Updated: May 11, 2020 at 4:22 p.m.
A student organization supporting presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is organizing virtual canvassing efforts with universities across the country.
GW for Biden – a chapter of Biden’s national campaign branch, Students for Biden – connected with five chapters from colleges like New York University and Columbia universities in March to increase support for the candidate. Executive board members said working with other schools has allowed them to mobilize with students beyond DMV Students for Biden chapters by organizing events like phone banking over Zoom and using a GroupMe to push campaign efforts as a combined, nationwide effort.
GW for Biden President Tyler Kusma said Students for Biden normally connects field members to college and high school students who wish to set up chapters. He said the organization’s leaders joined in early March the Biden National Student Leadership Council, an online community platform for executive board members from each chapter to connect each other with resources and invite each other to their virtual events like Q&A’s with politicians like former Governor Martin O’Malley, D-Md.
“One of the great benefits is just the people that they can bring in,” Kusma said. “Obviously, we’ve been doing pretty well in numbers ourselves, but when you get more people it really livens up the event.”
Kusma said campaign officials made the transition to an online campaign “significantly easier” by setting up the national council via GroupMe, where chapter members are connected with new event opportunities from Biden student supporters nationwide. He said GW for Biden has been promoting Biden canvassing events hosted between university chapters on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter so students from any chapter can access all events.
He said the group did not plan to collaborate outside of the DMV with schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before officials announced all activities and classes would be moved online.
“It just helps to remember that this is a national campaign so there’s national support for the vice president,” Kusma said. “There are groups all across the country who are working to get this cause going.”
Kusma said he co-hosted a trivia campaign event Thursday called “Barks for Biden” with a field organizer from the national campaign during which students could share their dogs virtually while answering trivia questions about Biden’s policies over Zoom.
Liam MacDermott, the group’s vice president, said the executive board has been holding biweekly virtual phone banks open to any Biden student campaigner to ramp up support for the former vice president.
MacDermott said the group has been contributing to the national campaign by participating in events hosted by other chapters, like Columbia University’s Pen Pals letter-writing campaign lobbying for federal government officials to approve the United States Postal Service’s request for emergency funding. After the COVID-19 pandemic prompted 29 state stay-at-home orders, the Postal Service experienced an “unprecedented” drop in mail, leading to decreased revenue.
“We hope to host events through the summer, and we recognize that we have a limited time so we want to just try to keep our momentum going,” he said.
The group plans to organize summer events like a virtual general body meeting to communicate with members about campaign updates, which he said will “hopefully” transition to in-person campaigning into the fall, allowing members to knock on people’s doors to talk about Biden’s policies.
“It would be really cool if we were able to go on a trip to go canvas in a competitive state, somewhere like Virginia that still can kind of flip between red and blue, or another state close by like Pennsylvania,” MacDermott said.
Jack Connelly, the communications director of the Biden group, said social media is now the group’s main platform for campaigning during the pandemic. He said the chapter has bolstered its online presence using Instagram, Twitter and the “Biden Bulletin,” a weekly email newsletter run through the GW chapter that updates students on upcoming events each chapter is hosting like a Q&A with former Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe.
“I anticipate it getting stronger as more people come into the campaign and as Biden becomes the only Democratic candidate heading into the general election,” Connelly said. “We’re in a fairly good place right now.”
After Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, suspended his campaign in April and Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee, the group’s social media has seen an influx of members from former campaign chapters, like GW for Pete and GW for Warren, Connelly said. He said the group’s Instagram and Twitter followers have increased “considerably,” prompting the team to post trivia questions about Biden’s campaign policies on Instagram stories to engage followers.
“We have seen a lot of interest from people who are from different campaigns for different candidates and then also people who were not involved in the primary season and are just tuning in now that Biden is the presumptive nominee or wanting to get engaged for the general election,” Connelly said.
This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Biden National Student Leadership Council formed after universities closed in-person operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The GroupMe chat was set up in response to the pandemic. We regret this error.