Six Millennials, Two Campaigns, One Battleground State

Lucy Nicholson/ Reuters 

You who live your lives in cities or among peaceful ways cannot always tell whether your friends are the kind who would go through fire for you. But on the Plains one’s friends have an opportunity to prove their mettle. – Buffalo Bill

On a cold winter night in February, in the midst of a hotly contested Democratic primary, a car of young volunteers left Oakland, CA, bound for the battleground state of Nevada. Evenly split between supporting Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the group had decided to dive into the trenches for a weekend in support of their candidates ahead of a critical caucus.

For two days the volunteers knocked on doors, phone-banked, hung signs, and volunteered for caucuses–an all out immersion in the machinery of democracy.

These are their accounts, short snap shots of a moment in time written on election evening by the volunteers–one which I am one.

After the SandersForPresident subreddit started blowing up in need of volunteers in Reno, it became impossible not to go.

We hit the ground running in my most scattered, exhausting, and educational volunteering experience by a significant margin: phoneblitizing local voters, canvassing door-to-door, standing 20 feet away from Bernard himself at a rally, organizing a local caucus site – all in less than 36 hours.

In some sense, the past two days couldn’t have felt more disorganized. But in another, they couldn’t have felt more perfect, more exactly-what-I-should-be-doing-right-now. Because hidden in the rushed craze was moment after undeniable moment of reassurance, affirmation, fulfillment, and solidity.

Like the woman who, on receiving my anonymous call, declared her allegiance and cheered me on to keep dialing. Or watching the democratic miracle of an undecided voter listen equally to all of his neighbors before making up their mind – a faint glimmer of the magic we all know the caucus format is capable of.

As someone who hasn’t been politically engaged before, it’s a type of civic satisfaction I’ve never experienced, – one I don’t really know how to explain or capture in a Facebook post (and I won’t try). But I guess if I just keep blabbing then eventually something will come through, right?

Kyle Schmolze, 26, lives in Berkeley, CA. He is a developer and CTO at Groupmuse who prefers Rails and Angular over just about anything.

The plan was supposed to be simple: the ten precincts of Smithridge Elementary would assemble in the small auditorium, make a quick count of the awarded delegates, and adjourn in time for lunch. But that was before the line for new voters stretched out of the auditorium, down the driveway, and around the block.

A the tide of voters flooded in. Precinct Chairs shouted over the fray, a legion of assembled voters shouted back: “LOUDER!”

At 11:32am, they moved a precinct outside to make room. Four minutes later, they moved another. Before long, precincts had spilled into the library, the picnic tables, the daycare center and a classroom. And then the one in the daycare center had to be moved again to an even bigger room.

It was a scene out of Ellis Island – newly minted voters standing on the shores of opportunity, bewildered by the madness. Volunteers from both campaigns scrambled together to get folks to their proper places, and by working together in the most unexpected and pleasant fashion, we succeeded.

In the midst of it all, I met eyes with a Bernie Volunteer; their expression the same as my own: your precinct or mine, each new voter today is gold come November.

Antonio De Wolk, 28, lives in Oakland, CA. He is a freelance writer, communications expert and a door-to-door veteran of both the Kerry and Obama campaigns.


Everybody knows: Don’t talk religion and politics with your neighbors. In a caucus, forget it.

In a caucus, the anonymous in-and-out nature of a ballot box disappears – you vote with your feet. You look your neighbors in the eye and state your choice for President of the United States.

On arrival at Washoe County’s Precinct 3020 caucus room as a volunteer for Hillary’s campaign, I prepared for hardscrabble politics and careful caucus math double-checking with Team Bernie. Instead, I met Michelle, the Sanders’ campaign local precinct captain.

Together, we welcomed incoming voters to the caucus, going over the handbook while Bernie and Hillary supporters sitting at desks, in kiddie chairs and on the floor in the Smithridge Elementary School library chatted about how great it was to see so many young people voting. Michelle and I asked first time caucus–goers to raise their hands, nearly all of Precinct 3020’s 38 voters did.

Michelle nominated me as precinct chairman. I nominated her as precinct secretary. We high fived. Washoe County voted with its feet. Neighbors smiled and clapped. In Precinct 3020, Bernie won four delegates, Hillary won two. Exhausted, a bit frustrated, we went home, all a good deal more American than when we left.

Joseph De Wolk, 31, lives in Oakland, CA. He was a Press Aide on President Obama’s in 2008 campaign in Missouri, and is currently a Principal at Key Route Co. Follow him at @josdewolk.

