At the ripe old age of 73, Bernie Sanders has decided to rise to the urgency and seriousness of the times by running for President. And like a stone tossed into a pond, his decision is sending ripples throughout the country.
He has gotten very good responses from all that I’ve seen in the three days since he made that announcement. A Green Party leader—Bill McKibben—Occupy Wall Street veterans—Matt Taibi—some liberal Democrats—Gail Collins in the NY Times—a NJ Star Ledger editorial–and more, all, in different ways, seeing this announcement as of note and of significance, a definite positive for many.
It was heartening to see that his campaign pulled in 1 ½ million dollars in response to the announcement, an average of $43/donation. I personally signed up for a (for me) fairly large monthly donation to his campaign, something I’ve never done before for a candidate.
More of us need to do what we can—donate, speak up in support, volunteer to get involved in the campaign, take the initiative in our communities, etc.
It’s time to make history in the USA!!
17 months ago, in a November 2013 Future Hope column, “Run Bernie Run,” I said a number of things that I think are worth repeating again.
“Bernie has been a consistent voice for low-income people, working-class people, the middle class and our threatened ecosystem. Earlier this year he co-sponsored with Senator Barbara Boxer a major piece of climate legislation, a ‘fee-and-dividend’ bill described as a ‘gold standard’ type of bill by The Nation magazine.
“In comments made by Boxer at the press conference announcing the introduction of this bill, she referred to Bernie as a straight shooter, someone who didn’t play political games. I remember thinking at the time that for Boxer, immersed as she has been for so long at the highest levels of a pretty corrupt two-party system, that was high praise indeed. It was as if Bernie had been an inspiration to her.
“This strength of Sanders as an outspoken champion of the oppressed and beaten down, at the same time that he has shown his ability to navigate and have some impact even on Capitol Hill without being corrupted, is an additional reason why he really is the progressive left’s best option for 2016.
“Is the fact that he is an open socialist a potential political problem? Well, there’s no question that this fact will be used by Fox News and the right-wing smear machine to try to discredit him, but the fact that he has been elected as an open socialist to the House and then the US Senate is going to make it hard, it seems to me, for those attacks to stick, with the exception of the usual 25-30% of the electorate that is ideologically on the far right. Sanders has plenty of experience in dealing with this kind of stuff.
“And how many of us are aware of a poll released by the Pew Research Center at the end of 2011 which found that 31% of the American people say they have a positive view of the word, “socialism,” with 49% of young people ages 18-29 having a positive view? (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/29/young-people-socialism_n_1175218.html)
“It’s hard to believe that those numbers wouldn’t go up when there is a campaign led by popular US Senator Bernie Sanders which articulates what a socialist approach to the major issues is all about.
“A very important question is whether a Sanders campaign will be run in such a way that it creates a democratic organizational network that continues past 2016.
“Some of us still alive and still active politically had experience with this critical, strategic question back in the 1980’s when Jesse Jackson decided to run for President in 1984. A number of us who were supportive of Jackson, and Jackson himself back then, felt strongly enough about this that, by 1986, a National Rainbow Coalition was formed. By 1988 this effort was growing in organizational strength. State Rainbow conventions were being held in various parts of the country, with the electoral success of Jackson’s 1988 Democratic primary campaign fueling this development. And Bernie was connected to this. His campaign manager for the 1988 Bernie Sanders campaign for Congress was also a leader of the Vermont Rainbow Coalition.
“If Sanders runs for President, it is critical that something like that ’86-’88 Rainbow Coalition phenomenon be created alongside of a Sanders electoral operation. Bernie needs to support it and help to lead it, but it also needs its own collective leadership not totally dependent upon Bernie or any one person. It needs to be a 21st century version of that late ‘80s Rainbow, with more participatory democracy, internet- and social media-savvy, a combination of from-the-top and bottom-up leadership, all about popular education and leadership development, etc.
“As important as Bernie Sanders is right now, as much as he is the right person to lead us at this point in time, history teaches us that movements dependent upon one individual, even someone with credentials like Bernie’s, are like a house built on sand. It may last for a while, but it will eventually be swept away.”
Finally, some thoughts about Sanders running as a Democrat.
I think this is a sound decision. Sanders is not running away from his independent progressive history. Indeed, he will be able to reach tens of millions of people to present a positive model of someone who has walked that walk for decades, open people’s minds to the idea that this is a legitimate thing. He will do so while also, through his Democratic primary campaign, showing the need for tactical flexibility when it comes to the U.S. electoral system.
This is not a small thing. For years I have written about and advocated for a progressive united front that would bring together progressive Democrats, Greens, socialists, other independents, and maybe even some open-minded local Republicans. Bernie’s campaign has a realistic chance of galvanizing the critical mass of constituencies which must unite if we are to have a chance of winning against the corporate rulers’ hard (Republican) and soft (centrist Democrat) candidates. Bernie’s campaign can bring together the more progressive sectors of labor, community-based and people of color groups, the women’s and lgbt movements, immigrant rights and farmer/rural groups, climate and environmental groups, small businesses and others.
What if the Sanders campaign starts to catch fire? What if, confronted with a truth-telling, politically savvy, articulate and populist Bernie Sanders and his campaign, Hillary’s weaknesses and corporate connections start to eat away at her current big lead in the polls? What if that corporatist wing of the Democratic Party that the Clintons represent starts to go after Bernie in ways which only strengthen him, in the end? What if he begins to win primary states and shatter the myth of Clinton invincibility? Then what? Could we see a “centrist” third party arise to try to prevent a Sanders victory? Could we see a major shake-up of the corporate two-party system?
It’s like this: who would have ever thought in 2011 that a black man whose middle name was “Hussein” (remember Saddam?), with a very “un-American” name like Barack Obama, up against the Clintons and their political machine and corporate support, could ever win the Democratic nomination and then the Presidency? But it happened. Given that experience, is it really so far-fetched that Bernie Sanders, a son of Polish immigrants, a U.S. Senator re-elected with 71% of the vote in an overwhelmingly white state, known for his commitment to action on behalf of working people, the environment and peace, could win? It doesn’t seem like it to me.
It’s time for all of us to make history in the USA!!
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist, organizer and writer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at http://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick.