It’s eye-catching. It’s effective. It’s wildly under-researched and fervently over-hyped. It’s Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash—a Facebook group with 441,000 members and counting that injuriously reflects the current climate of the presidential primaries for the millennial generation of voters. Donning a term you may be familiar with at this point, the young “Bernie Bros” that peruse the page have produced a mentality that is fairly new to the Democratic party: one of claiming such loyalty to one candidate that they cheerfully ostracize the other. Sound familiar? See: Trump, Donald J., et al.
In all fairness, the tradition of rallying behind the party a voter supports regardless of the nominee has been long absent from the 2016 race—part as a result of the anti-establishment candidates in both parties (aforementioned) who have truly split, shaped, and changed the state of the race. But the role of social media in this race has made impact on real results and voter turnout like never before. Millennials are numbered 75.3 million in a 2015 Pew Research Center study, surpassing the projected 74.9 million Baby Boomers.
This statistic is not a negative by any means. America has been trying to pull its young voters out of the woodworks and into the polling booths for the past—well, the entirety, actually, of its democratic history. And some say it’s social media that has helped that to happen.
“We’re the most progressive generation,” Babson College student and political science major Amanda Tarpley said. “If we all showed up to the polls, we could have a major impact on this race. And it’s cool that social media is making that known.”
Tarpley is correct. Studies have found millennials are far more “open-minded” in comparison to their Boomer counterparts. However, millennials on social media can often be a drastically different story.
Online magazine Slate described Bernie Bros last month as the “white, male Bernie Sanders supporter who haunts Internet comment sections” and fires off “tweets reducing Clinton and her supporters to their vaginas.”
Hashtags ranging from #WhichHillary, and later to #WitchHillary, have been cited by pro-Clinton millennials as a direct result of this sexism, in addition to the meme: Bernie vs. Hillary.
“an authentic Italian restaurant for the whole family!” pic.twitter.com/vl45Mt4PL5
— Sassy Sanders (@SassySenSanders) January 30, 2016
Ah, yes. “Compare them on the issues that matter,” the laminated sign reads, illuminated by what can only be the fluorescent lighting of a college common room. For Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash, these issues include everything from Olive Garden to jet skis. They haven’t even left lizards out of the equation, taking on a Vermin Supreme-like stance on all encompassing votership.
important issues for me pic.twitter.com/LYbEwIXovk
— Dog Girlfriend (@Spurksploodge) January 28, 2016
Here’s another Bernie/Hillary comparison from this morning: https://t.co/A3FkAEXMwW
— obvious plant (@obviousplant_) January 29, 2016
Let’s be completely clear. The issue is not one-sided. Clinton supporters have been quite as guilty—although perhaps not as largely white, straight, male, and cis-gendered—of smearing and slandering as Trump and Bernie supporters have. And Clinton has long-known the benefits of gaining the millennial vote, part of which is why meme-makers love to poke fun at how much she wants the millennial vote.
Clinton announced her candidacy via YouTube this time last year. And she’s been trying really, really hard since then, according to a group of Bernie Sanders supporters I saw protesting outside the Boylston Street T Station last week.
“She just wants the millennial vote, like, so badly,” activist Jake Labanache said as he passed out #FeelTheBern stickers to passing students. “It’s become pretty sad.”
Labanache did not feel the statement needed further specifying. “I just really do not like her. I don’t know what it is,” he explained.
Labanache’s fellow canvasser, Tori, volunteers her weekends for the Sanders campaign while working towards a Business degree at UMass Boston.
Tori is a proud Bernie Sanders’ Dank Meme Stash contributer, and says the flack it has received is unnecessary.
“I get most of my information from social media, and specifically the dank meme stash,” Tori said. “A lot of people think it’s just distasteful memes, and yeah some of it totally is, but people share really good articles on the page a lot of the time. It’s gotten a bad rep when actually it’s super informative.”
Glenn Greenwald, former writer for The Guardian, has a similar stance as Tori and Labanache’s, calling the Bernie Bro conversation a “handy, all purpose pro-Clinton smear” intended to “inherently delegitimize all critics of Hillary Clinton by accusing them of, or at least associating them with, sexism.”
From Bernie vs. Hillary to Twitter vs. Reddit
Many Bernie supporters have taken to Reddit to assert the Sanders camp can be embodied by more than a demeaning meme. The 89% up voted thread received thousands of hits and comments, as users expressed the need to end the movements online tactics of “Hillary bashing” lest it “destroy the Democratic party.” As one Reddit user put it, “Being a dick alienates people who might otherwise be open to dialogue.”
The Vermont Senator still holds a majority of the millennial vote in this election. Just a day before the Washington caucuses, a video clip of a small bird landing on the candidate’s podium during a Portland rally went viral, prompting the hashtag #BirdieSanders across the Internet. “This little bird doesn’t know it,” Sanders said. “But I think there may be some symbolism here.” The crowd—of what appeared to be primarily young voters, went wild. The Sanders campaign posted the video on their YouTube page and shared it in ads to help their results in Washington.
The Bernie Sanders campaign was quick to share the event to their own Twitter page, followed by a graphic design. Emerson College student Xia Rondeau explained the Sanders camp has a strong artistic base that reaches millennials, but these “bells and whistles” distract from the politics.
“Bernie Sanders has great marketing,” Rondeau said. “He has young supporters and artists making his campaign messages and artwork supporting him. There’s a giant Bernie mural as you drive into New York City. It’s clearly his demographic. But that doesn’t mean he’s a good politician, and it doesn’t mean he would make a good president.”
The Bernie vs. Hillary battle has become a social media showdown, with users from every medium debating on the best way to demonstrate support for their candidate. Are millennial Bernie Sanders supporters turning into something all too similar to the raging Trump fans that have taken the spotlight in the media lately? Or are they just a group of impassioned voters, eager to elect a candidate they believe can best lead the country?