In characteristic fashion—a statement detailing progress, challenges, ideas, and reprising his core agenda—Bernie Sanders announced today that he is suspending his presidential campaign.
The decision was a recognition of a new reality: less the lead in delegates forged by Joe Biden than the complete eclipse of presidential politics by the state of emergency posed by the pandemic and the economic collapse. The central forum for debating the direction of the country will be in Washington, in the scramble to respond to the dire human costs of the pandemic accompanied by unprecedented mass unemployment. Sanders already has taken the lead in laying out the bold initiatives needed to respond to the challenge. As a senator with his own independent communications capacity, he will wage the battle for health care and full employment, for rebuilding public health, for reinvesting in America in the debate that will determine our future.
Sanders took time, sensibly, to remind the activists and supporters who have built his movement of what they have accomplished. Sanders and his supporters have proved that a people’s candidate can be financially competitive without relying on big money and entrenched interests. Sanders expanded our vision of what could be—and detailed a bold agenda that has dramatically moved our politics, even while the Democratic establishment kicked and screamed, to the left.
As he said, what once were fringe ideas–the $15 minimum wage, tuition-free college, health care as a human right, a Green New Deal—now are at the center of the debate. Sanders can rightfully lay claim to having won the ideological debate. He has also won the future: His strong majority support among voters under 45 reflects the promise of a new generation that will drive change.
“Not me. Us” is the motto of the Sanders campaign, which was always not simply a campaign but a movement. Now it is essential for that movement to continue to build even though the campaign is suspended. It will have to mobilize to force Washington to respond boldly to the crisis we face. The open trampling of democracy by Republicans in Wisconsin—backed by shamelessly partisan judges—is a warning that intense organizing will be needed to protect elections in the fall, to register people to vote and to ensure that their votes are counted. Donald Trump’s venom and venality will and should unite the vast majority of Americans against him. At the same time, however, the movement for fundamental change must continue to organize independently to elect progressives up and down the ticket, to challenge the timidity and corruption of corporate Democrats and to show the power of an emerging generation demanding a change in course. That will be a test for Sanders—and for the activists and organizations that helped drive his campaign.
For now, however, let us pay tribute to Bernie Sanders. He has lit the way and will surely will be counted as the one of the most important political figures of this century, a progressive leader who continues to make his mark.