A Bernie Sanders bird
Birdie Sanders adorns the wall of the Sanders HQ at 2235 Mission St. near 18th. Photo by Hiya Swan Swanhuyser

It’s election day March 3. In the Mission, both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are fighting for your vote.

Campaign offices, whomever they serve, have traditions: Volunteers sit at folding tables. Bright signs line the walls, along with felt-tip-markered charts. Folding chairs are arranged in a rough circle for a meeting, and then abandoned. Pizza boxes or other remnants of takeout meals are scattered about.

 In 2020, thousands of San Francisco residents have answered the call of a presidential campaign, and are phone banking, canvassing, or performing other tasks leading up to the California primary March 3. In the Mission, much of these activities are based out of the local campaign offices of Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Warren’s office is located at 302 Valencia St. at 14th. Sanders’ is at 2235 Mission St. near 18th. The spaces are, like the candidates themselves, not all that far apart. 

Warren’s fans might skew older, in age or in spirit, while Sanders’ have a bit more bright-eyed energy, but they’ve all got hope — confidence, even. Warren’s folks exude the candidate’s own rad-mom energy, and Sanders’ faithful adore their colleagues; they literally point at each other and say “awesome” a lot. 

The Mission District offices of the two popular Democrats both make their home in typically San Franciscan spaces: narrow, deep storefronts with worn yet polished hardwood floors. They are loud with conversation, and plastered with those necessary signs. The offices are visibly temporary, but of course, the outcome of their struggle will be with us for many years. 

And if the game is national and the ultimate effect global, they’re both very much of the neighborhood: Warren HQ is crammed between upscale liquor store Healthy Spirits and longtime Mission District beauty salon Glama-Rama on Valencia Street, while Sanders’ place is across Mission from the famously innovative Mission Chinese restaurant and two doors away from HOMEY, a 20-year-old nonprofit serving neighborhood youth.

Weekend at Bernie’s: Volunteers keep it going at Sanders HQ. Photo by Hiya Swanhuyser.

At Sanders HQ, it’s twilight on a typical weekday, and the general feeling is relaxed and celebratory. The doors are open, the entranceway busy.

“The atmosphere here is very positive, very upbeat,” says Ron Tuason, a military veteran, at the Sanders office. He’s lived in the Mission District for eight years, he says. He’s 54, and describes himself as an “independent internet activist,” volunteering here for just over a month, doing a little of everything. Leaning lightly on an aluminum cane, he says the candidate makes sense to people like himself.

‘“Vets, retirees, service members — we face all the issues Bernie brings up, everyday, in our lives,’ says Sanders supporter Ron Tuason. Photo by Hiya Swanhuyser.

“Vets, retirees, service members — we face all the issues Bernie brings up, everyday, in our lives. I’m on Social Security and Medicare, I live in low-income housing for vets.” His white t-shirt reads “Veterans Against Trump,” and he’s pinned on several buttons: “Walk Your Talk,” “Unidos por Bernie.” He flashes the hand sign for peace.

“I’ve made friends here, friends I’ll keep forever.”

Marina Bahamonde-Partlan is a 15-year-old George Washington High School student volunteering at the Sanders office. She likes it a lot. “You feel like you’re making a difference. It’s good to feel like you’re contributing.” She’s here on a school project, she says, for her College and Career class. But she’s also here, riding the bus an hour in each direction, because she agrees with Sanders. “I think he’s the best candidate.” The pink hair framing her face is what the fashion world is calling a “rogue streak.”

 The candidate’s instantly recognizable Brooklyn brogue blares onto the sidewalk from an augmented laptop in the office’s front window, and passersby regularly stop to watch the accompanying footage, and to listen.

In a very San Francisco touch, Elizabeth Warren’s HQ at 302 Valencia is sandwiched between a high-end liquor store and a beauty salon. Photo by Hiya Swanhuyser

Julián Castro is standing on the stairway to the second floor of the Warren 2020 office. The place was earsplitting with chatter and applause just seconds prior, but now, the former presidential contender, Obama cabinet member and mayor of San Antonio can be heard perfectly.

“San Francisco is one of the greatest cities in all the world!” says the Warren surrogate. He calls for recognition of the site organizers, and the crowd roars.  

Sarah Loving is in that crowd; in addition to canvassing for Warren this year, she canvassed for Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada in 2018 and with Color of Change in 2016. “I love Elizabeth Warren,” she says, “and I love Julián Castro. They were my top two, and I put them together (as running mates) months ago.” As for whether the candidates, in this case Castro, will address local issues such as homelessness, she says “I hope so. I wonder if he’ll see what’s going on literally outside.”

A lone iconoclast in the back of the room at Castro’s event at Warren HQ proves what is otherwise the rule. Her shaved head, rainbow tie-dye pants, dog in one arm, and enthusiastic whistle set her apart from the rest of the crowd. Everyone else looks far more conventional, and has their mouth firmly set in a near-smile. The crowd is racially diverse, but homogenous in attitude (can-do), age (lower middle), and apparent social class (upper middle.) They’re neatly dressed and ready to work.

Inside the Warren HQ at 302 Valencia. Photo by Hiya Swanhuyser

 “A lot of my future relies on solving climate change, and Warren has a plan for that,” says 16-year-old Gracie Viega of Noe Valley, faithfully boosting one of the campaign’s slogans. “I think Elizabeth Warren is the smartest one on the debate stage. I think her understanding of finance has been made clear,” she continues. Viega isn’t sure what the future holds, but her experiences canvassing and phone banking for Warren make her optimistic about her candidate’s chances.

“I thought [Hillary] Clinton was going to win, so anything can happen, but everyone I’ve spoken to here in San Francisco is voting for Warren,” she says. While a lot younger than most of the Warren volunteers, Viega is similar to the others in attitude and demeanor: She is deadly serious and has the air of an overachiever.

Back on Mission Street, Mariela Gandara has been working the front desk for Bernie; she’s a 22-year-old childcare worker and graphic designer who describes the everyday experience of the Sanders office in glowing terms. “It’s so interconnected. We have people passing who walk in, people who are Latino and who have never voted.” Gandara herself is Mexican American and has a lot of campaign conversations in Spanish. “People want rights. They want an easier documentation process, better immigration policy, and we tell them what Bernie can do for them.”

Do canvassing Bernie volunteers cross paths with canvassing Warren volunteers? Not much, Gandara says, but “We have people who aren’t voting for Bernie but for Warren, and we’re like, high five! We’re on the same side! It’s a fight for democracy, but not among ourselves.”

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Julián Castro addresses the crowd at Warren HQ. Photo by Hiya Swanhuyser.

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  1. Very exciting! I suppose we should enjoy our moment in the sun because after the sun sets tonight, nobody’s Presidential vote in California means a damn thing. The founding fathers wisdom has left this rather important(?) Presidential election in the hands of the good people of Tempe, AZ; Milwaukee, WI; and the charming electoral hamlets located across the state of Florida.
    May those people choose wisely and may their votes get counted, not optimistic on either count there but that’s a rant for another day.

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