While Bernie Sanders came achingly close, he won’t arrive in Philadelphia with enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination. Even so, Sanders and his supporters made an unprecedented insurgent bid—winning 22 states, 43 percent of the popular vote, and almost 1,900 delegates, and raising nearly $230 million, mostly in small donations. In doing so, they revealed to progressives our own strength—reflected also in the victories in the Fight for $15; against fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline; and in the rise of new social-justice movements.
Looking ahead to next year, how do we build on this political revolution? What are the key battles to take on, issues to drive, strategies to embrace? On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, we asked a group of progressive activists and leaders—as well as our own readers—to mull these questions over. Their responses follow, and more can be found online at TheNation.com.
Build Independent Social Movements
The left’s big takeaway from the primary elections? We didn’t win, but we could have. We came that close. That’s thrilling. It’s also terrifying. Because if we can win, it means that we must win. That’s a heavy responsibility.
Right now, a great deal of post-Bernie campaign energy is going into plans to run progressive candidates at every level of the political system, from school boards to Congress. Many are also focused on reforming the Democratic Party to remove systemic roadblocks to a progressive insurgency in the future (such as the superdelegates and super PACs).
All of that is great, but we can’t let the electoral realm usurp the progress needed on two other important fronts. The first one is the need to build and support independent social movements. Politicians didn’t create the context for Bernie’s campaign; movements did. It was the organizing by social movements that won the early policy victories that made progressive laws thinkable, from statewide fracking bans to local minimum-wage increases.
And movements can keep winning victories even under a neoliberal administration. With strong enough organizing, everything from the draconian austerity measures in Puerto Rico to the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be defeated. Hillary Clinton may be a fan of fracking, but energized movements still have a very real shot at winning a comprehensive fracking ban during her presidency, as well as a moratorium on new fossil-fuel leases on federal lands. But it will take a ferocious fight—just as it did under President Obama.
The other front that cannot be forgotten is ideological and programmatic. This is the intellectual labor of birthing a forward-looking common policy agenda that connects the dots between movements: labor, antiwar, racial justice, climate action. This should not be mistaken for a laundry list of demands; what’s required is a coherent set of policies, capable of responding to our era of multiple, overlapping crises. Not only would such a vision create a firm basis on which to push the next administration; it would also provide a readily available platform for progressives considering running for office.