Dine With The 99 Feminists Feel The Bern

by Christine Stoddard

If you dream of sharing a table with Amal Clooney and her trophy husband George, you can make that dream come true at an upcoming celebrity Hillary Clinton campaign dinner. But it will cost you $353,400 — or, as Politico points out, four times the average income in San Francisco. The April 15 fundraiser, which Bernie Sanders called “obscene,” will take place at a private home in the aptly named Golden City. Contrast that to Dine With the 99, a grassroots potluck effort taking place in homes across the nation to help more American feel the Bern. Oh, and it just happens to be the same weekend as Clinton's Clooney fundraiser.

Organized to be held April 14 to 17, the Dine With the 99 potlucks are not exactly fundraisers, though guests may make campaign donations on their phones or laptops during the event. There is no minimum contribution, and hosts are explicitly prohibited from collecting money. Instead, guests eat and talk about the Sanders campaign. The events are about discussing issues, spreading awareness, and, to use the event's website's words, helping people "plan for the Revolution!"

Natasha Losada, one of the event organizers, tells Bustle that Dine With the 99 was birthed only last month. Sarah Griffith of Annapolis, Maryland posted the idea on the public Facebook group Bernie Sanders Activists. From there, Losada created a Facebook event to get the potlucks rolling. Katharine Kennedy Coburn of Hopatcong, New Jersey messaged Griffith to offer assistance. Then, Molly Grover of Ithaca, New York lent her hand as outreach coordinator for Women for Bernie 2016, a grassroots group that provided all of the graphics for the Dine With the 99 website.

When I speak to Losada on the morning of April 5 (the day Sanders won the Wisconsin primary), 110 Dine With the 99 potlucks had been registered. As of April 11, less than a week later, that has nearly doubled to 215 events across the United States — and the group is just starting to track international events, due to what Losada cites as a "growing interest from Americans abroad."

“The more people unite, the more people stand up together, the louder the voice gets,” she tells Bustle. “They can't ignore us forever. I mean, they can try, but eventually we are going to get too loud for them to ignore us. The more people talk about [Sanders] and the real issues affecting our country, the more change we can affect.”

Right now, Dine With the 99 organizers say they are working to have the Facebook event page fully translated into Spanish to increase outreach and get more Hispanic communities to host potlucks.

Losada, who now lives in Los Angeles but will be hosting a Dine With the 99 at her parents' home in Puerto Rico, says she is hoping to fill the house with as many guests as possible. "The more the merrier," she says. Losada wants to make a few different signature Puerto Rican dishes, including “birthday” sandwiches, which feature Spam, Velveeta cheese, and roasted red peppers and get their name from the fact that they are commonly served at Puerto Rican children's birthday parties.

Even though Puerto Rico residents cannot vote in the November election, they will hold a Democratic caucus on June 5. To Losada, “just spreading Bernie Sanders' message and the importance of getting monied interests out of politics” is what matters. “I am a Bernie Sanders supporter because getting the money out of politics is the core issue that affects everything,” she says. “He is the only candidate that is willing to get the money out of politics. If we actually got the money out of politics, legal corruption would stop. Politicians would actually have to do their jobs and draft policies that [benefit] everybody, not just the ones financing their campaigns.”

There's another facet to her support. Losada tells Bustle in a follow-up email that, as a feminist, she believes Sanders is the best candidate for bringing equal opportunities to women — and all people. "I stand with the fight for equal rights for all people — women, minorities, immigrants — and that is why I am supporting the candidate that will fight for equal rights and has the record to back it up. I'm supporting the candidate that will make history in the fight for women's rights. That candidate happens to be a man," she writes, adding:

"Would I love to see a female president? Of course, but more than that, I'd love to see a president who is the best in the fight for equality. That candidate is Bernie Sanders."

Like Losada, Rosalva Welsch of New York tells Bustle via email that she will be contributing dishes to her Dine With the 99 meal that speak to her identity, and why she's supporting Sanders: “I will make chile rellenos, sopa de fideo, and guacamole to represent Mexican support for Bernie, because I am Mexican-American." Welsch says that she doesn't feel any social pressure from fellow feminists to support Clinton because she is female. "In my opinion, Hillary's strong support for the military industrial complex and exploitative corporate interests ... is an enormous threat to women — and men — both domestically and globally," she writes.

Katy Lyons of Portland, Oregon tells Bustle that she is hosting a Dine With the 99 potluck because she wants to “share this moment with friends and family and at the same time financially support Bernie.” Lyons says she was especially moved by the Dine With the 99 effort because of how it connected to other women-led groups that she's participated in throughout her life. “I have for many years sat in circles of women and have witnessed and experienced the power of gathering,” she says. "I believe the same will be true in this instance, and it will be wonderful to have men involved.”

Bill Schneider, former member of the CNN political team and visiting professor of communications at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells Bustle that these sort of informal meetings of volunteers and activists aren't unique to Sanders' presidential campaign. They're definitely a strategy for “building enthusiasm” for a candidate, he tells Bustle.

For example, when Schneider was covering Howard Dean's campaign in 2004, he recalls a Hollywood actor (whom he would not identify) coming up to him and excitedly exclaiming, “And I thought I was the only Howard Dean supporter!” Seeing fellow supporters magnifies the excitement for a candidate, he believes. “These meet-ups are good for morale,” Schneider says. “Sanders' real advantage here is enthusiasm.” He adds, “You get reinforcement from potlucks, reinforcement from others like you. This stimulates voter turnout.”