When 26-year-old Dakota Ranzo Nelson and 28-year-old Kim Southern first arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, they stayed at the home of a “very busy” dog sitter. The visitors and host had one thing in common: They were all Bernie Sanders supporters.
Campaign ephemera isn't just buttons and T-shirts anymore. Thanks to a small group called Coders for Bernie, there’s a Bernie Sanders bed-and-breakfast network, connecting out-of-state volunteers with local homes to crash at. After three nights at their first home stay, where they shared a room, Nelson and Southern packed their belongings and headed to Lisa and Pat Kirchner’s place, about 10 miles away in North Charleston.
Sanders has trounced Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire among young voters. And their enthusiasm for the senator from Vermont shows most obviously on the internet. BernieBNB is just one Sanders-themed platform. Others platforms include Ride With Bernie, a ride-sharing app for canvassers, and Bernie Singles, a dating app with more than 1,000 users, according to The Hill.
Fusion spent a morning at the Kirchners’ place with Nelson and Southern. At breakfast, the group sat at a giant, slightly unsteady table in front of the couple’s built-in nook. Sunlight poured through the window as they discussed their respective plans for the day. Pat Kirchner warned Southern against canvassing in certain neighborhoods alone. Southern assured Kirchner she’d be just fine. Nelson was feverishly checking his phone to make sure everything was set for a big Bernie Sanders march he planned. Everyone else continued eating, helping themselves to a couple more pieces of turkey bacon and fruit salad. This was the first time the Kirchners had hosted guests from BernieBNB, yet the scene was startlingly familial.
BernieBNB went live early last month after Coders for Bernie spent just over two weeks pulling it together. No one, from the app’s coders to its users, formally coordinates with the campaign. “We’re actually all giving money to make this a reality,” said Justin Schulz, one of the engineers. No other campaign has anyone shilling for its candidate with an app, or volunteers, quite like BernieBNBers.
By Schulz’s count, there are about 1,000 active participants. But Sanders has a supply and demand issue, he said: About 75 percent of the users are foot soldiers looking for a place to crash, and only 25 percent are volunteering their homes. The home stays are going well, Schulz said. One participant even wrote a review in the feedback section, which is only visible to the site’s architects. "Jessica and Nate are wonderful hosts … Their place is very clean and nicely styled with a wonderful guest room with a guest bath,” the reviewer wrote. “A really nice coffee and tea shop only a few blocks away. And it's close to hdq's … maybe 10 min at most.”
Nelson is, at least until the primaries are over, a professional Bernie Sanders volunteer. South Carolina is the second state he’s hit, after Iowa. “I’ll probably make my way westward and end in California,” Nelson, who is broke, says of his itinerary. Nelson says he’s just shored up support from a Black Lives Matter activist in South Carolina, so he’ll be skipping out of Charleston a few days before the primary on Saturday to start organizing in Georgia, which votes next week. He’s already booked his stay there on BernieBNB.
Nelson hugged Lisa Kirchner goodbye and headed out the door. He got in the car and sat in the passenger seat and waited for Southern, who was grabbing homemade Bernie signs from inside. Pat Kirchner ran out to bid everyone farewell. He would be leaving soon too, to grab a pair of “tennis shoes” before the afternoon march.
In just three hours the whole house would be reunited at Burke High School in Charleston, for the march Nelson planned to elect Bernie Sanders.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.