Scrappy Sanders Campaign Aims to Spark Grassroots Video Support

Video Storytelling Initiative Reflects DIY Approach of the Vermont Senator's Campaign

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Javier Soriano has posted three crudely produced videos to YouTube in support of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. The New York photojournalist filmed interviews with activists rallying in New York City for the senator from Vermont, many of them nonwhites and immigrants, and interspersed the footage with photos of the candidate. It's just the sort of do-it-yourself grassroots volunteer support the Sanders campaign aims to promote through its new video storytelling initiative.

The project is about as seat-of-your-pants as the video content it could generate. It's "an experiment," said Arun Chaudhary, digital creative director for the Sanders campaign and former personal videographer for President Barack Obama. Only a few days ago Mr. Chaudhary came up with the idea to meet with Sanders supporters in New York State who are interested in helping to produce short videos with local flavor. New York holds its primary on April 19.

"We had 10 days to go in New York State. Let's just get this done," he said.

So far getting it done has consisted of six meetings with a total of around 120 volunteers, many of them media professionals or people with at least some experience crafting videos for the web, according to Mr. Chaudhary. He kicked off his meetings last week at Buffalo State College, then took his video workshop roadshow to stops including Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca and downstate in Brooklyn.

The idea is to guide video-makers to use footage distributed by the Sanders campaign and tailor their final products to their local communities in part by focusing on issues important to certain areas. In New York, for example, a hot topic at Sanders rallies is fracking, a controversial oil and gas drilling practice that is banned in the state. All of the campaign's video content is in the public domain and much of it is available on Vimeo, said Mr. Chaudhary.

It's less about sparking a viral hit with nationwide viewership than it is about speaking to a small, local groups of voters who could have an impact on a primary election. "We hope people add those special ingredients from their town," he said. No videos have been created thus far as a result of the nascent initiative, he said, expecting some to emerge before Tuesday's primary.

Mr. Chaudhary also suggested that supporters touch on issues key to the Sanders campaign's message such as income inequality and diversity. "I did spend a good chunk talking about commitments to diversity," he said. The candidate has struggled to attract African-American voters throughout the primary season.

What will happen to the videos once they're made? Don't expect much filtering or control by the Sanders campaign, which is decidedly hands-off in its approach to working with volunteers. Even the relatively scrappy Obama '08 campaign was more regimented, said Mr. Chaudhary. "In Obama world 2008, we had a different infrastructure to channel volunteers," he said, noting that the Sanders campaign is "more self-organizing."

"In some ways it's a little bit scary because you don't have control," he said.

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