PHILADELPHIA — Twenty-year-old Hannah Perkins’s very presence at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week shows that she’s not like many of her peers. Three months ago, when college students across the country were spending most of their time worrying about finals, Perkins took on the added responsibility of figuring out how to drum up thousands of dollars so she could participate in the American electoral process.
Perkins, a delegate for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is not unlike other young volunteers from across the country — many of whom are college age or close to it — taking this week off to learn the ins-and-outs of the process to nominate a presidential candidate: They don’t have a ton of discretionary income. But when faced with the challenge of paying for travel, food and lodging to go play a crucial role in supporting a presidential candidate who inspires them, these young volunteers have turned to creative means of fundraising that seem almost tailor made for millennials: crowd sourced funding.
“A lot of us banded together and worked together to fundraise,” Perkins, a student at Georgia State University in Atlanta, said Tuesday. “It was definitely a learning curve. It really forces you to think outside the box.”
Perkins was one of roughly half a dozen young Georgia delegates who worked together to come up with the $2,200 to cover the costs of hotel, food and travel. The group started online crowdfunding campaigns targeting their friends and family. They held town halls in Atlanta with tip jars to discuss the issues motivating them. Finally, to cut back on the cost of travel, they rented a van and piled in for a road trip last week when they came north to the City of Brotherly Love.
“It is an obstacle for some of our younger folks,” said Ted Terry, the mayor of Clarkston, Georgia, who himself crowdsourced funding for part of his travels to the convention. For Terry, learning how to ask friends, family and strangers for cash is all part of getting by in politics. “It’s not like you’re asking people to fund your personal vacation to Philadelphia. Sleep deprivation is par for the course.”
Soliciting money from people is a skill embraced by Sanders supporters from coast to coast. One South Dakota delegate, 25-year-old Margaret Potts, said she crowdsourced her more than $1,500 trip on GoFundMe and kept costs down by staying more than an hour away from the convention site.
Even for delegates at the upper end of the millennial spectrum, the costs can be prohibitive: Gavin Hudson, a 36-year-old Sanders delegate from Alaska, said he held local fundraisers and asked for money online to cover the thousands of dollars he needed, and even then still had to rely on a friend’s air miles to afford the flight.
Still, for some of those delegates, figuring out how to get a bunch of people excited enough to donate their money to send you to Philadelphia is kind of what the convention and the presidential race is all about. After all, Sander did fund his campaign through millions of donations averaging $27 a pop.
“I think that’s a lot of what Bernie has brought to us.” Perkins said.