Never have I ever…found myself presiding as a Precinct Chair for a Democratic Caucus in Reno, Nevada.

Until this morning. Amidst the long periods of waiting, I’ve experienced sharp moments in which I’ve felt that I am really living democracy.

One in particular stands out: an elderly lady in my caucus using minutes reserved for debating to announce her frustration. One of the lone Hillary voters, she asks the entire group with a note of dejection: “what’s the point of a caucus if my vote doesn’t even count? I would rather just do a primary where I know my vote will matter.”

She’s right, in a sense. Like so many others I’ve helped this weekend, she is elderly and disabled and still waited hours waiting to fulfill her civic duty, only to be told that her vote will not matter.

So what, then, is the point?

The caucus is undeniably more time consuming, which results in a lower turnout than primaries typically command. But even still, there is something so precious about what I’ve witnessed – communities intelligently, thoughtfully discussing the merits of both candidates. People helping each other – holding doors, waiting in lines, sharing snacks.

Is a caucus a better means to an end than a primary? Probably not. But I have to wonder if it might be an end – albeit a wild one – in and of itself.

Ashley Pandya, 28, lives in San Francisco, CA. She has spent the last several years leading service design projects in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. She surfs poorly, but loves doing it anyway. 


I was in it to volunteer for Hillary, but even more so for the chance to see real democracy in action. Armed with a free 2XL t-shirt and meager packet as a designated Precinct Captain, I got that and more.

I knew next to nothing about the caucus process. It had loosely been described as getting a group of people into a room and having them stand on the side of their chosen candidate. This idyllic description bore nothing in relation to the fantastic mess of active voting.

There were no instructions in my packet about what two hours of waiting would mean for the woman recovering from open heart surgery, or the elderly African American woman and her husband who had recently moved and been sent to the wrong site, barely making it in time to vote.

And there was so much determination in the young Latino man who had brought his wife and child to come vote with him and was worried he would be late for work that day. Not only would he have time to vote – he would leave as a delegate for his precinct.

In the end I couldn’t help but wonder: Was this democracy, or some twisted form of natural selection?

Rachel Heavner, 30 lives in Oakland, CA. She is an international educational development professional based in the East Bay.

At 7:30 am Friday morning, I ran to catch the Bernie Bus from Oakland to Reno, carting a crew of volunteers to get out the vote for the Nevada caucus.

The crowd at the bus stop overflowed onto the sidewalk. The bus was completely full. The overflow passenger van we rode in had enough self-awareness to laugh at the number of beards, and man-buns, among us.

Four hours of “feeling the Bern” later, we pulled up at the Nugget Casino for a 1 pm rally with Bernie himself – a rally so saturated with volunteers, we were designated front row cheerleaders, a job involving more mid-speech selfies than I was comfortable with.

As a recent decider between Sanders and Clinton – between a candidate who espouses my ideals and one who feels like the more pragmatic candidate to ensure we don’t end up with a lunatic in the White House – I admit I cringed with surprising consistency at how I embodied Bernie stereotypes. Not to mention feeling old among my bus peers at 30.

Still, the “Bern” in undeniable: the groundswell of folks jumping on a bus for a weekend of hard work, the readiness to do whatever is asked, and the belief that we are building a deeply progressive movement beyond any one candidate.

Megan O’Neil, 30, is climate change professional and energy efficiency aficionado, enjoying life back home in her native Oakland.

Our Nevada-bound, Facebook-organized Berner bus was on a mission.

Predominantly Bay-Area Millennials, we were headed into the democratic trenches to wage political revolution for the candidate we believe will bring about fundamental reform. Conversations of un-rigging our economy, of criminal justice reform, of not accepting the status-quo filled our ride. And while we were headed into what was supposed to be the third national event to further unite our party, it felt more like we were headed into war.

A casino rally with Bernie himself felt like a reaffirmation of everything that inspired our spur-of-the-moment trip to begin with, evoking everything about our democracy we wish to be true. It ended with a hopeful charge for final hour door-to-door canvassing–the same that drove us across states in the first place. Canvassing our upper middle-class, predominantly Republican precinct felt like upholding democracy itself–even conversations that might of swayed. Like the one with a younger man wearing a t-shirt revealing Abraham Lincoln in sunglasses quoting “Haters gonna hate,” who was relieved to find out his taxes wouldn’t go up 50% if Bernie was elected.

Later chairing one of these topsy-turvy, debatable caucuses ended with what felt like a unifying and progressive truce amongst us all: just as long as we get a democrat in office.

Jonathan Davis, 26, is a freelance consultant in the Bay Area.