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.
The space from which such a platform can emerge doesn’t exist yet; it will need to be fashioned in the coming months. That’s good news. It means that our movements have a chance to avoid repeating past mistakes, and that leadership from communities of color can and must be embedded from day one.
Naomi Klein is a Nation columnist and the author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.
Put Race at the Center
A viable, sustainable political revolution that could upend both the Democratic and Republican parties as we know them requires making new mistakes—not repeating old ones. The first and primary task is to ensure that the country is not run by a fickle fascist who is willing to use increased suffering and growing discontent to create even more suffering and division. That means connecting the coastal “political revolution” to Middle America’s suffering and anger—without succumbing to racism and xenophobia. That means not just standing on soapboxes, but engaging real people about the conditions in their lives and lifting up their vision on how to better their communities as a core component of a political platform. That means continuing to hold the Democratic Party accountable for its epic failure to address the needs of the majority of people in this country.
Second, white progressives in particular need to take seriously the task of engaging white working-class voters who have been abandoned by the Democrats and exploited by the Republicans. White progressives need to engage these voters in a fundamentally different way—one that doesn’t rely on preaching, smugness, or pity, but instead addresses the fears that many are responding to with a concrete plan for how to improve conditions for all of us.
Next, the political revolution must authentically engage and be led by people of color and immigrants. The communities on the front lines of the Fight for $15, #Not1More, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, and other movements cannot continue to be relegated to the sidelines. The Sanders campaign had white male progressives as its most visible front, and in many cases they alienated communities of color and immigrant communities with their “class only”–based frame.
Alicia Garza is a cofounder of Black Lives Matter and the director of special projects for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva
Deepen Our Roots
If there’s one thing this campaign season has taught us, it’s that politics makes even stranger bedfellows than we thought. At its best, the progressive movement is flexible, creative, and better at horizontal organizing than our top-down conservative counterparts. We need to embrace that spirit and keep our eyes on our goals at the same time. A movement that tries to do everything accomplishes nothing—but a movement that works together and breaks down silos can be more powerful than ever. The progressive movement must focus on issues that bring together diverse constituencies and strengthen those horizontal ties.
We’ve already seen the power of this new organizing in Puerto Rico, for example, where Republicans attempted to use the recently passed financial-assistance bill to remove federal protections for a national wildlife refuge. By engaging mainland Latino groups that don’t normally work on environmental advocacy, we defeated that provision and made sure conservatives couldn’t use a humanitarian crisis to impose their anti-environment agenda. That kind of unusual coalition-building is only possible when grassroots organizations are flexible and willing to work together—and when it happens, success is much more likely.
I firmly believe this kind of success can be replicated across the board—and it can bring institutions and communities into the world of progressive politics for the long term. Building those connections is more than a matter of making a phone call and describing a single campaign. It takes genuine outreach, patience, a willingness to consider broadening your own mission—and, above all, a little faith that it can work.
Building these coalitions doesn’t mean having a few getting-to-know-you meetings or a handful of conference calls. For us Democrats, it means truly working arm in arm, every day across the country, with local environmental-justice leaders. It means empowering antiwar activists, civil-rights leaders, gun-violence-prevention advocates, and immigration reformers of all backgrounds. It means that when communities of color name gerrymandering and ballot access as among the most important issues they face, the campaign will do more than just listen politely; it will bring these communities on board and genuinely address those issues.
This campaign season presents us with a tremendous opportunity to build stronger connections between national, state, and local leaders. Anyone looking for insight and influence where it counts should look to the grassroots first. They don’t call it the front lines for nothing.
Democratic Congressman Raúl Grijalva is the US Representative for Arizona’s Third Congressional District, serving since 2003.
Crush Trump, Then Think Big
We are living in a movement moment, one that just came astonishingly close to launching Bernie Sanders into the White House. While we ultimately didn’t win the nomination, the Bernie campaign succeeded as a laboratory for testing tactics and strategies to transform grassroots energy into a powerful force for change.
Movements are about issues, but elections are about power. The 2016 Democratic primary taught our movement how to win elections with the help of digital and social platforms that connected volunteers and voters not only to the Sanders campaign but, more importantly, to one another.
Enabled by social-media platforms like Slack, Facebook, Reddit, and Google Apps, a new generation of leaders is teaching, testing, and entrusting volunteers to take on campaign roles typically restricted to paid staff. This movement has set its sights on local, state, and congressional races in 2017 and ‘18.
But while we’re looking ahead, we have to ensure that we deal Donald Trump a crushing defeat. This is crucial to discouraging copycat demagogues from running in 2018 and trapping the left in an expensive and hellish game of whack-a-mole, battling dozens of Trump wannabes.
