Sanders Supporters Initiate Discussions to Transform Campaign into Progressive Movement

Posted May 4, 2016

MP3 Interview with Jesse Myerson, independent journalist, conducted by Scott Harris


With the current delegate count favoring Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic Party nomination, many disappointed supporters of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign are now focusing on a larger goal. Activists who have dedicated the last year to winning primary elections for the Vermont senator are now discussing the potential of transforming their unexpectedly strong campaign into an enduring progressive movement.

There are different ideas being floated, but most involve gathering the coalition of left activists that supported Sanders and harnessing the power of the campaign's massive donor network and grassroots organizing operation to promote a progressive agenda at the local and national level. An important meeting is now being planned for late June after the last primary and before the Democratic National Convention in July. That meeting, dubbed a national People's Assembly, will take place in Chicago, and will draw leaders from the National Nurses United union, People for Bernie and groups fighting for a $15 minimum wage, the climate change movement, labor unions and Black Lives Matter organizations.

While Sen. Sanders has not directly endorsed the idea of forming a new post-election organization, his wife, Jane, has affirmed that whether her husband wins or loses the nomination, she says, "The most important thing is starting a political revolution." Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with independent journalist and co-host of the Disorderly Conduct podcast Jesse Myerson, who talks about the effort now underway to transform Bernie Sanders' campaign into a lasting progressive movement. [Rush transcript below.]

JESSE MYERSON: The Sanders campaign is the one political campaign that actually has anything like a coherent theory of change. In every stump speech, Sanders says, "No president, not Bernie Sanders, or anyone else can possibly achieve things like single-payer without a political revolution, which is to say, without millions of people coming together and you know, having sustained, prolonged agitation for these things. It takes a movement." We're up actually against extremely popular financial, and political and media elites who have to be overcome if we're going to get things like free college, universal health care, guaranteed dignified conditions for all people. And to that end, the hashtag – I mean, the famous hashtag is still "#FeelTheBern" – the hashtags that's being used by Sanders supporters more frequently is "#NotHimUs" or "#NotMeUs", which is in such stark contrast to the Clinton hashtag, "ImWithHer". "I'm With Her" makes it about a candidate. "Not Him, Not Me, Us" really makes it about the movement.

And so, I think from the beginning, the Sanders campaign has actively fostered the idea that it's not so much about the victory of Bernie Sanders, it's about the movement, the political revolution as he calls it to great derision from the establishment press. So I think that's kind of baked into it. And actually, I don't think that the problem is specific to if he loses the nomination. I think the problem would remain, even if he became the president. I think it would actually only intensify the necessity for sustained ongoing radical organizing for these things and pressure put on the political system to achieve these things.

So, I think that's on the minds of a lot of people. Definitely a lot of supporters are having similar kinds of conversations – "What to do beyond Bernie?" What the political revolution would look like absent the candidate. And I know that there are meetings happening all over the place. I co-hosted a meeting in Brooklyn at a place called MayDay Place about this question and what people are hoping to achieve afterwards. And it seems like people are definitely in – although not analytically the same place about what exactly would be the right thing to do. I think that at least attitudinally, everyone understands that this isn't a movement that ends here, that actually it has to continue, and that gives me a great deal of hope.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Jesse, a lot of people have been drawn to Bernie Sanders' campaign for a diversity of reasons. But if this campaign were to be transformed into something more permanent, in as far as a progressive movement goes, what do you think the common denominator would be that would draw these people into a longer term involvement?

JESSE MYERSON: That's a wonderful question. I wish I had a really good answer for it. I mean, the sort of scene I'm more embedded in, rather than in the sort of the electoral sphere is in the social movement sphere, so the activists who I really talk to and have been trying to build over the last few years are from the movement for Black Lives, the climate justice movement, the low-wage workers movement, Occupy, the immigration movement, Dreamers and so forth. If we're going to take these social movements and maximize their political efficacy, what is that kind of minimum source of alignment that we would need to have in order to do it? And it's very difficult, because the sort of systematic destruction of the Left in the United States and our institutions and our political education. So that in a sense, we have to kind of rebuild and relearn knowledge that we've lost over these many years of Thatcherite-Reaganite There-is-no-Alternativism.

And so, the question for me about the Sanders campaign isn't how it itself can be sustained, but what pieces of movement infrastructure will emerge from it, for instance, the fundraising tools, the phonebanking tools. All of the various innovations that the campaign has brought to the electoral sphere. How those will survive and they will interact with the movement infrastructure that's been built by previous movement moments. And I just think that each time we have a movement moment, we land on higher ground and higher ground and eventually, ideally, that ground will be so high that we'll have – you know, not to be too ambitious about it – but you know, capture political power and implemented a program that is in the universal, general interest and not in the interest just of the ownership class.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I've been reading about a summit meeting that's going to be scheduled sometime after the last Democratic party primary to determine what the future might be for the Sanders campaign whether he wins the nomination or not. Is your feeling that this is where the action is? This kind of summit meeting or is this just part of a whole host of organizing that's going on around the country, a lot of it below the radar.

JESSE MYERSON: Yeah, well, I think both things are true. I figure that's going to be a very useful place to bring people together and to discuss what's going on. I noticed that recently they put out a call for proposals for speeches and panels and what not. But as you say it's not reaction, it's one action and there are many other places where Sanders' message and the people who have been brought together by the Sanders campaign can conspire for a much more locally tailored, responsive to immediate circumstance kind of mode, where they can let as they say, "let a thousand flowers bloom" so that we're not fixated on a single strategy, but that we're nimble enough that we can find different strategies to approach different issues and yet be united by a common set of values or principles or ethos.

See a link to Myerson's recent article, "Building a Movement: From Occupy Wall Street to Bernie Sanders," TeleSurTV, April 16, 2016

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