Despite the controversy and excitement surrounding the 2016 presidential primaries, Knights for Bernie remains the only registered club at UCF dedicated to supporting a specific presidential candidate.
The club, also known as K4B, the brainchild of students Daniel Koster and Steven Lynch, was officially formed in the summer of 2015.
“Steve Lynch and I were hanging out at the Secular Student Alliance table and started talking about how Bernie had just gotten into the race and how we were excited about that — we’d both been into him for a long time," Koster said. "We started talking about the College Democrats, the fact that most of their leadership was supporting Hillary, and the fact that they don’t endorse a candidate until after the primary. So we figured somebody had to make the Bernie Sanders club on campus. No one else seemed too serious about helping him win the presidency.”
The initial focus of the club was to get people excited about Sen. Bernie Sanders as a candidate. Several brainstorming meetings were held in the beginning of fall 2015. The club organized street-corner-sign-holding events and chalk the block around this time to increase Sanders visibility on UCF’s campus and the greater Orlando area. There was also a concentrated effort to help students register to vote, accomplished primarily through weekly tabling events.
This semester, K4B has shifted their focus to influencing voters directly. Several phone banking and canvassing events have been organized so far, and some members of the club have even traveled as far as Iowa and South Carolina to encourage people to vote in the primaries and caucuses there.
While it may seem strange that K4B is the only registered student organization geared towards electing a specific presidential candidate, the club’s officers see this as indicative of the amount of millennial support and enthusiasm for Sanders’ campaign.
“He’s the only candidate that people are excited about,” said Bryn Taylor, K4B's secretary. “Bernie is the only candidate who is empowering the 99 percent of people whose interests aren't being represented in government. We've been told for so long to lower our expectations, that we can't have free college tuition, that a single-payer insurance system won't work. We've been sold this idea that we're supposed to work ourselves to our graves for starvation wages so that we can consume and consume and consume products sold by multi-billion dollar corporations who buy politicians so that they can keep us fighting each other for their leftovers. Bernie is telling us that we don't have to take it anymore.”
For millennials who have grown up during an economic recession, who struggle to deal with the high cost of college tuition and are anxious about their future, Sanders' message is particularly appealing. A Central Florida Future poll taken in October of 2015 showed that Sanders was the preferred presidential candidate among UCF students (38.6%), followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (12.6%) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (10.96%).
Despite being the only group supporting a presidential candidate, K4B’s large Facebook following and Sanders’ popularity among millennials, the club still has some trouble getting students to help out with campaign activities.
“We haven't had as good a turnout to events as we had liked,” said Alex Storer, K4B's treasurer. “At our first club meeting there were over 100 people, but now we're down to maybe 15 or 20 people total who are dedicated to doing the boring, hard work of a political campaign.”
While Taylor said she finds herself occasionally frustrated with the amount of help the club receives, she said that compared to other candidates, young people are very excited about Sanders’ campaign.
“I’m very pleased with the consistent team of volunteers we have," Taylor said. "They’re all really great people who learn quickly and are ready to tackle big jobs. Occasionally we won’t get as big of a turnout as we had hoped, and it’s a bit discouraging, because a revolution doesn’t happen by just sitting and talking about it. But I think Bernie is such a unique candidate, and we have such a unique opportunity here to change the course America is on, that students are more motivated to volunteer their time and go out of their comfort zone to help the campaign.”
While the main objective of the club is to help Sanders win the 2016 presidential race, Koster said he relishes the opportunity K4B has presented for young people to become politically empowered.
“We’re just excited to give a lot of different people an opportunity to take part in the political process," Koster said. “It seems like people always have a positive experience when they come out and work with us, and I hope that encourages them to stay politically active.”
Megan Hull is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.