Bernie Sanders has been the longshot candidate since entering the 2016 presidential race. The Vermont Senator and avowed democratic socialist was, at one point or another, underestimated, overlooked, ignored, mocked, dismissed, and generally sneered at by the establishment on both sides of our corrupt capitalist-committed political system. But he persevered, and even managed, against all odds, to pull off some impressive wins, like the upset in Michigan.
Thousands of volunteers are clocking in countless hours of ground work on behalf of Bernie. Workers have contributed as much $30 to fund his fight against the social stronghold of the country’s rich and super-rich. They’ve channeled their anger and frustration and hope into what many no doubt believe is the closest thing to a just society within the structural confines of a capitalist society. And, up until three days ago, they sidelined all apprehension about the prospects for victory.
Deep down, Sanders supporters always knew that he might not walk away with the Democratic primary. Characterizing his chances as an uphill battle, as most pundits have done, was as much a means of quieting intense inner doubt as it was an understatement.
Tuesday’s sweep, where Hillary won additional states and expanded her delegate lead, proved to be another confirmation of that uphill battle and the strong likelihood that the left is far more conservative and establishment-friendly than what many hardcore liberals are willing to admit or prefer to believe. That, combined with a strong fear of the inevitability of a Donald Trump Republican primary victory, have pretty much clinched the Democratic nomination for Hillary, and paved a path of gold for the corporate cronyism she represents to walk on into Washington.
The irony is that polls show Bernie fairing much better in a general contest against Trump than Hillary. But, never mind that!
Now, as the sun seems to slowly set on Bernie’s presidential run, the radical left is wrestling with the question of where to go from here. What do we do with all the millennial energy that the Sanders campaign effectively tapped into and unleashed? How do we build on the momentum of what is presumably a major turning point in American politics — a willingness to openly identify as a socialist, or, at least, embrace a political position that somewhat approximates something approaching socialism?
In short, how do exploit this ripe political moment and advance socialism beyond Bernie Sanders?
To begin, let us remember that the revolution we’ve been fired up about these past several months was born in the streets, college campuses, workplaces, parks, and the heart of American cities eight years ago with great recession. All the elements of what is now affectionately referred to as feeling the Bern have been brewing since that moment. It started with the disappointing election and re-election of Barack Obama, who pandered and conciliated to Wall Street and America’s financial aristocracy. Next, it manifested, though perversely, into the Tea Party who, like Donald Trump, manipulates working class white fears and sentiments. Then, there’s the movement for Black lives that arose in response to the escalation of fatal encounters between law enforcers and Blacks/people of color.
The power and the fire have always been and remain in the hands of the people at the bottom of our country’s pyramid. And it is they who have pushed for radical solutions to address the 2008 crash this whole time.
Bernie is not a radical. His platform is a throwback to the former tried and true welfare state of America’s past. We do not need to unpack the “Swedish model” of social democracy, again, or the social conditions of Denmark to make the point. A simple nod to FDR will suffice. He is, however, as one writer has pointed out, the culmination of the frustration with the moneyed aristocracy that resulted in Occupy, and the growing tensions with America’s racist militaristic police state.
Without Occupy, without Black Lives Matter, there would be no talk of the 1% or any focus on “millionaires and billionaires.”
Stressing this point gives us some indication of the true heft of the Sander’s campaign, and where supporters might direct their energy should his presidential bid falter. Supporters must see themselves apart from electoral politics and view revolution as important in itself not as a mere function of republican candidates.
Bernie backers and more radical left activists must view themselves as cultural insurgents committed to the struggle for the long haul. They must consider Sanders’ phenomenon as a chapter, a significant first step, in a much broader story of the modern worker’s movement coming into its own. And they must see their impact as transcending the purview of presidential politics. In cities like Chicago, for example, the strength of this evolving social crusade was the driving force that made possible the ousting of State Attorney Anita Alvarez and district attorney Tim McGinty — two left victories that were seen — and rightfully so — as major wins for Black Lives Matter, but also for workers, particularly those with a more penetrating understanding of the link between the criminal injustice system and exploitation of labor forces, of the content of a genuine bond at the core of a non-capitalist humanity.
Political movements are much more that simply rallying behind one candidate or voting. And there’s more than one way to skin capitalism. Electoral politics is one approach. Grassroots organizing of local communities, mass street demonstrations, work and traffic stoppages, rank and file trade union organizing, civil unrest and purposeful social disruptions, is another — and, in my estimation more important!
Take the senator at his word. That is, take his stump comments on the actions of masses of people held together by a common worldview as the engine of political revolution seriously. Believe wholeheartedly in the content of the message that no one head of state or Congressperson or politician can change the world alone, if at all. Act on that portion of Bernie’s message.
We don’t need electoral consent to make a revolution. It’s been happening this whole time. We must take credit for it, dust ourselves off, and move forward.
Featured image: DonkeyHotey, Flickr Creative Commons