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Bernie, George and Me

So, my friends who powered the Sanders insurgency -- take some time, allow your disappointment and your humiliation to wash over you. Have the conversations you need to have to understand, and not just cognitively, what you have been through.
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Political junkie that I am, I watched most of both conventions. Even if I didn't intend to, by 8 p.m. the TV set was on, tuned to CNN, with me in front of it. I watched the Republican Party proceedings, I told myself, because it was important to experience the Trump phenomenon directly.

The Democratic Party convention was more difficult. While I am closer programmatically, especially to the Sanders vision, I felt like an outsider. Somehow, for all the talk of diversity and inclusion, for all the identities not so subtly arrayed, my identity was not welcome.

I'm not a Democrat. I'm an independent, but so are 43% of the American people.

It made me think of when I was a Democrat. I hope these reflections on my experiences will help Sanders supporters, particularly young people, work through the disappointment of his rapprochement with the Clintons and the Democratic party establishment.

My experience at Columbia in 1968, as well as the other traumatic events of that year -- the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy -- radicalized me. But my electoral orientation was still Democratic. I supported Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign against the war in Vietnam, and found myself that summer volunteering to staff the candidate's Oakland California office.

The events at the Democratic Party convention that year in Chicago -- the protests and the heavy-handed police response -- shocked me, as did the iron-fisted nomination of Hubert Humphrey. Naively, I attributed this to Mayor Richard Daley and the Humphrey campaign.

It was the failure, fours years later, of the progressive anti-war candidate George McGovern that weaned me from the Democratic Party. The McGovern campaign was sabotaged by the Party, which preferred to lose a chance at the White House than have the left in power. He lost all but one state, Massachusetts. Nixon won McGovern's home state of South Dakota. I vowed not to become involved in electoral politics again until there was something new, something radical. Something that might make a real difference.

In the meantime, I got my law degree, and took a job with a small law firm in downtown Manhattan that specialized in the development of low and moderate income housing sponsored primarily by labor unions. But I kept looking for that something new and radical.

I found what I was looking for when I met a rag-tag group of sixties radicals led by Fred Newman, a Stanford-trained philosopher who had left the campus to organize in the poor and working-class communities of New York City.

My colleagues and I let Newman's brilliance organize our idealism and hard work in an effort to build an independent political movement that did not look to the Democratic Party for answers. Newman helped me see that the Democratic Party was the problem, not the solution.

No more George McGoverns. I supported and worked for Lenora Fulani in her historic run for President in 1988. She was, the first woman and first African American to be on the general election ballot in all 50 states.

Four years later, Fulani reached out to the "radical white center" who supported (by the millions) Ross Perot's independent run for the presidency. The Democrats and most leftists dismissed Perot and his followers as fascists. For me and my colleagues, they turned out to be ordinary Americans (like the kind that came together to defeat the fascists in World War II) who were open to sincere, non-ideological dialogue as we worked to build something new together. It was exhilarating. And the parties worked overtime to shut this down. They succeeded, for a time.

It was clear that the country needed new alliances, a democratic revival and a restructuring of our electoral system if fundamental change was to happen. Newman taught me that the issue was not policy, but process. The American people, if allowed to express themselves democratically and outside the control of the two parties, would determine the kind of country they wanted. I am proud of the role I played in helping to identify non-partisan primary reform as a key element in making that possible.

I participated in the effort to bring together independent voters with African-Americans to elect Michael Bloomberg Mayor of New York and to rally independents behind Obama in the hope this would lead to a post-partisan America. It didn't. Obama proved to be more Democrat than independent, and Mike Bloomberg took the stage in Philadelphia last month to lecture independents that we had to vote for Hillary this time around.

I feel close to the millions of Bernie supporters. Sadly, Bernie's "political revolution" has proved to be 9 parts electoral politics and 1-part revolution. It will die if it does not move outside the Democratic Party and join with the 43% of the country who are independent. Bernie has decided not to lead this effort. The next steps are up to us.

As far as the Democrats are concerned, when it comes to left-of-center politics, they claim to be the only game in town. But that game is less and less able to produce the kind of change the American people need and want.

So, my friends who powered the Sanders insurgency -- take some time, allow your disappointment and your humiliation to wash over you. Have the conversations you need to have to understand, and not just cognitively, what you have been through.

Bernie, George and Hillary are the past. You are the future.

(Harry Kresky, a lawyer in New York City, is counsel to

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