Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, May 12, 13 or 14
Let’s hope so.
After primaries in Indiana and Guam, and county delegates from the state of Washington, Sanders has raised more than $140 million (mostly in donations averaging $27) and he’s won 1,411 delegates in 19 state primaries and caucuses compared to Hillary Clinton’s 1,708 in 26 victories.
It’s time to grab the moment and strengthen it for the long term.
That starts with Sanders deciding what to do with his capable organization. Next, he must plan how the primary campaign will continue, his options for Democrats’ convention, his presence during the general-election campaign (regardless of nominees), and what happens after November.
Most importantly, the grassroots has to organize more.
“We’re going to build a democracy movement in this country,” said Larry Cohen, the former president of the Communications Workers of America who’s led the grassroots “Labor for Bernie” group.
Sanders has emerged as a movement leader more than a politician tied to a major-party establishment.
“The two-party reliance on the wealthy has disenfranchised large portions of our society,” said Geoff Gilbert of Georgetown University. “Half of our society has zero net assets: They don't have any money lying around to ‘pay to play’ in our democracy. They are politically invisible, without democratic input.”
Some groups in Sanders’ corner have suggested goals “beyond Bernie” – dealing with the corrupting concentration of wealth and power in the elite; ending discrimination at all levels; coping with climate change through environmental and energy policies; reimagining national security so solid infrastructure, affordable education, expanded Social Security, and Medicare for All are valued more than military budgets and adventures costly in lives and treasure; and reviving the right to organize to promote working-class interests.
“There’s Bernie and there’s his movement,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, director of National Nurses United, the first national union to endorse Sanders. “He amplifies the movement, but he’s not the movement.”
Vice President Joe Biden, who hasn’t endorsed either candidate, distanced himself from the cautious pragmatism voiced by Clinton, telling the New York Times, “I like the idea of saying, ‘We can do much more’ because we can. I don’t think any Democrats ever won saying, ‘We can’t think big; we ought to really downsize here because it’s not realistic’.”
Of course, Sanders can be practical, too – and he’s built up leverage. Illinois’ Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters, “He’s got a heck of an email list, and if he decides to use it to help the Democrats take control of the Senate, that creates a better opportunity for his ideas to see the light of day.”
Accumulating votes and delegates means influence with Democrats’ platform and the direction of the party in changing times – times of greater diversity in the population and more openness to social-justice issues ranging from the importance of unions to the freedom of people to marry. So maybe the Democratic convention will see improvements in substance as well as rhetoric.
The future of the nation depends on participatory democracy, and everyday working people are key.
“Labor unions will be central to moving this political project forward,” said Peter Olney, a retired organizer for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). “The labor movement provides a base in the working class and the necessary savvy and resources. However, labor – under relentless assault from the same corporate interests and billionaires that pollute our political process – cannot do it alone. It must share leadership with other dynamic social movement organizations [which] should be enlisted to share their experience, embrace the strategic approach to be a coordinated force.”
In the next few months, four approaches seem smart:
* Build a list of supporters and resources independent of the Democratic Party.
* Encourage voters, volunteers and contributors to become more – members and organizers.
* Do democracy; urge not just involvement, but input and power within the movement.
* Go local by tying global concerns to communities, neighborhoods and individuals.
Sanders’ wife Jane last month told the Washington Post, “If he’s president, he wants to keep this movement going. If he’s not president, he’ll have to keep this movement going for a lot more reasons, because nobody else wants to accomplish what has ignited the interest of the voters.”
A conference is planned in Chicago June 17-19, after the crucial California primary and before Democrats’ July 25–28 convention in Philadelphia. This “People’s Summit” is backed by a coalition of unions, environmental and human-rights groups, and political organizations.
“Maybe we’re on the cusp of some really interesting political changes,” said Charles Lenchner, founder of the People for Bernie group that emerged from the Occupy movement.
Let’s hope so.
And act on it.