When Bernie Sanders first launched his not-so-longshot campaign for president, the roar of the crowd drowned out the nay-sayers. Tens of thousands of loyalists would stand in those long lines to hear him speak and thrill to watch him point a finger at the inequities of the world around us. Few, if any, could have predicted the hold a septuagenarian could have over a generation of Millennials whose heart he spoke directly to.
From forty points behind to four points behind, he was the dark horse candidate who came to symbolize a benevolent white knight.
Then, on the cusp of his civilized and even gentlemanly endorsement of the Democratic nominee, the bitter primary and a DNC email link sent us into Rahm Emanuel territory: We must not let this crisis go to waste.
And make no mistake, it is a crisis. Only a crisis would leave a former Secretary of State and senator from our second-most populous state in a dead heat with Donald Trump. Anyone wanting to see just how far out of touch the Democratic leadership really was need only to read their emails. The political revolution embodied by Sanders clearly empowered progressives who had been long overlooked, and according to the DNC Leaks even derided, by some establishment leaders. That leadership is headed to the exits - and will not be missed.
They were on the wrong side of history. We, the political revolutionaries, made history.
But, now that the primary is over, where do we go from here? To look ahead, we must first look at how we came so far.
Senator Sanders flat-out spoke truth to power, cutting through the traditional rancor and pleasantries of campaign life like a hot knife on butter. By doing so, he inspired individuals to have the audacity to believe in their own personal power to affect change. Many found courage to run for office while others currently in office realized they could come out of the closet and actually run on a progressive agenda. And win.
Despite assurances, now discredited, that the DNC was not playing favorites, he called them out time and again for working against his campaign while he remained a viable - if insurgent - candidate from the left. Like so many moments in the life of Bernie Sanders, his seemingly Quixotic rant was eventually proven correct.
The Sanders campaign led a fight to ensure the new platform would be the most progressive in US history. As he was scolded across the board for not bowing out of the race graciously - for being an angry man on a crusade long since dead - he stayed the course, knowing that real change comes from within the Party. By forcing a progressive agenda, he was not only positioning Berners to hold the Clinton feet to the fire; he was also creating significant space for Democrats up and down the ticket to move to the left in their campaigning and their governing.
In my home state of Maine, we passed an amendment I sponsored at our State Convention to reform the superdelegate system. The DNC Leaks showed that DNC leaders called it “another lunacy” while denouncing that we even had the jurisdictional authority to do such a thing. The audacity! Despite attacks and derision, individuals across the country began introducing their own amendments and resolutions until roughly 20 states had sent a call up to the national DNC demanding change.
In the whirlwind of the convention, they not only agreed to structural reform of the superdelegate system; we watched as the DNC leaders resigned one after another in the wake of the wikileaks. The Clinton campaign has since come out and stated they are seeking a progressive to lead the Democratic Party going forward, someone who can implement the new party platform.
Winning the presidential nomination would have been amazing, but we have paved the way for the next economic populist progressive to do just that, clearing the major Party hurdles structurally and culturally. Progressives have proven that - when organized - we are a force to be reckoned with, and we will not again be set aside so easily.
The way forward is to dig in. It’s time to see this progress through, build upon it and pave the way for the next progressive pioneers. We can’t pass the baton if we’ve left the marathon.
We do that in three key ways:
1. We work to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. Despite what some people may think, there are very real differences between the GOP candidate and Hillary Clinton. Personally, I’d like to protect a woman’s right to choice and overturn Citizen’s United. We don’t get there with Trump judicial nominees. Also, having grown up in the Cold War, I’m none too inclined to let The Donald anywhere near the nuclear codes. Like it or not, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination and this Berniecrat will be happy to take the consolation prize: The first woman president.
2. Revolutionaries must hold Secretary Clinton to her word. It’s not enough to hope she will; we must create the space for her to negotiate. By standing strong on minimum wage, equal pay, environmental issues and trade policy, we don’t just hold her accountable - we give her the kind of negotiating leverage she will need to accomplish the goals we set out. This means that we don’t have to have an adversarial relationship to negotiate change; we have to stand with her at the negotiating table as allies ready to take it to the mat for our people.
3. Berners must run for office. Don’t look at the person next to you, smile awkwardly, shrug your shoulders and say, “Me?! I’m not qualified to do that.” Think of The Donald and all those others who are so clearly unqualified and remember that if you’re smarter or kinder than him, you could probably pull it off. Run on the same kind of progressive platform as the political revolution - $15 minimum wage, equal pay, affordable education, fair trade, etc. Even if you lose (and boy I’ve been there), you’re still changing the debate. You’re forcing people to talk about progressive ideas, to take them seriously. And, If you win, you’ll be positioned to introduce progressive policies, hopefully serving alongside other Berners who can help you. You’ll have a network of everyday revolutionaries to support your work. Whether it’s advocating for solar investments or municipal broadband at your town council or fighting for a $15 minimum wage in your state house, this is how movements persist.
I was asked by a local reporter this week if Bernie Sanders supporters were part of a movement, or part of a moment.
Let’s just say, “It’s a Political Revolution . . . if you can keep it.”