'So, you all know Eva," said Josh Phillips, Colorado's state field organizer for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, his voicing booming to the crowd of more than a hundred people. They'd braved the unplowed streets of Colorado Springs last Wednesday to attend a "Bernstorm" — as rallies for Sen. Bernie Sanders are called — at the Lon Chaney Theatre downtown.
Phillips, a bearded and pierced Vermonter, then passed the mic to the strawberry blonde holding a clipboard to his left.
Some diehards near the front of the auditorium stood to applaud.
Eva is Eva McKinsey, a Colorado College student who's taking time off from school to work as a field organizer for Sanders' feisty-underdog presidential campaign. Encompassing 12 House districts and hundreds of precincts, her region includes Teller, El Paso and Pueblo counties; southern Douglas County; and the San Luis Valley. She's responsible for sending as many delegates as possible to support Sanders at the upcoming caucuses and the subsequent county and state conventions in the coming months.
"Well, I'm only 22 so I haven't been around for too long," she said, prefacing why she "feels the Bern."
"But I've seen friends' folks lose their homes, have to get two jobs and struggle to make ends meet," she went on. "And it's not because of their work ethic. It's because the system is rigged."
Later, McKinsey stood in an aisle as the Sanders supporters — nearly all white and making no attempts to rid themselves of the smell of marijuana — filtered out of the auditorium.
Everyone seemed to find a reason to stop and talk to McKinsey.
An older couple offered her a paper bag brimming with Bernie merch. She thanked them, saying it would make a great addition to the campaign's new office on Tejon Street.
Days later, the bag sat in a corner of the office amongst a pile of signs, T-shirts and pledge cards. McKinsey apologized for the disarray.
"It's not the most put-together," she said, relieved that the office now had WiFi despite the snowstorm. "My excuse is, like, this is the revolution."
The Asheville, North Carolina, native and political science major explained that she did not expect to disrupt her junior year of college to work full-time on a political campaign.
McKinsey began volunteering for Sanders last fall, after returning from studying abroad in Argentina. Once she had tapped into the movement, she says, she felt no choice but to commit as much time as possible to volunteering.
"It was like a no-brainer to me," she remembers. "If I don't do everything I can to get Bernie elected, I'm going to regret it — I have to do this."
She hosted meetings for Springs-area Bernie supporters to talk strategy over tea, sitting on lawn chairs in her living room.
When the national campaign recently started looking for local staff, McKinsey was an obvious choice.
"Eva is the perfect example of someone who was already organizing and already has a network," says Dulce Saenz, the campaign's state director. Now, as a staffer, McKinsey spends her (long) days organizing phone banks, canvasses, caucus trainings and "Bernstorms" like the one last Wednesday.
The Iowa Democratic caucus came down to the wire. Hillary Clinton ended up with less than a quarter-percent delegate advantage over Sanders, according to the latest audit of results. That is fueling organizers in Colorado and the 14 other states holding early nomination contests on Super Tuesday (March 1) to work even harder.
If turnout at the recent Bernstorm is any indicator, young people will need some prodding. (I might have been able to count the under-25 crowd on one hand.) The campus of Colorado College would seem an obvious start. A concentration of 2,000 liberal arts kids from well-to-do coastal cities? Sounds like 2,000 votes for Bernie Sanders.
Getting 18- to 25-year-olds to circulate Bernie memes on Facebook is one thing. But getting them to knock on doors on a Saturday morning...
"When I got here as a freshman, I noticed a lot of CC students are politically informed and have strong political beliefs, but are not politically motivated," McKinsey observes. "And now, that's kind of being confirmed."
In general, though, she's excited that Sanders' campaign is pulling back the curtain on an increasingly emboldened progressive community in the Pikes Peak region. "I think this is motivating a lot of people who kind of take a step back normally because they feel outnumbered," she says. "They see they're not alone and are able to step out and speak up."
As usual, the politics around here seem to defy conventional logic.
"The other day I had someone email me saying they can't decide between Trump and Sanders," McKinsey shares. "And I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa. What's going on?'
"But that's just how it is. Some of our best volunteers are Republicans."
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