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Vermont Quarterly

For the Love of Bernie

Arianna Jones
"I was writing news stories every day that would get me frustrated, but I wasn’t able to do anything about it,” alumna Arianna Jones '09 says about her media career, which she left to work on the Bernie Sanders campaign. "The minute I got the chance to get on the other side and actually effect change I took it." Photograph by Andy Duback

DEPARTMENTS/
ALUMNI PROFILES

For the Love of Bernie

Arianna Jones '09 has no regrets about leaving NBC to become Bernie Sanders' deputy communications director

By Jon Reidel G'06

For Arianna Jones, deputy communications director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, life is no less hectic than it was five months ago in New York City as a producer on MSNBC’s The Ed Show. Based on a recent coffee break at Muddy Waters in Burlington, it’s hard to imagine it has ever been busier. 

Within a 45-minute span, Jones, who took a job as a page at NBC after graduating from UVM in 2009, managed to accomplish the following: take five phone calls while answering multiple texts on another cell phone; send out a press release; react to a cover story on Sanders that literally just came out inRolling Stone; say hello to three Bernie supporters; and drink a cup of coffee all while being interviewed for this article.

Remarkably, in the midst of the mayhem, in walks Sanders’ wife, Jane, fresh off the campaign trail for a quick cup of coffee. “Thanks for everything,” she tells Jones, while giving her a hug. “We really appreciate everything you have done.”

“It can get crazy, but I love my job,” says Jones, whose decision to join a campaign that could end as early as March (Jones is confident it will not) seemed risky. “When this opportunity came up it was one of the easiest decisions I ever made. I got into politics because he as a candidate gave me the opportunity to work for someone I 100 percent believed in, and that I have found be to genuine in every way. I’m not sure what comes next, because honestly my vision doesn’t go beyond the next hour or the next week of this election.”

SNL, DR. OZ AND COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH 

Jones’ decision to leave her job at NBC raised more than a few eyebrows. She had gone from being a page on Saturday Night Live, Dr. Oz and other top shows, to writing blogs and booking guests, including Sanders, on Countdown with Keith Olberman. She also worked as a runner at the 2008 Democratic National Convention for Meet the Press. “I tried to make myself indispensable,” says Jones, who advanced to writing scripts as a segment producer on The Ed Show. “There is nothing more thrilling than having an anchor read your work.” 

Yet, despite her rise at NBC, something was missing. “I was writing news stories every day that would get me frustrated, but I wasn’t able to do anything about it,” Jones says. “So the minute I got the chance to get on the other side and actually effect change I took it. With Bernie, what you see is what you get, so I can look myself in the mirror every day and know that I am working for someone who actually cares about issues that matter to every day people, and who is passing legislation to help them.”

BACK TO BURLINGTON

Jones sees her return to Burlington as apropos given that it was where she fell in love with politics, thanks in large part to classes she took with Professor Harvey Amani Whitfield, and with everything Sanders represented. “I literally wouldn’t be here without UVM,” she says. "This is where I got to know what Bernie is all about and where I took U.S. history classes that really equipped me with the historical perspective necessary to understand contemporary politics. It all comes around.”

Although Jones says her foray into presidential politics came with a learning curve, she enjoys learning new skills and sharing hers with seasoned Bernie politicos such as fellow UVM alum Nick Carter ’08, political operatrions director of the campaign, and Michael Briggs, communications director. In the early going, her field producing experience at NBC came in handy in preparation for televised rallies and speeches, especially in the early part of the campaign when staffers were few and crowds were unexpectedly large.

“I think of how it was when I first got here compared to how it is now, and the progression is just amazing,” she says. “The office is overflowing with volunteers and staff and is a real visual for how much the campaign has moved forward.”

As donations started pouring in and more staffers were hired, Jones' role took on more of a media relations focus. In addition to working with communications teams in other states, she draws on her booking days at NBC to place Sanders and key supporters like Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, a former Ed Show guest who recently endorsed Sanders, on network TV. Jones also works hard to ensure that Sanders’ comments during Democratic debates are interpreted and portrayed accurately by media when post-debate analysis is in maximum spin cycle. 

“You could be having a hard day, but when you go to one of Bernie’s events and you see all the people and watch him get up on stage and give a roaring speech every time with no loss of enthusiasm, fire or passion, you are like ‘Ok, that’s why I’m here.’ I truly think it’s his commitment to helping people that drives him. He’s an endless source of inspiration.”

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