Bernie Sanders Taco Truck
A Bernie Sanders supporter watches the Democratic presidential candidate on a live stream video in front of a taco truck in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Around 100,000 supporters RSVPed for similar events, aimed at boosting the ranks of the Vermont Senator's campaigners in the Democratic primary. Prarthana Mohan / Bernie Sanders volunteer

I see Bernie Sanders’ wispy white bounce and his mouth move on a supporter’s iPhone but can’t hear his speech over the L.A. traffic and the hum of the taco truck’s generator. I count 18 Bernie Sanders supporters sitting on folding chairs on the sidewalk across from the taco truck, each listening to the Vermont Senator’s stump speech in a different position. One couple leans toward each other, shoulders touching, holding a iPhone speaker between their ears. Three men have cellphones in their laps and headphones on. One eats tacos while he listens to Sanders’ vision for the presidency, ripping into meat, tortilla and hot garnish between soundbites about raising the minimum wage, free education for all and reigning in the power of corporations.

“The powers that be -- that is corporate America, Wall Street, insurance companies, the drug companies, the military industrial complex—these guys are enormously powerful.” Sanders says during the live speech, which was streamed online. They’ve got the money, they’ve got the power, but we have the people.”

Bernie Sanders organizers say that 100,000 people RSVPed to 3,500 events in all 50 states for two stump speeches that day. The presidential candidate delivered the rallying remarks from a house party in southwest Washington State, according to the New York Times. While Hillary Clinton is still heavily favored for the Democratic nomication, Bernie Sanders has been picking up steam in the polls, nearing 20 percent. Even if he doesn't win the nomination, Sanders might shape the 2016 presidential race. Around a dozen watch-parties were scheduled near where I live in East Hollywood. One in particular caught my attention.

“Location: The taco truck on the southwest corner of Melrose & Western. Yes I'm serious. They have seating and so far I'm the only one showing up to this event. Please express and interest early so I can make appropriate arrangements. The taco truck seating is around twelve, sadly no reservations, but the tacos al pastor rock,” wrote Hutch Schultz, the event’s host.

When I arrive, the taco truck is not in place and a dozen Bernie supporters gather on the edge of a gas station. Prospective volunteers are wearing T-shirts that read “political revolution.” It’s easy to spot Hutch, who is animatedly engaging a prospective volunteer. Hutch talks to me with a pen in one hand and a clipboard in the other. A currier bag strap pulls against his white Bernie-for-president T-Shirt. He’s got thin curly white hair, like Jew-fro version of Bernie Sanders himself. A former criminal defense attorney, he currently works as a telephone fundraiser for progressive campaigns and nonprofits. His experience marshaling arguments shows.

“We’re gonna cut through the noise, the labels and get people on the issues put aside ‘Democratic Socialist’ and talk issue like Medicare. They’re elderly and most are on a fixed income,” he says, paraphrasing Bernie Sander’s support for Medicare (Sanders wants to expand it into a national single-payer system).

On the Bernie campaign, Hutch tells me that he's purely a volunteer. He explains that he was one of around 1,000, that participated in a nationwide call to prep event hosts ahead of the streamed address. On the call, participants were asked to press “1” if it was their first time volunteering on a campaign. He was among the 600 or to that did (the Sanders campaign wouldn’t return our emails about any of the volunteer number in this article).

“Wanna go get some tacos? Let’s do this thing,” he says.

There are more Latinos in the taco truck than outside on the folding chairs with the pro-Bernie crowd. The one Latino man in attendance leaves before I have a chance to meet him. The remaining minorities at the event are South Asian. With four tacos al pastor in my plate, topped with roasted onions, cilantro and hot salsa, I speak with Prarthana Mohan, an associate dean at a local film school who has brought her husband along. He’s an American citizen, she’s Indian.

“I can’t actually vote,” Prarthna tells me as she takes photos of her fellow volunteers, which she allowed us to use for this story.

Born and raised in India, she has lived in L.A. for 10 years as a permanent resident (i.e. she has green card). It would be easy for her to get citizenship and vote, but India and the U.S. won’t allow her to have dual nationalities. Articulate on both U.S. and Indian politics, I get the sense that Prarthana is a passionate multinational. She doesn’t want to have to give up her Indian passport as a point of pride, but she’s so moved by Bernie Sanders’ campaign that she’s reconsidering so that she can vote for Sanders in the democratic primary. I tell Prarthana about working on a political campaign in 2012 in which one of my colleagues, a superstar unpaid staffer, was Canadian. Even if she doesn't vote in the primary, I explain, she can still participate on the campaign.

“I’ve always said that if Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren were to run, I’d think about it,” she says. “I just started researching the steps. I got a 98 percent on a practice citizenship test.”

In a followup email, Prarthana will acknowledge that “Bernie does have a reputation for not being very pro-immigration.”

“[At] a time when we have millions of kids in this country who can’t find a job, what the Chamber of Commerce, the big money interests want, is to be able to bring in to this country a guest workers’ program, low wage workers, who will be competing against kids in this country who desperately need jobs. They’re going to bring H-1B workers in this country to lower wages for our hi-tech workers,” Sanders recently told reporter Jose Antonio Vargas (at the Netroots event better-known for being shut down by Black Lives Matter activists).

The candidate often points out that he’s a second-generation immigrant himself and supports many pro-immigrant policies: yes to Obama’s executive actions (DACA and DAPA), yes to protection for Dreamers and yes to a pathway for citizenship. But he’s voted against many worker visa proposals in the past, from H-1B to Y, leading immigration activists to accuse of cribbing talking points from Republicans. As the L.A. Times has pointed out, he faces an “ uphill battle” with Latino voters and his tightrope -- his supporters might call it nuanced -- position on immigration might be partially responsible.

Back at the taco truck, Bernie and his surrogates are finished with their pitch. The video has ended and iPhones are being returned to their owners' pockets. The attendants mull the call to action. I eat my last taco, and taste the spice of the habanero salsa.

“Are you feeling the Bern?” Hutch says as he writes an attendant’s contact details into his clipboard. It's impossible to know how many of these supporters will actually knock on doors, make phone calls and donate money. But my sense is that many of them are feeling the "Bern," and not just from the chile. In a follow up email after the event, Prarthana tells me she’s made a commitment to the campaign.

“My husband and I will help out at the local campaign office making calls [....] I'm also talking to friends, family, colleagues about Bernie. My aim is to reach one new person everyday and introduce them to Bernie. So far it's been pretty effective.”

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