Once we vanquish Trump and his politics of hate and xenophobia, we can go on the offense and replace neoliberals in government with populist progressives who will fight for the interests of working people.
There is an enormous capacity in the grassroots waiting to be tapped and put to work for the urgent changes we need to see. If we embrace a big organizing approach—asking people to do big things to win big victories, and scaling our campaigns to the size that Bernie Sanders showed us was possible—we can attain a revolutionary shift in what grassroots organizing can achieve. And if that happens, then anything is possible— including winning a primary campaign against President Hillary Clinton in 2020.
Becky Bond served as a senior adviser to the Bernie 2016 presidential campaign.
Deepak Bhargava and Dorian Warren
New Leaders, New Directions
We are at a pivotal moment in time for progressives. Active social movements are reshaping our sense of what is possible and necessary—from the immigrant-rights movement to Black Lives Matter to the Fight for $15 and more. A presidential candidate who identifies himself as a democratic socialist made an unprecedented bid for the White House that opened new ideological space and political possibilities. At the same time, we must be honest with each other that here, as in Europe, dark forces are gathering that threaten to bring not only retrograde policies but also deep assaults on democratic institutions and practices. The emerging progressive movements, which have yet to achieve their long-term goals or consolidate power through mass organization, could be smothered and potentially extinguished by an electoral disaster this year.
Thus, in the short term, right-wing forces must be defeated decisively, and this demands a broad popular-front mobilization. Only if the leaders of progressive movements and organizations are willing to temporarily submerge their differences in pursuit of this goal will we avert disaster.
But building a long-term movement for change will require two big shifts. First, a race-conscious economic populism must become the center of progressive politics. Today’s movements are forcing the Democratic Party to face up to its own recent history, one in which the party, since the 1980s, has assumed a “color-blind” approach to racial justice; taken voters of color for granted; and, at times, advanced policies (particularly around criminal justice and so-called welfare reform) that produced direct racial harm. Racialized poverty and its impacts in communities of color need to become central, defining issues for progressives. This is the only antidote to the dog- whistling and dog-barking racist populism that Donald Trump has unleashed.
Second, we must recruit the very people living in these communities in order to develop leaders whose voices will shape the racial and economic policies that affect their families. This means building new forms of labor power and organization in black, Latino, Asian, Native, and Muslim communities. It means creating a new and positive agenda that is race- and gender-conscious, married to an organizing strategy that unifies the multiple progressive forces now on the move.
Our task at this pivotal moment is to build durable mass organizations out of this abundant movement energy (including Bernie Sanders’s forces as one—but only one—element), and put grassroots leaders and constituencies in strategic relationships with one another to forge a unified political vision. There is no shortcut.
Deepak Bhargava is the executive director of the Center for Community Change. Dorian Warren is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and an MSNBC contributor.
Robert B. Reich
A Third Party vs. Big Money
The next move for Bernie Sanders’s political revolution is to set up a third party (shall we call it the New Progressive Party?), whose primary goal should be to get big money out of politics. Nothing else worth doing is possible unless we reclaim our democracy, and we can’t do that through our current Democratic or Republican parties, both of which are beholden to big money. The New Progressive Party should begin right after the November election (we mustn’t do anything in the interim that increases the odds of a Trump takeover of America), with Bernie as its chairman and his e-mail list of supporters as its core.
Unlike the spin-off organizations from past progressive candidacies, such as Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, the New Progressive Party would be explicitly political, recruiting and fielding candidates in the 2018 midterm elections for the Senate and House—as well as the presidency in 2020—who are committed to reforming our democracy. Rather than relying on fund-raising efforts at election time, the party would be funded by dues-paying members (say $1 to $5 a month, depending on your income) who are actively involved in establishing and participating in local and state chapters. New Progressives would be the lifeblood of the next generation of politics, carrying on Bernie’s political revolution by creating a new and vibrant center of countervailing power in America.
Robert B. Reich, a former secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author, most recently, of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few.
Fracking is America’s primary battleground in the fight against climate change. In the name of protecting the climate and eliminating coal, the fossil-fuel industry is rushing to lock in our reliance on fracked gas for decades, with the Democratic establishment going along.
But it’s a scam. Fracking emits massive amounts of methane, a heat-trapping gas at least 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide over a period of 20 years. Peer-reviewed research finds that shale gas is worse for the climate than coal or oil. That’s why we must ban fracking and start building renewables now.
Bernie Sanders made that call loud and clear, and it doesn’t just resonate with progressives. Most Americans and 75 percent of Democrats oppose fracking. As a member of the Democratic Platform Committee, I demanded that we reflect this opposition by including a national fracking ban. My proposal was rejected. But we achieved an astonishing victory with an amendment that puts a price on carbon and methane, incentivizes renewables, requires that new energy projects do not harm the climate, and gives local communities and Native Americans a seat at the table.
