When I met up with Mathis Dührsen, he was looking a bit sleepy. And no wonder! He'd stayed up between 1.30am and 11.30am making phone calls to prospective voters in the New York state primary for the Democratic Party presidential candidate to urge support for Bernie Sanders. He is only one of a modest but growing group of people in Australia campaigning for Sanders from afar.
They get together in homes for phonebanking sessions using free through internet calls. They plug in to a powerful program created by the Sanders campaign which automatically dials up people on the primary rolls in targeted states then records outcomes and the "scores" of campaigners in the US and around the world. So far there are "events" like these organised in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide but they hope to get Perth and Brisbane supporters into action soon. They've made more than 5,000 campaigning calls so far.
Less than half of these long-distance Bernie Sanders campaigners in Australia are US citizens, the rest are global citizens who see great international significance in this campaign. The age of Australians Supporting Bernie Sanders (the group Dührsen organises on a volunteer basis and there is at least another separate group of Sanders supporters in Australia) ranges from late 20s to 50. Some like Dührsen are students and others are working people.
They are all awed and inspired by Sanders' dramatic popularisation of democratic socialist values in a US presidential campaign. They did not know each other before this campaign and they have got organised through their Facebook page.
Sanders' long record as an independent socialist US senator and his refusal to be bought by the rich and powerful, was critical to establishing his credibility among his supporters, Dührsen told Green Left Weekly.
Dührsen is also motivated by the belief that "democracy is only as good as the people interacting", that "voting is not enough" and "we have to act if we want to change the world". He sees Sanders' as a rare thing, a politician who “respects people” and a campaigner not just for social justice but also for the environment.
“Bernie is supporting renewable energy and he's taking on the oil companies. He wants to creat jobs out of a shift to renewable energy, he opposes fracking and the tar sands pipeline.”
This is Dührsen's first-ever political campaign and he only got to know about Bernie Sanders after the close Iowa primary in February this year. He heard about it through social media.
Dührsen was was a bit down about Clinton's unfair victory in the NY state primaries on the day we met up but he was determined to keep campaigning hard, especially to mobilise people who wouldn't otherwise even vote in the US presidential campaign.
If Sanders' campaign is defeated by the powerful establishment in the US, Dührsen is certain that this will not be the end of it: "Walls have been broken. Firstly, substantial numbers of Americans have voted for a man who is an open socialist. Second, the campaign has been able to self-fund through crowdfunding by ordinary people. At the very least he will be an inspiration to people all around the world because he has shown that this can be done."