Bernie Sanders' Supporters Should Have a Plan B: Build a Movement

Posted Feb. 3, 2016

MP3 Interview with George Lakey, author, activist and co-founder of Earth Quaker Action Group, conducted by Scott Harris


After months of daily polling, endless live TV coverage of Donald Trump rallies and commentators holding forth on the top candidates' every word, Iowans cast ballots in the state's caucuses on Feb. 1, the nation's first real test of voter sentiment. While Ted Cruz defied polls to win the Republican caucuses, beating Trump by less than four percentage points, the candidates in the Democratic race fought the election out to a virtual tie. After almost an entire day waiting for a final tally, Hillary Clinton emerged the victor by the narrowest of margins, beating independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont by less than four Iowa delegates out of a total of slightly more than 1,397.

Clinton's razor-thin victory, came after Sanders defied expectations. Last spring, Sanders was behind Clinton in the polls by more than 42 points, had little name recognition and almost no funds. But the self-declared democratic socialist's message that the U.S. economic system is rigged in favor the richest one percent, and that Big Money calls the shots in electoral politics, resonated with a wide swath of Iowa voters. His call to challenge the status quo with a political revolution particularly appealed to the young, where 84 percent of voters between the ages of 17 and 29 supported Bernie, and only 14 percent backing Clinton.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with George Lakey, author, activist and co-founder of Earth Quaker Action Group, who discusses his recent article, "What Happens to Bernie Sanders Movement if He Loses?" and the need he sees for Sanders' supporters to have a Plan B to build a broad progressive coalition outside the electoral arena.

GEORGE LAKEY: This country has been remarkably vision-averse in its political discourse. Very, very different from the 1960s – the Kennedy era – the times when Americans dared to dream dreams of how great we could be. And now, the political class doesn't want us to dream dreams. And there's Bernie Sanders, dreaming dreams of how we can be, and his way of doing that is quite subtle and very smart. He's pointing to actual lived experience. He points over and over to the Nordic countries – Denmark, Norway, Sweden – as examples of countries that have the kind of decent social order degree of equality, the degree of benefits for people, for working class people that we can only wish we could achieve.

So, he's resurrecting the idea of us setting goals, because it implies that we might be powerful enough to achieve them. And I'm so appreciating that about Bernie.

BETWEEN THE LINES: George, when it comes to electoral politics, it's certain that Bernie Sanders understands that the enthusiasm and followers he's generated with his message that the American political and economic system are broken may actually hit a deadend if he loses his bid for the Democratic party nomination. Do you see any evidence that he's made plans to preserve that energy in a way where's put some time and thinking building an infrastructure for a lasting political movement that could carry on regardless of the results of the 2016 election campaign?

GEORGE LAKEY: I don't see the evidence, but I'm not close enough to the campaign be the one who see the evidence. I'm hoping that those of your listeners who get involved in the campaign will ask over and over, "And by the way, what's our 'Plan B'?" Because it's only sensible. Most people do put fire insurance on their house because they want the Plan B in case the terrible thing would happen of them having a fire in their house. And we also need a Plan B and Bernie Sanders' campaign definitely needs that. So I think it's very reasonable for people who are working for Bernie to ask, "What's the Plan B? What do we do if he loses?" It's not a threatening question to me. It's simply a good, solid, American pragmatic question, because there needs to be a Plan B.

The point is, from my experience, there's tremendous reservoir of American experience of working outside the electoral system and getting things done that we've been unsuccessful in getting done through the electoral system. I think for example, the civil rights movements, which was all about that. It was all about the federal government and a bunch of state governments to come through with anti-discrimination measures and the Voting Rights Act and so on, which the political class in Washington and in state houses had absolutely no intention of doing.

Another example are the LGBT people. I'm a gay man. I'm very proud of participating in that struggle, in which again, although there was interest among us in electoral politics, no way were we counting on that to deliver the victories. And over, and over and over, we forced legislators and finally on the federal level, forced legislators to do the right thing with regard to human rights. The U.S. story is a long story. Women's suffrage forcing the federal government to grant the right to vote when President Woodrow Wilson – no way did he want to go along with that, and he was forced to do it by Alice Paul, and amazing, amazing woman and her militant, rebellious suffragettes. So there's tremendous history we've got. All we need to do is reach into that legacy, pull out this thing called "People Power," and just go ahead and force the political class to move aside.

One reason, why, Scott, I've written a book which is coming out this summer on the Nordic model – I'm writing, actually, it's now at the publisher's. Melville House is publishing it. This book that describes how in Norway and Sweden; they did shove their political class aside and used nonviolent direct action to force their countries to change. So, I appreciate Bernie saying, well they have it so much better than we do; they have free higher education; they have decent housing for all and so on. I'm so glad he's that. What I describe in the book is how they got there. And while it's true that in each country that made those achievements, there was a Labor Party, there was a Social Democratic Party, there was a party that was fighting on the inside. What really gave it the power to prevail was the tremendous lot of action in the streets. And Americans know how to do that. All we need is to choose to.

To read Lakey's article, see "What happens to the Bernie Sanders movement if he loses?"

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