That’s monumental, but now Democratic leaders must stop winking at shale gas as a “bridge fuel,” as Hillary Clinton does. She took millions from the industry and worked hand-in-glove with it to export fracking as secretary of state. Many other supposedly green Democrats, from President Obama to Jerry Brown, also boost fracking.
This isn’t just hypocrisy—it’s climaticide in the service of the fossil-fuel interests. Al Gore once said that fighting climate change is a challenge to the moral imagination. So is political revolution. I witnessed this moral dimension firsthand as I was making my film How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change. I saw the powerful civic virtue of indigenous people raising outrage over oil spills deep in the Amazon; of activists in China risking their civil liberties to speak out against coal; of Pacific Climate Warriors blockading Australian coal ships with their canoes, chanting: “We are not drowning—we are fighting!”
Climate change will destroy many things, but in the end it can’t destroy the courage, selflessness, resilience, and love we need to survive it. It may even strengthen them, helping us rise to the occasion instead of succumbing to fear and selfishness. This is the essence of the political revolution that Bernie kicked off—and that we will carry on.
Josh Fox is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker whose latest film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, is now available on HBO Now and HBO Go.
Still Feeling the Bern
Where we go from here depends, of course, on whether it’s President Clinton or President Trump. If it’s President Clinton, it then depends on which Hillary shows up—feminist Hillary (yay!) or Hillary the hawk (likely). If it’s President Trump, then we’re pretty much doomed. I think Trump will win. So, basically, think doomed. Not much more to say here. Except…
If the Democrats in Philadelphia want to ensure victory, they’ll declare Bernie Sanders their candidate—because, in every single poll, he beats Trump hands down. He’s the only candidate in either party with a “positive” approval rating. And don’t we all, deep down, really want to have the final battle played out, in our lifetime, on the great field of democracy: “The Capitalist vs. the Socialist.” I want to see what that would look like! I think the voter turnout would be record-setting.
And I believe that Bernie and socialism would win. The forces of capitalism and greed overplayed their hand and have ruined the lives of millions. I think most people would vote for free health care, free college, paid maternity leave, and an end to permanent war.
Noodle on this: Over 75 percent of the electorate are women, people of color, or young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 (or some combination thereof). There’s your good news. The Age of the Angry White Man is over, and what you’re hearing this year are the last wails of a dying dinosaur.
But this dinosaur could still win. If Clinton is the candidate, voter turnout on our side is not going to be of inspired, epic proportions. We’ll get out the vote only by pushing the fear of Trump. Is that how we want to win? Especially after this historic year, in which a democratic socialist won the primary vote in nearly half of the states in the country, his message resonating profoundly even with those who didn’t vote for him: Break up the banks! Tax the rich! Justice for Palestinians! Those words were all spoken in prime-time debates.
But Hillary got the most votes, and that’s who wins. That’s also what could give us President Trump. If you had the chance to stop a runaway train, wouldn’t you? Even if everyone kept telling you, “That train legally has the right to those tracks!” The bomb is ticking.
Michael Moore’s latest film is Where to Invade Next.
Build From the Bottom
Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign showed us that millions of people are ready to embrace a bold progressive agenda. His defeat shows us just how much work remains to be done.
We must continue to wage big fights that can energize people across the nation. As Sanders hits the campaign trail for down-ballot candidates, we must continue training and running our own movement candidates. But we can’t do either without the creation of an on-the-ground, party-like political infrastructure.
Too few independent political organizations grounded on the state level endorsed Sanders. That’s in large part because so few of such groups exist in this country. While we have a storied history of community organizations, most are classified as charitable groups and thus are required to abstain from partisan politics.
To advance big progressive ideas, we need local and state “movement politics” organizations that are committed to people and principles, and ready to create tension with both major parties. Such organizations have significant reach, can hit the streets and knock on people’s doors in huge numbers, drive issues year-round, and do serious electoral politics—but they’ve been a rare breed on the left.
That’s starting to change. In recent years, organizations like TakeAction Minnesota, San Francisco Rising Action Fund, Rights and Democracy, and others have emerged on the scene. One of the most hopeful efforts, Reclaim Chicago, played a pivotal role in electing new progressive champions to city government as well as a new state’s attorney, Kim Foxx. Created in 2014, Reclaim mixes deep political education, rigorous organizer training, and thorough electoral chops to create a model that others are looking to replicate.
To win at the top, we must build from the bottom up—and that means supporting local progressive political organizations that can power this movement over the long haul.
