20 Apr

We Will Not Yield


100, 1000, 10,000 candidates needed in the ongoing fight to make Bernie’s vision a reality

Bernie Sanders has accomplished more than anyone expected he would—including Bernie himself—when he began his campaign a year ago. The day he declared, the average of all the polls regarding his possible candidacy found him with just under 9 percent support. Today, the average is five times that. His campaign has drawn huge crowds, put together an obviously good ground game, raised gobs of money from small donors more effectively than any presidential candidate so far, inspired young voters, performed better at the ballot box than most of the experts predicted and, most of all, placed a crucial message in front of millions of people, many of whom had never heard of him before last April.

However, barring some miraculous surge of support in the three caucuses and 18 primaries yet to come, the Democratic nomination for the presidency is now beyond Sanders’ reach. That doesn’t mean Sanders should surrender to the people demanding that he end his campaign now. And it certainly doesn’t mean we supporters should sink into despair and end our campaign, one which is dedicated to change far beyond what can be achieved by victory in a single election.

As The New York Times editorial board opined Tuesday after Hillary Clinton’s win:

Mr. Sanders has voiced the concerns and energized millions of young people, many of them voting for the first time. His candidacy has forced the party to go deeper on addressing issues like wealth inequalitycollege tuition costs and the toll of globalization — important points of distinction with Republicans. What’s more, Mr. Sanders’s commitment to small individual contributions has put the lie to Democrats’ excuses that they, too, must play the big money game to win. This is a message too seldom heard in the party that first championed campaign finance reform. That it’s back is long overdue, good for Democrats and good for campaigning. Mrs. Clinton “is clearly irritated by the fact that she has to deal with this guy,” the Democratic strategist David Axelrod said in an interview. “But he’s pushed her on a lot of issues in a positive way, and I think that his young supporters will be bitterly resentful if anyone tries to shove him out of the race.”

Not just his youthful supporters, either, but also a big cohort of those of us whose hair is as white as his. Thankfully, Sanders has vowed to continue campaigning right through the last primary on June 14.

Every realistic Bernie supporter knew from the outset that his odds of getting the nomination were slim. Every realistic supporter knew then and knows now that the vision he has put forth cannot be achieved by just one president in one or two terms. Every realistic supporter knows that if the Sanders vision is to prove durable, then the energy that we’ve seen emerge because of his candidacy, especially among American youth, including youth of color, must not be allowed to evaporate in November or sooner.

Jamelle Bouie at Slate writes:

Sanders supporters who want to move the Democratic Party to the ideological left need to become Sanders Democrats, political actors who participate in the system as it exists. To win a lasting victory—to define the ideological terms of Democratic Party politics—the people inspired by Sanders need to do more than beat the establishment; they need to become it.

Liberals and leftists will have to work with an eye toward the long-term, operating from the ground up to make ideological liberals a key power-broker in the party. If the Bernie Sanders effort shows anything, it’s that the odds are in their favor. The youngest, most active Democrats are more liberal than their older counterparts, and technology has advanced to the point where they can organize and raise money without relying on established power centers. Even if Bernie Sanders is just the inheritor of friendly demographic and technological trends, his success suggests a real opportunity for the liberals and leftists who back his campaign. They have the chance, if they want it, to channel their energy into a move to make the Democratic Party theirs, in the same way that conservatives—until the rise of Donald Trump, at least—took hold of the Republican Party.

I think Bouie’s overall take on that is right, at least as far as he goes. He fails, however, to address an essential element of this long-haul vision. Over the past decade, we’ve been fortunate to see a rise in movement politics, issue politics, what I prefer to call “street politics.” Throughout American history, street politics have been the catalyst for the great reforms. Street politics are often rough because they are, by their very nature, confrontational, uncivil, the politics of demand, not concession. This renewal of street politics has been refreshing and so very much needed.

Frederick Douglass said it so very well a century and a half ago:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Some people reject street politics because they’re confrontational. Others sneer at electoral politics because, they say, these are merely a periodic distraction from the real issues, a waste of time. Truth is, we can’t achieve progressive change without engaging in both electoral and street politics. Opting out of either weakens the clout we can generate when we combine them.

My main street politics focus these days is climate activism, but there is no dearth of projects over a wide range of important issues, from fighting police violence to rejecting plutocratic control to fighting the incessant assault on reproductive rights. And so much more. Engaging in a bit of each keeps an activist reality-focused without falling prey to unnecessary compromise.

I have no idea if Sanders will alter his campaign going forward. I hope he does. Specifically, every time he gives a speech or interview to spur his supporters—those in the states yet to vote and those that already have—to build a movement that outlasts this presidential campaign whatever its outcome. To wit:

Urge each supporter to adopt a Berniecrat candidate for state legislature. “Adopt,” as in: give the candidate their enthusiasm, time and, if they can afford it, one of those $27 donations that in the aggregate have provided such a boost to the Sanders campaign. We’re being slaughtered policy-wise in the 69 state legislative bodies under Republican control, and there are many Democrats who need replacing as well. The Koch Bros. know it’s important to get behind candidates in these down-ballot contests. We must do the same.

Urge each supporter to consider running for their county party’s executive board.

Remind each supported that a key to boosting voter turnout in 2018 and the off-year elections to come, is to adopt an organize-every-precinct strategy, not three months before ballots are cast but year-round, every year.

 Encourage supporters to join like-minded people to recruit good legislative and congressional candidates where there are none. Hundreds of races go uncontested each election. There is no excuse for that. We need thousands of progressive candidates to make the leap.

There’s something else I’d like to see Sanders do. Labor organizer Erik Forman wrote about it in his “Dear Bernie” open letter earlier this month:

4. Take the fight local. You’re a fighter. That’s what we love about you. Let’s commit to staying in the fight together, making global change through local organizing. Whether we get you elected or not, the struggle will only have just begun. If you are in office, you will need a massive grassroots apparatus to unseat Republicans and pressure or remove moderate Democrats to see through the political revolution, and extend it into an economic and social revolution. If the centrist machine steals the election, then we can work together to pressure the government for our demands directly or elect democratic socialist representatives at lower levels of government.

And no matter who wins the election, we need to organize for change in our workplaces and communities—making a political, economic and social revolution through organizing at the local level. So let’s keep the campaign offices open (as many as we can afford to, at least) after the election, and turn them into hubs for organizing. If we build an organization capable of campaigning beyond the election cycle, and in workplaces and communities as well as in the political sphere, we can’t lose.

What do you say, Bernie? Can we make this work?

The last year has been magical. Let’s keep the magic alive, let’s give our campaign a future we can believe in.

Nobody said it would be easy.

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