If There Are No Nurses, I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution

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  • If There Are No Nurses, I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution

This post is an excerpt from a fantastic new book called Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything. The authors are Becky Bond and Zack Exley, who were senior advisers to Bernie Sanders during his run for U.S. president and architects of the campaign’s innovative, volunteer-driven “distributed organizing” model.

Rules for Revolutionaries is the first account of how their “technology-driven team empowered volunteers to build and manage the infrastructure to make 75 million calls, launch 8 million text messages, and hold more than 100,000 public meetings—in an effort to put Bernie’s insurgent campaign over the top.”

Drawing on Becky and Zack’s experience on the campaign, the book breaks down “22 rules of ‘Big Organizing’ that can be used to drive social change movements of any kind.” Becky, who previously served as political director at CREDO and co-founded CREDO SuperPAC, tells the story of the crucial role played by National Nurses United (NNU) in the Bernie Sanders campaign in the excerpt below.

The Leap Manifesto argues that expanding caring professions such as nursing is an overlooked but essential part of the shift to a low-carbon world: “Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors.” And as the following excerpt from Rules for Revolutionaries makes clear, nurses are also indispensable allies in the political struggle for this safe, livable, and just future.


Rule #13: If There Are No Nurses, I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution

Nursing as a profession is based on the values of caring, compassion, and community, and nurses are powerful allies who will attract countless others to your cause. They possess a down-to-earth professionalism that is sincere and authentic, and they have firsthand knowledge of the life-or-death stakes of the most urgent issues of the day, from income inequality to immigration reform to climate change.

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I’m serious when I say that if there are no nurses, I don’t want to be part of your revolution. In poll after poll, nursing is named by Americans as the most-trusted profession. No other profession is even close. Meanwhile, there’s a four-way tie for the least-trusted professions: lobbyists, members of Congress, telemarketers, and car salespeople.

When National Nurses United endorsed Bernie Sanders for president (they were the first national union to do so), NNU president RoseAnn DeMoro said “Bernie’s issues align with nurses from top to bottom.” The same could be said about a true political revolution by the people. Not only do nurses issues align with a revolutionary agenda, but nurses make amazing revolutionary leaders.

You can think of nurses as the indicator species for real revolution. Nursing as a profession is based on the values of caring, compassion, and community. It’s not just health care policy that they concern themselves with. In her endorsement DeMoro explained that nurses “have to care for the fallout of every social and economic problem—malnutrition, homelessness, unpayable medical bills, the stress and mental disorders from joblessness, higher asthma rates, cancer, heart ailments and birth defects from environmental pollution, and the climate crisis. Bernie Sanders’s prescriptions best represent the humanity and the values nurses embrace.”

Social media and the mainstream media elite fueled the misconception that the driving force behind the Bernie campaign was so-called “Bernie bros”: white, male, and aggressively antifeminist. But those of us who experienced the campaign in real life as opposed to on television or Facebook knew that the Bernie campaign’s grassroots was led by nurses and a lot of people who were like them: a diverse group of working and middle class people, the majority of whom were women.

The nurses had big red buses, and they volunteered with their trademark red scrubs. The buses were in constant rotation in states from New Hampshire to New York State, from Colorado to California. Sometimes Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s would come off the bus and there would be an ice cream party while the nurses registered voters. Other times they stormed a campaign office and went out to canvas en masse.

National Nurses United happens to be headquartered in Oakland, California, and it was one of my first stops when I joined the Bernie campaign. At CREDO SuperPAC our best volunteers in our Sacramento area office had been members of the California Nurses Association, who often stopped by after their shift was over to call voters in our successful effort to defeat Republican Congressman Dan Lungren in 2012. I knew that when it came to work around elections, not only could nurses get things done, but they were also the best people to spend time with.

New York state nurses at the 2014 People's Climate March. (Light Brigading/Flickr)

New York state nurses at the 2014 People’s Climate March. (Light Brigading/Flickr)

I met with Holly Miller, who is the national director of public advocacy for NNU, and it was the shortest meeting ever. She said straight away, “Tell us what we can do to help and we’ll be there.” It was such a welcome contrast to our many other allies who, with the best of intentions, attached all kinds of conditions and quid pro quos to their offers of assistance. I left the meeting thinking I needed to figure out what to ask for and that I probably should make it something big.

A few weeks later I had an idea. We were about to launch a virtual call center that would be far more complicated but vastly more powerful than having volunteers dial voters one by one. It would make our volunteers many times more effective. But the software interface was terrible. Even the log-in process was not easy.

The National Nurses United office was located in a big building just a block from a major BART transit stop in Oakland. They had big meeting rooms on the first floor—which happened to have multiple phone lines in them to support the union’s organizing activities. What if we tested our new dialer on volunteers at the nurses’ headquarters, and we had some nurse volunteers to coach people along and get them to work on a tool we knew would be frustrating and probably plagued with bugs in the beginning?

I asked Holly and she instantly set me up with nurse volunteers who could help make this happen. They became our beta-testing lab and allowed us to get our Bernie dialer up and running weeks earlier than would have been possible otherwise.

Once all the primaries and caucuses were over, the nurses convened a People’s Summit in Chicago that gathered Bernie volunteer leaders and some of the best Bernie surrogate spokespeople. The genius of the meeting was having it at the end of their annual membership conference for nurses. Before I knew that this was their plan, I’ll admit to being a little skeptical—wondering if the weekend would be yet another gathering of all the usual suspects. But the huge crowd gathered at the Chicago convention center was amazing and filled with nurses. It’s impossible to adequately describe the difference that this made.

At every barnstorm and phone bank meeting we attended, we found that the dominant demographic was women who had working class jobs, service jobs, and professional jobs such as health care worker or teacher. Their sincerity and authenticity, their concern for everyone, their down-to-earth professionalism, and their firsthand understanding of the life-or-death stakes of the campaign for millions of Americans helped make Bernie’s movement great. If you’ve got nurses in your revolution, you know at least you’ve got a shot.

Used with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.

For more on the book, check out the Rules for Revolutionaries website, which will soon feature “a slide deck and script to enable the people who helped power the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign to share these rules for revolutionaries in their local communities. This presentation will be available as an open source teaching tool.” 

Top photograph by Jacquelyn Martin/AP.