George Goehl is co-director of People’s Action.
Power to the People
It’s a mistake to think that progressive power comes from people—a noun. In truth, progressive power has always come from what our people do—verbs. We love our analysis over here on the left, but it’s our action that makes us powerful—and not just any action, but a very particular action.
It’s the action of standing up for one another, not just for ourselves; of standing behind people who are different from us, but whose fate we believe we share. This is the secret to progressive power. This is the behavior we must scale across our country if we want to make any political revolution real.
The new black leadership we have seen in the last year—from challenging racism in policing (Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, Chicago, Texas) to challenging racism in politics (Rubio, Cruz, Trump)—has shown that black people are advancing systemic solutions, even when our cry is community justice. That leadership has made our whole movement stronger: more animated, smarter, more cohesive. It’s the same leadership that always takes our fights to the next level: against the pernicious influence of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), against the corporate backers of the Republican National Convention, against the powerful private interests that tried to end Net neutrality.
Those who reject our leadership because they fear us or dismiss us forfeit the power to accelerate change. The same is true for the new leadership we’ve seen from women, from immigrants, from workers, from LGBTQ people, and from all those who live at the intersection. When oppressed people win, we win for everybody. And when we stand up for one another, and stand aside to make room for one another, we are more powerful than climate deniers, predatory banks, greedy corporations, racist prosecutors, sell-out politicians, and slumlords. But if we buy into the rhetoric of blame and see one another as the causes of our problems rather than the champions of our solutions, we will be loud, but we will not be powerful.
Dan Cantor and Jodeen Olguín-Tayler
An Inside-Outside Strategy
Republicans will come hard and fast at Hillary Clinton, hoping that misogyny will inflame the opposition against her just as racism did with Obama. It will be ugly—again. Regardless, we cannot repeat the mistake progressives made in 2009: relying too much on the “inside” power of a Democratic president and Congress. Progressives ceded the “outside game” to the right; Obama became the left pole of the debate as the Tea Party made what was once considered outrageous mainstream.
The GOP failed to block Obamacare, but they succeeded in mobilizing public sentiment and won the 2010 midterm elections decisively. Their “inside-outside” strategy was powerful: grassroots activists and mega-donors, right-wing media and think tanks, elected and insurgent candidates, all pulling in the same direction. Together, they defined the terms of debate.
It’s time to flip the script. The right stokes fear and anger. We’re for hope and love, plus a good plan. In 2017, let’s go on offense. The absurd, life-sapping inequalities that define our society—economic, environmental, racial, and gender—are not inevitable. We need a bold, impossible-seeming agenda that elevates egalitarianism and addressing climate change at home, and sensible internationalism and addressing climate change (again!) abroad. We need to combine the best of Bernie Sanders’s program with the demands of the racial-justice movement. Then comes the “outside” part: We mount campaigns in every state to make our ideas dominant in the national political debate.
The “inside” work includes the recruitment and training of thousands of candidates for local and state offices in 2017 and 2018. It includes forming close working relationships with the progressives in Congress and state legislatures who can drive media coverage. The Working Families Party and Demos Action have initiated discussions about the value of joint-issue and electoral campaigns with the leaders of netroots, community, environmental, labor, and youth organizations, as well as the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The response so far has been heartening. These leaders and organizers sense how precious the moment is. Are we creative enough, and tough enough, to turn possibility into enduring power and visible gains? Might we be on the cusp of a turning point in US political history? We can’t know the answers ahead of time, but we’ll confess to being the tiniest bit optimistic, even as we know that history doesn’t turn by itself.
We don’t have Fox News on our side. What we do have are terrific people, good ideas that would improve people’s lives, and a public that is more than ready to be with us. We lead with hope and love, but we go on offense to set the terms of debate. That’s how we turn 2018 into 2010—only this time for us.
Dan Cantor (email@example.com) is the national director of the Working Families Party. Jodeen Olguín-Tayler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the vice president of Demos Action.
Put an End to Endless War
Fifteen years into the war on terror, the toxins of perpetual war are in the bloodstream of the body politic. War without any hint of an end has become normal. A sustained leap of moral imagination and powerful activism will be necessary to lift the United States out of what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism.”
The recent sit-in by Democrats on the House floor for a gun-control measure was impressive. But there’s no serious talk in Congress about gun control at the Pentagon. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is on pace to exceed the number of bombs dropped and missiles fired by the George W. Bush administration.
