Tufts for Bernie has returned to campus. First formed in support of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid, the student-led group was recently revived after a hiatus by co-organizers Anthony Davis-Pait, Ben Auerbach, Rabiya Ismail and Justine Chung.
The organizers draw from a wide range of previous political experience. First year Davis-Pait comes to the group after a summer of training with Students for Bernie, a national campaign, while the group itself began through Auerbach’s involvement with Tufts Progressive Alliance (TPA). Today, TPA remains recognized by the Tufts Community Union Senate, but many members have pivoted to focus specifically on Sanders’ campaign.
“I started Tufts for Bernie by reaching out to Tufts Progressive Alliance, which was originally Tufts for Bernie in 2016,” Chung said. “There was no Tufts for Bernie [anymore], so I got into contact with Anthony who also had interest, and Ben.”
Auerbach, a junior, noted that Tufts for Bernie has recently coordinated with Tufts Democrats on matters related to budgeting. However, the groups still act as an independent entity with distinct leadership.
“We are actually getting funding through the Tufts Democrats, but I would still say we’re certainly more separate than the other active groups,” Auerbach said. “It’s nothing particularly against the Tufts Democrats. We just wanted to be somewhat independent — and that is partially because we do think Bernie is something different.”
Ismail described two key objectives for the group’s current organizing efforts, many of which thus far have centered on canvassing in neighboring states.
“One is to be as effective as possible from a local angle to a nationwide movement, working with the official campaign and going to New Hampshire,” Ismail said. “The second mission is just as important. We fundamentally believe in a grassroots democracy … a lot of our meetings are dedicated to discussion of issues that impact communities across the country.”
Chung said that the group currently co-organizes with students both on campus and away from Tufts, including existing local chapters of progressive group Our Revolution.
“We emphasize working with adjacent activist groups and not being an insular group on campus,” Chung said. “We’re student-run, but we are building a network of local student groups that support Bernie … Going to Bernie rallies and volunteer events and meetups and seeing all of these people from all backgrounds and all walks of life coming together at the events has been a really transformative experience for me.”
Davis-Pait added that they work with Sanders’ supporting teams from other local universities to brainstorm strategy.
“There’s a group called Massachusetts for Bernie where a student group with 8–9 affiliate college groups that are listed, so we have our own group within that and all the leaders talk and share tips,” he said.
Going forward, the group plans to run events highlighting differences between Sanders and other close competitors such as Senator Elizabeth Warren. Ismail said that she hopes to increase student awareness of the candidates’ key differences on issues including climate activism and perceived demographic focus.
“The main difference between [their] emphasis — Warren’s emphasis is on the middle class, where Bernie focuses on the working class and poor,” Ismail said.
Chung spoke to why the group decided to form explicitly in support of Sanders‘ platform.
“Bernie and AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] have shown that grassroots democracy is the way forward for the progressive left, and we need the maximal participation of everyday Americans who might not have engaged in part of the political process before,” Chung said. “What Bernie is calling for is something that is fundamentally different from any of the other candidates this year.”
Davis-Pait, a first-year, cited priorities beyond simply beating incumbent President Donald Trump in the general election that have drawn him to support the candidate.
“We cannot forget that it is not just about beating Trump, but about what happens when we beat Trump,” he said. “Bernie’s plans show that we have in mind what’s best for this country even after … he is making this grassroots-based mass movement of working-class people that are taking back the government from the 1%.”
When asked if they would move to support any Democratic nominee other than Sanders, multiple organizers said that they planned to do so but refrained from making broader statements about the group’s plans in such an event.
“We’re focused on electing Bernie right now. I can only speak for myself — I would support the Democratic nominee — but I can definitely say that you will not see the degree of active support and willingness if the nominee is Joe Biden, for example. The energy is there for Bernie within our group,” Auerbach said.
For her part, Ismail said she would support any Democratic nominee if Sanders did not obtain the nomination.
“The mistake in 2016 was Bernie supporters not jumping on Hillary’s campaign,” Ismail said. “It’s really important for us to unify at the end with any candidate it is. At the end of the day we all have the same goal, which is both beat Trump and have Democrats take back over the House, Senate and White House.”
The group meets weekly on Thursdays. Going forward, the group plans to continue weekend canvassing and weeknight fundraising efforts, with phone-calling events every other week. Ismail said Bernie’s large quantity of donors bodes well for the campaign.
“People are doubting Bernie for fundraising, but he has more than a million donors which is more than any candidate in U.S. history, so you can tell it’s grassroots,” Ismail said.
Chung expressed enthusiasm for the current and future prospects of the campaign.
“The campaign’s been going through its strongest stretch of time since it started, with a lot of endorsements coming in and record-breaking donations,” Chung said. “We’re really excited about that.”