Sanders Movement: Does it Have Staying Power?

Senator Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign. He has vowed to the reality that he trails Joe Biden in both the delegate and popular vote count. Voters in Democratic Primaries across the nation decided that Vice-President Joe Biden was far more electable than Sanders. Even when they agreed with quite a bit of the Sanders program.

People are far more concerned about getting rid of Donald Trump, and electability played a large role in this. The present crisis is also changing American life and politics forever. It offers a rare opportunity for Trump to consolidate power and bury the American system, and lord knows he is doing his level best to do that. This fact may be playing a role in how the primary developed. People are more concerned about getting rid of Trump than they are about reform.

However, the reaction among a small, but rather vocal, group of Sanders voters brings into stark focus a critical question. Can the movement survive into the future? This is not an idle question. Some, I have no doubt, will leave the Democratic Party, and seek to create a third party. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the American system, this will defuse the movement. If a large majority of Sanders voters decide to take that path, then the effect of the movement in American politics will be fleeting at best.

Granted, the social media environment is one where the loudest voices are usually the least capable of self-reflection. They are also getting very angry when many of us tell them that if they do not get it now, they never will. Also, some repeat conspiracy theories that are beyond any normal range. No, the Democratic National Committee did not anoint Biden, the voters did. And even more bizarre, no Sanders did not lead in either votes or delegates. I suspect those voters (assuming they even voted and are not bots from St. Petersburg), will sit it out in November, or write his name on the ballot. And if they live in all but ten states, this tantrum will not have an effect on the electoral college.

However, there is another route the movement could take. It involves a lot of work, and not leaving the Democratic Party. It also means that people will have to swallow their pride. But if they choose to leave right now, the establishment they love to hate will get no pushback. This is also how the establishment took over the Democratic Party and incidentally is how the Tea Party took over the already right-wing Republican Party and radicalized them further to the right.

First, we know the platform, and some of the things that Progressives want will likely happen. It is the historic moment we live in. All those things that were impossible but three months ago, are becoming essential. For example, Medicare for All, or a version of it, will have to come. Most likely it will have a different name though. This is common in politics when a policy is enacted but a name is not popular among the political class. So are other things such as Universal Basic Income and universal college. The economy is in the kind of straits that forces action, and what was impossible becomes possible. Social Security came from such a moment, and so did the New Deal. But you will not have a place at the table unless you stay at the table.

There are already members of the progressive coalition on the table. Whether it is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or others in Congress or local government. They were partially inspired and elected through his leadership. But you say you want to take over a party? Fine. There are places you need to get working at. One of them is your local central committee. This is where nominations come from, At the moment many are still dominated by the center-right of the party. They have been since the 1980s, with few exceptions. It took them almost two generations to take over the party, starting in the 1960s, yet they persisted. Do you say you want a revolution? This is where it happens. It can be very slow, and boring and procedural, but that is where it happens.

Why the central committee? I am not telling you anything that is a secret. However, I am writing what many operatives do not want to let out. It is at that place where many campaign planks start. They move on to state-level conventions, where they are voted on. It is also where a lot of the local candidates get their start. Yes, you can run as anything by filing paperwork. But if you want endorsements, this is where those come from. It is slow, it is mind-numbing, and at times it is two steps back, three forwards.

Yes, the Tea Party, the brashest of recent examples, also engaged in a lot of open rebellion. However, they also gamed the system. And when they did not get endorsements, they got lots of money (via the Koch brothers for example) to upset the apple cart. However, even when you have lots of money it is not easy to upset the apple cart. We had plenty of billionaires on the ticket this year, or those supporting specific candidates.

Are Progressives willing to continue the hard slog if Sanders is no longer their putative leader? If one reads social media, perhaps not. It is true that many of the Sanders base at times did not even vote in primaries. And no, all the excuses in the world will not work with me. I got enough anecdotal evidence telling me the youth did not show up to vote. This is not a new problem either. So you want to change the party towards a better set of policies? Well, it takes work.

For the moment, if you still don’t get it, what is at stake in November, you never will. I, and many other adults in the room, are not going to beg you. In fact, I wonder if some of the most divisive posters, who are for I take my ball and go home are even posting from the United States? We know that Russian operations are still at play. I know some are, but this kind of divisive rhetoric, they stole it from Bernie, is partially Russian propaganda.

However, the reasons why people are angry should not be discounted. There is plenty that needs to be done to take care of the massive income inequality in this country. We do need to join the rest of the world, and healthcare is a right, not a privilege. We need to do something about the planet, whether you call it the Green New Deal or another name.

There is a lot of work to do. But if you take your toys and go home, these necessary changes will not happen. Why? These powerful forces will not let go just because you take your toys. If progressives decide that the party will never change, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy and we may conclude that the movement was very wide, but not deep. Time will tell. And yes, it is time to thank Senator Sanders, but it is time to move on. In November the country needs a new leader, and then we can talk about the critical changes that will be needed to get this country out of the ditch, again.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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