From the outset, we should be clear-eyed about the foreign-policy outlook of the likely next president. Leading neoconservative hawk Robert Kagan, who will be a featured speaker at a Clinton campaign fund-raiser soon, commented two years ago: “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy.” He added, “If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue, it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”
Investigative journalist Robert Parry examined Clinton’s record and concluded in a Consortium News article this year: “In every meaningful sense, she is a neocon.” Clinton has never acknowledged the catastrophic results of the US-led intervention in Libya that she championed as secretary of state. She now advocates more US military involvement in Syria. And her confrontational stance toward Russia is ominous. On the home front, we cannot fund the public investment that’s desperately needed as long as the warfare state thrives. Budget realities mean that progressives must use clear messaging and effective organizing to build a crucial bridge that connects economic populism with antimilitarism. A political revolution to transform our country will require putting an end to endless war.
Norman Solomon is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the coordinator of RootsAction.org.
Frances Fox Piven
Elect Hillary, Then Make Some Trouble
Where do the movements that fueled the Bernie Sanders campaign—Occupy, the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, Moral Mondays, LGBTQ rights—go from here? These movements deserve a good part of the credit for Sanders’s extraordinary attack on oligarchy in the United States. Now, for these movements to grow, we need to elect Hillary Clinton as president of the United States.
Why? Not because Clinton is our candidate or shares our deepest political commitments, but because left movements gain influence when the regime in power depends on them for support. Clinton is unlikely to win without significant support from Sanders’s core voters. The coalition of progressive youth and left-leaning liberals behind the Sanders candidacy has forced the Democratic Party to accommodate change, and a Clinton presidency would be vulnerable to activist efforts in the future.
There is another reason: The rhetoric of a vulnerable regime also gives movements courage. Think of Obama’s comment that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Or that if he worked in a fast-food restaurant, he’d join a union. Or his statement about the Dreamers, that “these kids are Americans just like us and they belong here.”
Finally, the hesitation to deploy the police affords some protection to movements. On this point, those who think a Trump victory would somehow be better for the left because it would stiffen our resistance ignore history. A Trump victory would expose our movements not only to official repression, but to mob violence.
To be sure, there is the very real concern that the Democratic Party, with its serpentine machinations and big-money donors, might smother these movements. But does this really have to be such a worry? We vote for Clinton not to gain access to the inner sanctum of the Democratic Party, but to gain time and position for movement politics. If the movements build on their distinctive capacities for raising the issues politicians want to suppress, and creating the disruptions they can’t ignore, Clinton’s very opportunism may make her a good target. So we should vote for the Democrats who need us to win, and then work for the movements that make trouble for them.
Frances Fox Piven is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and the author, most recently, of Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven?
Support Local Organizing
Let’s talk money. in 2016, over $4 billion will be spent on TV ads that will do little to turn out a single new voter in any battleground state. If we shift just 1 percent of that money ($40 million), we could fully fund all of the most effective grassroots groups in key states—from the Ohio Student Association to the Florida Immigrant Coalition—that organize year-round and actually turn out voters, too.
As Steve Phillips argues in Brown Is the New White, communities of color win elections—if they are properly invested in (studies show that face-to-face interaction substantially increases voter turnout). Ditto for millennials, the largest, most diverse, and most progressive generation in American history. A voter wave among these groups in 2016 and 2018 would undo GOP gerrymandering and make the 2020s a progressive decade.
Clinton needs these voters—not just to cast their ballots, but to enthusiastically volunteer. Millennials voted overwhelmingly for Sanders. Without Obama on the ticket, will the Obama coalition show up? No one knows.
That’s why even Clinton should advocate for supporting local grassroots groups. They expand the electorate, personally reaching millions of unlikely progressive voters. They help people register and vote. They drive progressive wins down-ballot. And they won’t disappear in November. They’ll be here in 2017 to hold folks accountable—a permanent political revolution.
Why don’t we provide these groups with the resources they need? Most progressive donors have never heard of them. A new platform, Movement 2016, is now being launched to change that. The left needs a new center of gravity beyond Bernie—not just a charismatic leader, but a sustainable movement at the local level. That movement exists. We even have the money to sustain it—if we stop wasting it on TV.
Billy Wimsatt is the executive director of Gamechanger Networks and Movement 2016.
A “Step-Function” Year
In his 1963 novel V., Thomas Pynchon wrote that “History is a step-function.” In other words, history is not linear; sometimes it jumps to a higher level or drops to a lower one. 2016 could well be a step-function year. So our first job as progressives is to prevent a historic drop by standing nonviolently against the racism, sexism, and proto- fascism of Donald Trump.
Our second job is to give history a chance to jump by keeping young people engaged. Bernie Sanders gave us a “yuuuge” gift by opening the door to a skilled, diverse millennial generation that could change the course of American politics for decades. We need to keep the energy of young people engaged by focusing on issues that matter to their future: climate change, inequality, and democracy. We must stop new pipelines. Keep fossil fuels in the ground. Demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage and unionization as well. Make college tuition-free. End the drug wars and mass incarceration. Roll back Citizens United. Stop deportations. Pass small-dollar public matching funds for elections in city after city. This is the “outside” part of an inside-outside strategy for political revolution.
