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Who are the #HotGirlsForBernie?

The grassroots campaign is a pushback against the “Bernie Bro” stereotype.

Model Emily Ratajkowski was (sort of) the inspiration for the hashtag.
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Controversial podcast host Joe Rogan has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders. So have late-aughts indie-rock “sad boy” icons Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend. Now one of America’s most crucial demographics has joined the fray: hot girls.

On Friday, January 24, the hashtag #HotGirlsForBernie began trending on Twitter, thanks to a flurry of people posting photos of themselves captioned with why they’re voting for the Vermont senator in the 2020 Democratic primaries.

The gist of the meme is pretty straightforward: “I’m hot, and I’m voting for Bernie.” Women — as well as nonbinary folks and at least one cat — on Twitter wrote that they support Sanders because of his commitments to Medicare-for-all, a Green New Deal, the abolishment of ICE, and criminal and economic justice reform.

Despite the seriousness of their support, the hashtag started mostly as a joke. Danaka Katovich, a 20-year-old student in Chicago, tweeted January 12 that she wanted to start a group chat for “hot girl” Sanders supporters. Before that, it was a small meme in the leftist corners of Twitter when very hot model Emily Ratajkowski endorsed him. Katovich’s friend Hadiya Afzal, a fellow 20-year-old student at DePaul University, encouraged Katovich to make the group chat a reality, and the two invited around 50 of their mutual followers to join.

The result was a social media campaign that dropped today, featuring folks sharing photos of themselves and their support of Sanders. Within minutes, hundreds of others joined in.

“I think it’s funny and glib, which is why it caught on so fast,” Afzal told me over DM. “But the success of the hashtag also serves to counter a super-frustrating ‘Bernie Bro’ narrative that we keep seeing over and over again — a narrative that erases the support of a lot of women for Bernie.”

As candidates become increasingly defined by their most vocal base, campaigns must confront thorny issues: In the 2016 election, the stereotype of the “Bernie Bro” portrayed Sanders supporters as angry white dudes who were maybe a little bit sexist, arguably hurting the candidate’s reputation among female voters.

In the 2020 election, however, Bernie supporters are a far more diverse demographic. An analysis of polls from November 2018 to March 2019 showed that not only is Sanders more popular with people of color than with white people, but also that women like him at least as much as men do. The #HotGirlsForBernie push attempts to physically demonstrate that shift.

The group is also clear that the phrase “hot girl” is mostly a wink to the term often used by extremely online people — most famously in Megan Thee Stallion’s “hot girl summer” meme — rather than a prescriptive label.

“We were clear from the beginning that it was an inclusive group and movement,” Afzal said. “Anyone can be a ‘hot girl for Bernie’ if they’re just a girl for Bernie.”

Jaya Sundaresh, a 31-year-old journalist in New York and a member of the original group chat, told me she received hateful comments from trolls after posting her tweet. “People have a problem with fat women telling the world that they’re beautiful, so my mentions are currently unreadable,” she said.

Regardless, she sent it with the intention of having fun.

“I think we’re a little aware it’s a little silly,” Sundaresh said. “But what’s cool about it is the message that a) you’re a girl if you want to be a girl, and b) you’re hot if you support Bernie. I think we’ve been really intentional in trying to deconstruct cis-heteronormative beauty standards in the wording of the message we sent out there. I hope we made some girls feel good today — I know the armies of chuds out there trying to tear us down are definitely putting a damper on things, but hopefully it turns out to be a positive experience for most women and nonbinary people who participate.”

Social media platforms — Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and most notoriously, Facebook — play increasingly influential roles in political elections in America and abroad. And though much attention has been paid to the Russian government’s interference on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, it has also opened up limitless opportunities for grassroots organizing.

For progressive candidates like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, those grassroots movements are an extension of the candidates’ ethos, which prioritize small-dollar donors and personalized phone calls to emphasize their message. Though neither Katovich nor Afzal are affiliated with the Sanders campaign, some of the hashtag’s users volunteer by phone banking, texting, and canvassing. (The Sanders campaign did not reply to Vox’s request for comment.)

Organizers say that while they expected a fair share of trolls, the response has been mostly positive. “Some of the girls have received replies and DMs from people saying they are supporting Bernie Sanders now. The frequency of those have been surprising,” Katovich said.

“I’m surrounded by strong women who support Bernie for reasons that are so personal to them,” she added. “This campaign is much more meaningful than the Bernie bro narrative. It became about letting people know that his base is more than internet dudes.”

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