On Friday, Bernie Sanders campaign volunteers and activists all across the country formed the Bernie Light Brigade, holding light-up signs for passersby in heavy traffic areas of Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Norfolk, and many other cities. Light brigades have previously been used by movements like March Against Monsanto and Occupy Wall Street.
Ben and Jerry, the famous ice cream entrepreneurs based in Sanders’s home state of Vermont, played a large part in organizing the event, emailing Sanders campaign organizers and encouraging them to form the light brigade. Jerry Greenfield even participated directly in the Austin event, holding up a sign over the I-35 overpass at 11th Street.
According to Greenfield, more than 40 groups were slated to hold up signs for the Sanders light brigade, including in Vermont. Greenfield happened to be in Austin on business when the light brigade took place.
“I was just lucky enough to be in Austin where it’s warmer than in Vermont,” Greenfield, a longtime supporter of Sanders, said.
“Ben and I are huge supporters of Bernie. We have been constituents of his for over 30 years. We helped organize the light brigade because there are Bernie supporters all over the country who want to show their enthusiasm.”
Sanders was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981 to 1989 before becoming a member of the House of Representatives for the state and then a Senator. Ben and Jerry’s formed in Burlington in 1978.
In Austin, volunteers held up a total of 15 signs, one for each character in “VOTE BERNIE 2016” and another saying, “99 percent > 1 percent.” For three hours between 6 and 9 p.m., the rush hour traffic on I-35 saw the signs, lit up brightly with Christmas light-style bulbs punched through cardboard placards. Motorists frequently beeped at the activists, who withstood a night that chilled down to around 45 degrees.
Other light brigades held up similar signs but played on different aspects of the campaign. Some spelled out the address for the Sanders campaign’s website, for instance.
The light brigade came at the tail end of a tumultuous week for Sanders. According to NPR, on Thursday Sanders reached 2 million individual donations and secured two major endorsements from the Communications Workers of America union and from the progressive group Democracy For America.
Following that upswing, Sanders faced a major setback when the Democratic National Committee revoked the campaign’s access to a major voter database following an alleged data breach. Sanders sued the DNC and after a massive outreach effort coordinated through social media and online petitions, the DNC capitulated and restored the Sanders campaign’s access to voter data late Friday night, according to the Washington Post.
Sanders has struggled to gain the media coverage afforded candidates like Donald Trump. Several studies have documented the disproportionate coverage Trump has received, including The Intercept, which conducted a Nexis comparison of major network news transcripts and discovered Trump was mentioned roughly 35 times more frequently than Sanders in headlines and opening paragraphs.
The light brigade was meant to showcase the senator’s grassroots popularity, despite the cold shoulder volunteers feel he regularly receives from major news outlets. Patricia Bazemore, an organizer with Chattanooga Area for Bernie Sanders, spoke to WDEF Chattanooga about the event and what the group hoped to accomplish.
“We hope that Bernie Sanders reaches new people. Check him out on YouTube. He has some amazingly inspirational speeches that will really get you fired up about him.”
Sanders, along with rivals Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, will appear on national TV tonight as ABC News airs the third and final Democratic debate of the year, starting at 8 p.m. EST.
[Photo by Kyle Schmidlin]