We must also strengthen the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren/Keith Ellison/Raúl Grijalva/Barbara Lee wing of the Democratic Party on the “inside.” We should start by passing a progressive party platform; then we should register every young voter. Let’s win key Senate races so that Bernie becomes a committee chairman with a majority behind him. Let’s help him elect progressives to the House. Let’s elect progressive district attorneys and get serious about taking back state legislative chambers from the right.
Progressives need an agenda for a left Tea Party. We need to give voters something to be for, so that the 2018 off-year elections don’t become the low-turnout disasters that 2010 and 2014 were. Our agenda won’t come from the White House or from Capitol Hill, but from the people.
Finally, we need a long-term popular-education effort to develop and spread a 21st-century democratic socialism that is green and racially just. The seeds of change have been planted—thanks, Bernie! Let’s not forget to water them.
Steve Cobble helped the Progressive Democrats of America start “Run, Bernie, Run!,” the effort to draft Sanders to run for the presidency.
For Jill Stein and the 99 Percent
Bernie Sanders’s insurgent presidential campaign has inspired millions of people and cracked the foundations of US politics. A new generation is discussing democratic socialism and the need for an alternative to our failed capitalist system.
Campaigning for a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all, and a free college education, Sanders defied the brutal neoliberal orthodoxy of both major political parties. Now the search has begun for a way forward.
There was always a fundamental contradiction built into Bernie’s campaign: trying to carry out a political revolution against the billionaire class while running in a party controlled by that same class. In the primary elections, the (un-)Democratic Party exposed itself as completely hostile terrain for the 99 percent, with a leadership that fought Sanders every step of the way.
Though Bernie didn’t win, he did create a huge opening for a different kind of politics. We cannot back Hillary Clinton—to do so would be to abandon all the vital energy and momentum we have built over the past year. We will not defeat the right by supporting corporate Democrats. After all, the massive anger at the corrupt antiworker establishments of both parties is what helped create Donald Trump’s base of support.
#Movement4Bernie and I launched a petition months ago calling on Sanders to run as an independent in November if he is blocked by the party’s leadership.
But time is running out. Now it’s up to us. That’s why I’m endorsing Green Party candidate Jill Stein. I don’t agree with Jill (or Bernie) about everything, but she is fighting for the same political revolution and campaigning on the same issues. Stein deserves our strongest possible support, and through her campaign we can strike a blow against establishment politics, while laying the groundwork for a new mass party of the 99 percent.
See you in Philly!
Kshama Sawant is a Seattle city councilwoman and a member of Socialist Alternative.
Don’t Bet on the Presidency
Putting all of our progressive eggs in the presidential basket is a hierarchical and dangerous move. Right now, Republicans and Democrats are simply two branches of the party of money, neither with much obligation to ordinary people. Progressive power comes from organizing block by block, and taking our fights to the streets.
But while I place little faith in the presidential election, I do see glimmers of electoral hope. It lies in changing the political landscape of statehouses and municipal and county boards. Running candidates for these offices will require grooming lots of folks who can tolerate the vagaries of our broken political system. It will mean turning up for elections like this one, in which you may not like the top of the ticket, but can still cast your vote in local races down-ballot that have more impact on our lives. Progressives must not overlook the issues of black and Latino voters, and we need to ensure that they’re a part of the policy table and not just props for PR. We must begin to build a critical mass before turning to ideas like a third party.
Here in Chicago, we’ve endured a series of vicious attacks on the very soul of public education. They have come from a moneyed class that not only actively promotes nonunion, privately owned charter schools, but interferes in the day-to-day operations of the district. We’ve been fortunate that the rank-and-file members of the Chicago Teachers Union have recognized these attacks and struggled tirelessly, often under oppressive conditions, to provide our students with the schools they deserve. In 2012, nearly 90 percent of teachers voted to strike, the result of an immense organizing effort on the part of the union. The coalition that the CTU helped build—uniting teachers, parents, racial-justice organizers, and students—has gone on to win further struggles in Chicago, including the recent ouster of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. The fight for a fair education system contributed to an important electoral victory.
But building such coalitions takes time. Progressives need to realize that the political process in this country moves at a glacial pace, unless you simply hijack a party. Think of the Tea Party activists who infiltrated the Republicans and not only jerked them screaming to the far right, but bred the mainstream acceptance of a yearlong clown show of epic proportions. We need to cultivate a new generation of leaders who believe in progressive issues, especially fighting against the privatization of public services and the neoliberal assault on democracy. In Chicago, we’re developing those leaders through a sustained coalition-building struggle, in the streets and at the ballot box.
