British Jeremy Corbyn Supporters Volunteer For The Bernie Sanders Campaign
Out in the early primary states, a handful of left-wing Brits join the fight for "democratic socialism" in the US.
On a chilly doorstep in the suburbs of Iowa City, Emily Cunningham is practising her pitch to potential Bernie Sanders voters in an English accent. Originally from Norfolk, she's one of the supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who have volunteered on the campaign for Sanders to take the Democratic presidential nomination.
A University of Birmingham student who voted for Corbyn in the 2015 Labour leadership election, she previously campaigned for UK Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Jess Phillips. But the US presidential race is different, she says: "The scale and the money is the most visible difference."
And the most radical candidate? "Probably Sanders," she says. "Corbyn has reined himself in. But if you put them both in a room together they'd get on. ... That'd be so cute."
Both Corbyn and Sanders spent decades as obscure figures on the left-wing fringe of politics and were never considered serious challengers. Yet both men charged to prominence last summer on the back of support from young activists exasperated with the more centrist views pushed by the leadership of their respective left-wing parties.
Currently on a year abroad at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Cunningham has driven for hours with fellow students to spend a couple of days making door-to-door pitches for Sanders. She's also trying to figure out some of the basics of living in the US: "Healthcare is a big one. Also the fact we [in the UK] don't have guns is something we take for granted."
Recent university graduate Simon Bracey-Lane took it even further. Originally from Wimbledon in London, he was inspired to rejoin the Labour party in September when Corbyn was elected leader. But by that point, he was already in the US on holiday. So he joined the Sanders campaign, and never left.
"I had two weeks left and some money left, so I thought, Fuck it, I’ll make some calls for Bernie Sanders," he explains. "I just sort of knew Des Moines was the place, so I just turned up at their HQ, started making phone calls, and then became a fully fledged field organiser."
Hearing a London accent has confused some Iowans who mistake Bracey-Lane for an Australian, but he insists it doesn't matter. "I think Sanders' message crosses international borders," he says. "His message translates into all languages.”
Bracey-Lane has worked his way up the Sanders campaign but immigration rules mean he can't get paid. Instead, he's pledged to follow the campaign to the end, while using his savings to meet basic costs.
"The momentum, the energy we have here sends shivers down your spine," Bracey-Lane says. "It really feels like we’re actually making history – it must be what it feels like to have been on the Kennedy campaign. In that sense I’m very grateful that I’ve carved myself a place here."
At Sanders' campaign HQ in Iowa City, there's a smattering of appreciation for Corbyn among a handful of the US-born activists who have heard about him, mainly from links and videos posted on Facebook.
Mark Giselo says Corbyn's victory was "an inspiration to some of us", while Robert Sulzer insists he's inspired by the UK Labour leader's defence of free healthcare: "The NHS helps people more than you know – I lost my house because my spouse got disabled and we had high medical bills."
Or, as Sulzer views it: "Corbyn's not the second coming of Winston Churchill, but he's much better than what you have at the moment."