UVic group part of Canada-wide Bernie Sanders support movement

Campus News World

Calvin Simpson, President of Victoria for Bernie, founded club to get American voters living abroad out to polls

Photo by Paige Parker

Calvin Simpson was a massive Bernie Sanders supporter in 2016, however, he didn’t get involved in any campaigning events for a simple reason: he didn’t know how. 

Fast forward four years — after attending a Model United Nations event in Boston this February, just months before the 2020 U.S. election, the UVic fifth-year student with dual Canadian-American citizenship decided this was the year to find out how to rally support for Sanders. 

“This second time around, I really feel like it’s the last chance for a real progressive with broad popular support to get in office in the United States,” says Simpson, days after “Super Tuesday” — a day where the biggest number of states vote in primary elections, and about one third of delegates needed to clinch a party’s presidential nomination are up for grabs —

a result that pulled former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of Sanders in the Democratic delegate count.

On the Model UN trip, Simpson said he noticed a significant wealth and class divide in the United States compared to Canada, and believes Sanders has a proven track record and authenticity that would help him implement changes to alleviate those issues in the country. 

Initially, when he got back from the trip, Simpson looked for volunteer campaigning opportunities and started phone banking for Sanders. 

However, he was soon invited to join group chats on Slack with Canadian and American Sanders supporters, and decided to establish an on-campus club to inform voters about how they can vote in the Democratic primary while living abroad. 

“There’s a massive Slack community of Bernie supporters who coordinate everything from phone calls to canvassing events,” said Simpson. “There are so many volunteers in this country that are phone banking and canvassing to get out the American abroad vote.” 

Canadians who can’t vote in the U.S. election have been calling Americans south of the border to advocate for Sanders. A group of activists living in Toronto created a Facebook page, “Bernie 2020 Canada”, which has over 500 likes in support of Sanders and have hosted postering, canvassing, and phone banking events in Ontario for Sanders.

Last week, the Toronto Star reported a 30-year-old Toronto man, J.K. Hooper-Macedo, who made hundreds of calls across the U.S. to try and convince Americans to vote for Sanders. Hooper-Macedo cites the impact the Sanders campaign has on working class people, universal healthcare, and a passion to see politics moved to the left — in the U.S. and eventually Canada. 

Within the last week and a half, at the expense of his school work he says with a laugh, Simpson’s established the “Victoria for Bernie” club. Last week he organized a phone bank, and had about 10 volunteers make phone calls to California ahead of Super Tuesday. 

The Democrats Abroad — a Democratic party affiliate for American citizens living outside the U.S. who wish to vote in the presidential nomination process — Global Democratic primary kicked off on Mar. 3 and ran until Mar. 10. Victoria held an in-person polling station on Mar. 7 at Knox Presbytarian church. 

In the Victoria riding of the Global Democratic Primary, after the votes were calculated, Sanders defeated Biden by five votes (62-57).

Currently, Simpson’s club has just over 90 likes on Facebook, and he says that the Canada for Bernie group has given him templates on how to launch and run events in Victoria. On Mar. 5, the club hosted a canvassing event which registered 62 new volunteers — 31 of which are American voters who plan to vote for Sanders in the global primary. 

Simpson says one of the central goals of his club is to encourage American citizens living abroad to vote in the Global Democratic primary, a vote that usually has a low turnout. On Mar. 5, Democrats Abroad reported that voting was up 50 per cent from 2016 in the Global Democratic primary for Super Tuesday. 

“The majority of Americans that live abroad live in Canada, there’s over 600 000 Americans living in this country,” said Simpson. “The Global Democratic primary has one of the lowest voter turnouts out of all the primaries leading to the Democratic nomination… And obviously with our proximity to the border, Victoria is a golden opportunity [to vote].” 

Sanders’ Medicare for All plan was a key reason why Simpson was inspired to found the club. 

“As an American living in Canada, I couldn’t imagine the choice of ever having to choose between going bankrupt and paying for your insulin or something,” he said.

Simpson says his group is planning to host debate viewing parties and maybe a pub night in the months to come. Most of all, he credits the Sanders supporters on Slack in Canada for giving him a chance to be involved the second time around. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it if there wasn’t this embedded, built up, network across Canada,” he said.