Karen Lewis, a 22-year chemistry teacher at Chicago public schools, is currently the president of the CTU, Local 1 of the American Federation of Teachers.
Racism Hurts All of Us
As the limits of Bernie Sanders’s campaign demonstrated, our ascendant economic populism has to broaden its appeal to engage the diverse Obama coalition. While Sanders was able to attract new white voters to the Democratic fold by weaving a compelling narrative about how a rigged system fails ordinary Americans, he was never quite able to weave in the role that strategic racism plays in the rise of inequality.
As Ian Haney-López and I wrote for The Nation, it’s up to progressives to challenge the orthodoxy that racism is wholly beneficial to white people and solely harms people of color. The fact is that, in our interconnected society, racism is bad for white people too. It’s the missing piece of the class-warfare story. It explains how the elites enrolled white majorities in the GOP’s trickle-down economic plan: by relentlessly linking government, and now unions, to “undeserving” minorities. The result has been an impoverished public infrastructure, a shredded social contract, and the transfer of trillions of dollars to the richest 1 percent.
How can progressives accomplish our agenda—free public college, expanded Social Security, collective bargaining for a new economy—when we don’t have a public, a social, or a collective? How can we have a real democracy when we don’t have a demos—the united people of a nation?
Real revolution will come when we combine our stories of race and class, creating a multiracial progressive movement that is finally unafraid to engage the questions of our time: “Who is an American? And what are we to one another?” We have to admit that these questions are harder for us than in Sanders’s model social democracy, Denmark. The United States is different: We are the world’s most radical experiment in democracy, a nation of ancestral strangers with ties to every community on the globe. We will have to find a sense of community across difference. This challenge affects all of our issues, from criminal justice to environmental regulation. To succeed, our movements have to commit to neutralizing the right-wing story of racial hierarchy and distrust, while promoting our own vision of an America where we all have an equal say and an equal chance.
Heather McGhee is the president of Demos.
Our Revolution Needs a Home
Much of Bernie Sanders’s success emanated from his ability to articulate and unite the disparate grievances and aspirations of my generation into a single project: a political revolution. More young people voted for Sanders than for Trump and Clinton combined. He helped identify the base of a new faction of the Democratic Party; now this “Tea Party of the left” just has to get organized.
But the millennials powering this political revolution are also the group most likely to identify as independents, even as they tend to vote Democrat. Though the first generation of Americans worse off than their parents is searching for a political identity and a shared project, the left has very few electoral vehicles capable of reaching the thousands of young people who participated in the Sanders campaign, let alone developing their leadership and giving them a long-term political home. Until Sanders, protest movements had filled that role in an explosive but ephemeral way. And while the Sanders campaign may have felt like a movement, it more accurately provided a temporary home for young people transitioning from protesting the system to articulating a new one.
Many people have written about how my generation feels plugged in and connected, yet alone. Our participation in rising movements and in the Sanders campaign has been fueled by a deep desire to find community and identity in a country that is increasingly unable to respond to our aspirations and tells us that we must fend for ourselves. But the political trends of recent years—Occupy, Black Lives Matter, #NotMeUs—are half-complete expressions of a different kind of country, built on millions of people acknowledging that our fates are intertwined and that we can better realize our true potential together—not divided, not alone.
The lesson of our history is clear: Nothing can stand in the way of millions united across difference to fight for freedom and justice. But there is a major hole on the left. The generation that powered the political revolution needs to lead its next phase, and they require a vehicle that speaks to and is led by people like them—capable of disrupting an establishment unable or unwilling to represent the people; helping to elect candidates from their communities on a transformative agenda; and forming the kind of multiracial community necessary to take on the twinned sins of greed and racism, which have always deprived Americans of a country that belongs to all of us.
Waleed Shahid works with the Working Families Party and has written for The Nation, In These Times, Dissent, and Colorlines.
Bill Fletcher Jr.
A Different Sort of Tea Party
Two immediate challenges confront the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the most broadly mobilizing presidential campaign of the modern era besides those of Barack Obama in 2008 and Jesse Jackson in 1988. The first is the defeat of Donald Trump or, on the off chance that he is ousted at the GOP convention, his successor. The Republican threat is far greater than many progressives and leftists wish to acknowledge. Some sectors of the right are working to gain enough support in the states to call a constitutional convention. The prospect of right-wing changes to the Constitution, such as a balanced-budget amendment, should send chills up the spine of any serious progressive.
