up. Yes, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has an app. It has news, videos, volunteering opportunities, and other ways to connect with like-minded people who want to “feel the Bern.”

Volunteer Amanda Dolinski was amazed by the enthusiasm of an Upper Peninsula couple she called during the 2016 campaign.

“I said, ‘Hi, I’m Amanda and I’m with the Bernie 2016 campaign,’”  Dolinski recalled.

The person I was trying to reach was a woman’s name and her husband answered the phone. As soon as I said I was with the Bernie campaign he said, ‘Whoa! My wife has been waiting forever for this phone call! Let me get her.’

“You could hear him hustling through the house to get her,” Dolinski continued. “When she got on the phone she was so excited to hear from the campaign. She wanted to know how she could volunteer. As we were hanging up the phone, she yelled, ‘YAAAHOOOOO!’”

Yup, Bernie people are passionate birds. Speaking of birds, remember the bird that landed on Sanders’ podium in Portland, Oregon, in 2016? Collison kicked off last Thursday’s meeting by tossing around a stuffed pink New Zealand kiwi-like thing. You catch the kiwi, you say your name and why you support Bernie.

Volunteer Nikki Phan said she supports Sanders because of his antiwar, Medicare for All and erasing student debt positions.

Clabeaux said he liked where Bernie was on the Green New Deal.

Dolinski said she first saw Sanders on an ABC morning program with George Stephanopoulos. Her eyes teared up.

“These were thoughts that I literally had forever, as long as I can remember,” she said. “And to have a politician — a politician! — speak exactly what I’ve been thinking, it was like destiny.”

Collison needed the kiwi, as it turned out. She didn’t recognize about a third of the people who trickled in throughout the meeting. As far as she’s concerned if they’re for Bernie, they can’t be all bad. Bernie backers are people who “care about people” and about “coming together.”

When she and her partner had trouble with their house and they thought they’d lose it, she posted a Facebook message. Within a half hour, she raised $1,500. Random people she didn’t even know gave. All they knew was that she gave her time for Bernie and that’s all that mattered.

So, at about the same time the Sanders team hires its first Michigan staff person, Collison is seeing the gradual increase in volunteers pick up.

“Bernie people are the best people,” she said. “I hate to say that because there are others who are awesome, too, but Bernie people are the nicest people because we’re fighting for people we don’t even know. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.

“It’s the people that make this movement a huge inspiration to me.”

(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol newsletter MIRS is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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