Born in 1978 and raised in a Baptist household in Missouri, Jeremy Bird is a graduate of Wabash College and Harvard Divinity School. At Harvard he studied conflict resolution and the role of religion in politics and war, and was strongly influenced by Professor Marshall Ganz, a veteran civil-rights organizer. Ganz introduced Bird to an …
Born in 1978 and raised in a Baptist household in Missouri, Jeremy Bird is a graduate of Wabash College and Harvard Divinity School. At Harvard he studied conflict resolution and the role of religion in politics and war, and was strongly influenced by Professor Marshall Ganz, a veteran civil-rights organizer. Ganz introduced Bird to an organizing philosophy that emphasized “the role of storytelling—and emotion—in motivating [people’s] participation” in political activity.
This sparked Bird’s passionate interest in politics and led him to work on the (unsuccessful) presidential campaigns of Democratic candidates Howard Dean in 2003 and John Kerry in 2004. Also in 2004, he served as a national trainer for staff at the Democratic National Committee.1 Around that same time, Bird developed a great admiration for Barack Obama, who had studied and practiced the same kind of community organizing that Bird had learned from Professor Ganz. In 2007 Ganz became an adviser to Senator Obama’s national presidential campaign, and Bird was appointed as the campaign’s primary field director for South Carolina.
In that role, Bird put into practice the principles he learned from Get Out the Vote, a 2008 book by Ivy League social scientists Donald Green and Alan Gerber. Having studied the results of ten election cycles from 1998 to 2007, the authors concluded that the single most effective means of motivating potentially supportive voters to go to the polls on Election Day was the use of repeated personal contacts from an enthusiastic and persistent campaign volunteer. By comparison, said Green and Gerber, tactics like automated phone calls, flyer distribution, and mass e-mails were virtually useless.
During the 2008 presidential primaries, Bird encouraged Obama campaign staffers to establish a visible and consistent presence in places like barbershops and beauty salons, which became hubs for organizers in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. These establishments were to be stocked with campaign literature, voter-registration forms, and information about how to become a volunteer. “Community organizing is not a turnkey operation,” Bird once explained. “You can’t throw up some phone banks in late summer and call that organizing. These are teams that know their turfs—the barber shops, the beauty salons; we’ve got congregation captains in churches. These people know their communities. It’s real, deep community organizing …” The Wall Street Journal described Bird’s approach as “one part data and one part emotional connection,” noting that he “preaches the value of relationships—between the campaign and its volunteers, and between volunteers and voters.”
Thanks to the efforts of Bird and his fellow organizers, the 2008 Obama campaign created more than 700 relatively inexpensive field offices, mostly in “battleground states” where political races between Republicans and Democrats tended to be tightly contested. The New Yorker reported that according to “one academic study,” these offices “increased Obama’s national vote by almost one point and were the deciding factor in his winning Florida, Indiana, and North Carolina.”
In 2012 Bird served as the deputy national director of Organizing For America (OFA), the linchpin of Obama’s re-election campaign. In that role, he coordinated the registration of some 361,000 left-leaning voters in Florida, 156,000 left-leaning voters in Colorado, and 96,000 left-leaning voters in Nevada. Notably, Bird and OFA did not target only Democrats, but also Republicans and undecided voters who, based upon personal information which the Obama campaign had collected, were deemed likely to respond favorably to pro-Obama messaging.
As a reward for Bird’s achievements, the Obama administration allowed him to essentially pick whatever job he wished to tackle after the 2012 election. He chose to become a senior adviser for Battleground Texas, an organization dedicated to transforming the traditionally Republican Lone Star State into a Democratic stronghold. In a February 2013 conference call with news reporters, Bird said: “Our approach—using smart data, people-to-people organizing, and digital strategies and analytics—can win even the toughest of campaigns, and we know it will work in Texas too.”
Also in 2013, Bird was a founding partner of the consulting firm 270 Strategies, whose mission is to help left-wing “campaigns, companies, and causes” gain influence and “put their ideas into action.”
In 2014 Bird created the pro-Democrat organization iVote, whose primary objective is to bring “universal, automatic voter registration” to battleground states. If enacted in multiple states, this policy could potentially bring out millions of new voters—many of whom, as the New York Times has noted, “would be young, poor or minorities—groups that tend to support Democratic candidates.” “I do think it can be a complete game-changer,” says Bird.
In early 2015, OneVoice International (OVI)—a group favoring the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state—hired Bird and a handful of his fellow community organizers from 270 Strategies, to go to Israel and help lead a door-to-door campaign aimed at persuading Israeli citizens to vote the incumbent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, out of office. OVI had received two grants from President Obama’s State Department during the preceding year—a noteworthy fact, in light of Obama’s well-known animus for Netanyahu.
In 2015, Bird and 270 Strategies began laying groundwork to help Hillary Clinton‘s 2016 bid for the White House. “I think Hillary Clinton is the strongest candidate on the Democratic side,” said Bird. “I think she will win … [and] obviously her experience is sort of second to none.”