The second challenge is to develop a long-term, state-by-state electoral strategy. Those who have answered Sanders’s call for a political revolution must fight not just for Congress, but for governorships, state legislatures, and county and municipal governments. This strategy requires significant research into the economic and political conditions and social movements in each state. Progressives would need to build electoral organizations analogous to the Tea Party in each state (including the institutional support such efforts receive from right-wing donors and think tanks), which can successfully work with social movements to lay the foundation for a new progressive majority. In many respects, this was the founding notion of the National Rainbow Coalition in the 1980s. None of this planning will succeed, of course, unless progressives learn from one mistake made by the Sanders campaign: Women and people of color cannot be an afterthought. We are either at the table from the beginning or there will be no dinner.
Many of those mobilized by Sanders may steer clear of the voting booth come November because their candidate didn’t prove victorious. That would be disastrous, both for its short-term outcome—a Republican victory—and because it would show that many progressives don’t appreciate the longer-term electoral battles we must fight.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a racial-justice, labor, and international activist, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us!” and 20 Other Myths About Unions.
End Militarism—and Occupation
Despite our frequent elections, the United States’ militarized foreign policy continues to wreak death, destruction, and dispossession on people and nations around the world. Any political revolution worthy of the name must seek to reverse that reality.
In order to end Washington’s permanent wars, we need to reignite dormant social movements and connect them with emerging ones. The self-defined peace movement, facing serious challenges today, must remobilize in tandem with rising movements fighting against racism and inequality, and for immigrant, gender, and labor rights, climate justice, and beyond.
This effort should include three major campaigns. First, a call for a massive reduction of the military budget. This year’s planned $619 billion Pentagon budget is about 40 percent of the military spending of the rest of the world combined—and that’s not even counting the $179 billion we’ll spend on veterans this year. Communities facing job losses when unnecessary weapons systems are canceled or bases are closed should be compensated with redirected military funds for job training and refitting factories.
Second, a demand to replace the so-called global War on Terror with nonmilitary solutions. You can’t bomb terrorism out of existence; you can only bomb cities and people—and killing people simply creates more terrorists. We should call for getting all US forces out of these wars; funding and staffing new diplomatic instead of military approaches; an end to “train-and-equip” policies that leave whole regions flooded with lethal weapons while doing little to protect people from terrorists and repressive regimes; an arms embargo on all sides in Syria’s civil war; and a major expansion of funding for refugees, the internally displaced, and other victims of the region’s wars.
Third, we need to broaden efforts to end the US support—military, economic, and diplomatic—for Israeli occupation and apartheid. Successful work by a growing and empowered movement for Palestinian rights—perhaps the most engaged and creative component of our antiwar/antimilitarism mobilization—has led to important shifts in the public and media discourse, as well as the mainstreaming of criticism of Israel. We need to transform those changes into a serious policy shift: cutting US military aid, ending the US-granted impunity for Israeli officials in the United Nations and under international law, and supporting the powerful BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement bringing nonviolent pressure to bear on Israel to stop its violations of international law.
Phyllis Bennis, of the Institute for Policy Studies, is the author of Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror.
Robert L. Borosage
Embracing the New Populist Moment
The Bernie Sanders campaign is the latest and largest wave of a rising populist tide, gaining force from the Occupy movement, the Dreamers, Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, the Wisconsin showdown, and more. The failure of the political establishment has been exposed, but the center still holds.
So what’s next? First, Sanders is right: Beating Donald Trump is vital to ensuring that bigotry and nativism do not poison and discredit the new populist moment. Once Trump has been defeated, the progressive movement should focus on defining issues and politics from the bottom up. The next movement waves—climate change, student debt, protests against systemic inequality and brutal policing—will continue to shake the establishment. Battles over these defining issues will deepen the understanding that there is an alternative. At the national level, this will start with a pitched battle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the lame-duck Congress, followed by challenges to the Wall Street–Washington revolving door in executive appointments, as well as skirmishes over real immigration reform, fair taxes, and rebuilding America.
In states and localities, the Sanders movement should join with insurgents in communities of color to drive real change—campaigns to establish a living wage; to save public schools; to make clean-energy, clean-water, and mass-transit investments, paid for by taxing the rich; and to enact sweeping criminal-justice reform. Those fights will set up insurgent candidates to challenge those standing in the way, from city councils to the statehouses to Congress.
Many flowers will blossom from the energy unleashed by the Sanders campaign. The Vermont senator would be well-advised to create a vehicle both to drive these defining-issue battles, and to identify and support Sanders Democrats up and down the ballot. Wherever possible, these Sanders Democrats should take control of state parties. Then we can begin to reshape how our democracy actually works.
Robert L. Borosage is the president of the Institute for America’s Future.