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Nation & World

Impassioned Sanders Supporters Reach Upstate NY With DIY Activism

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The New York primary on Tuesday may be a chance for Bernie Sanders to score a victory that will upend the race or began to clinch the nomination for his opponent. His campaign raised more money than Hillary Clinton's in March, but in upstate New York there's a network of do-it-yourself activists who've spent their own time and money trying to upset Hillary Clinton in a state she represented for eight years. Brian Mann profiles one grassroots organizer in Saranac Lake, N.Y.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: I'm at a Bernie Sanders rally in this tiny mountain village.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.

MANN: There are dozens of people here. That's a lot for this remote corner of New York that often votes Republican. A crowd of kids with their parents hold signs urging passing cars to honk. Sue Abbot-Jones, a retired schoolteacher, is wearing a tie-dyed Bernie T-shirt. She's beaming at the turnout.

SUE ABBOT-JONES: Bernie has the changes in mind that need to happen.

MANN: Now, here's the thing. Bernie Sanders isn't here. None of his staff are here. This is the third event Abbot-Jones has organized for Sanders, and she's done it all independently, spending her own cash, building her own network of support on Facebook. I ask her to show me how it works, how activists like her are taking signals from the Sanders campaign but then working basically solo trying to beat Hillary Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Welcome to intro to phone banking. Thank you for taking time to join this webinar and to call voters for Bernie.

MANN: Abbot-Jones takes me to her apartment, which has been turned to a kind of one-woman campaign center. She's not very computer savvy, but the Sanders team has given people like her enough advice online, like that tutorial. Her goal is to change the trajectory of this race.

ABBOT-JONES: People don't participate like they should. It's a democracy. We should all be participating and paying our own dues through our actions. You know, you don't have to always give money.

MANN: This kind of thing is happening all over the country. Yes, there have been big Bernie rallies in stadiums with tens of thousands of people, but there's also this decentralized campaign underway, giving Sanders a big presence on the street and a viral level of impact on social media. Abbot-Jones says her part of northern New York has been really receptive. Vermont is a short drive away and people here live in Burlington's media market.

ABBOT-JONES: I have followed him forever and cheered him on.

MANN: Abbot-Jones says she used to feel this same passion for Hillary Clinton.

ABBOT-JONES: Yeah, I even wore my hair like her when she first - was first lady (laughter).

MANN: Are you serious?

ABBOT-JONES: I adored her. Yeah, I am serious.

MANN: Oh, no, that's amazing.

ABBOT-JONES: I adored her and of course...

MANN: But she thinks Democrats like Clinton and Barack Obama move too far to the right, and she's furious about contributions they took from Wall Street. She also felt betrayed by Hillary Clinton's early support for the Iraq war. I ask Abbot-Jones what she'll do if her activism doesn't work and what if after all these hours going door to door and spreading memes on Facebook Bernie Sanders loses and Hillary Clinton is the nominee?

ABBOT-JONES: If I don't make it into the convention, I'll be outside of the convention. I think we should make a fuss, and now is the time. We are in big trouble.

MANN: Unlike a lot of the young people supporting Sanders, Sue Abbot-Jones is old enough to remember 1968 when there were huge protests from the left at the Democratic convention in Chicago. If Sanders doesn't win the nomination, she says, the next big rally she helps organize might be at the Democratic convention this summer in Philadelphia. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Saranac Lake, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.