PDA’s Conor Boylan with Bernie Sanders
Thanks to social media campaigns and behind-the-scenes work from the Progressive Democrats of America, Sanders’ chances at president have become a reality.
By Theo Anderson
In These Times
"Bernie is a no-nonsense guy who says what he believes and has legislation to back up what he believes."
July 13, 2015 – In late April, when he announced that he would enter the presidential race, Bernie Sanders was the relatively unknown junior U.S. Senator from Vermont. Now he’s everywhere.
Though the “Sanders surge” seemed to come from nowhere, it was long in the making. Sanders’ rapid rise in the polls, and his increasing visibility over the past few weeks, are in part the result of behind-the-scenes work by organizations like Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).
PDA was founded in 2004 by progressives at the Democratic National Convention who were disappointed with the party’s presidential nominee, John Kerry, but were unwilling to give up on electoral politics. One evening, at the convention’s conclusion, about 200 people met to chart a path forward.
“PDA was founded that night with an inside-outside strategy—to bring outside energy inside the party,” said Conor Boylan, who began working for PDA in 2009 and has been its co-director since 2014. “It was almost an insurgency: We’ll be members of the party, but we’ll also form our own chapters and hold the party accountable.”
PDA now has about 90,000 people on its email list. Of those, about 35,000 members actively support and participate in its work. It is funded by donations from its membership.
In early 2014, PDA began a petition drive to persuade Sanders to run for the presidency. When Sanders attended its tenth anniversary celebration in May of that year, PDA presented him with the petition. That event marked the beginning a strong push by the organization to encourage him to run for the Democratic nomination.
The effort paid off this spring when Sanders announced his candidacy. “We’ve just caught fire since then,” Boylan said. “So it has grown from this small idea—that we have to get Bernie to run—to him actually announcing. And I’m starting to think now that he could actually win this thing. It’s been amazing the way it’s gone the past 15 or 16 months. And where’s it going to end?”
Along with its sister organization, People Demanding Action (which focuses on advancing a policy agenda rather than electoral politics), PDA’s priorities are healthcare reform, campaign finance reform and environmental and economic justice.
House parties are central to PDA’s work. Its website allows people interested in volunteering for the Sanders campaign to sign up to organize a party or find one that’s scheduled near them. PDA sends organizers a kit with information on the basics of hosting a party and assigning people to different tasks, like handing out flyers and maintaining a social media presence. (Continued)