Article Preview: “What’s after the Bernie Sanders campaign?” This is a question that progressive friends both within and outside DSA have been asking me in the past few weeks. Hillary Clinton appears to be clinching the Democratic nomination at the end of July, but Bernie Sanders still has not stopped his call for political revolution. What does the political revolution look like post-Sanders campaign? How can progressives continue to mobilize and energize activists and supporters without the figure of Bernie Sanders as a rallying point?
The Washington Socialist: Midsummer 2016
By Merrill Miller
“What’s after the Bernie Sanders campaign?” This is a question that progressive friends both within and outside DSA have been asking me in the past few weeks. Hillary Clinton appears to be clinching the Democratic nomination at the end of July, but Bernie Sanders still has not stopped his call for political revolution. What does the political revolution look like post-Sanders campaign? How can progressives continue to mobilize and energize activists and supporters without the figure of Bernie Sanders as a rallying point?
These are questions that the People’s Summit June 17-19, in Chicago, attempted to answer. Fully fleshing out these answers will require many more meetings and coordinated activities of local Leftist groups around the country in the coming months. The People’s Summit, a meeting of thousands of Bernie supporters, was organized by the National Nurses United and sponsored by Democratic Socialists of America (among many other progressive groups). The workshops, panel discussions and plenary sessions were all centered on the goals of assisting networking and brainstorming between Bernie activists dedicated to carrying out the political revolution beyond this election cycle to create a sustained and the resilient Left movement. At the end of the weekend, my overall impression was a profound optimism that the Left will continue to mobilize around the values underpinning the Sanders campaign: economic justice, worker’s rights, racial equity, environmental sustainability, and the whole other host of issues centered on making America a country that works for all of us and not just the wealthy few.
My optimism stemmed partly from the tremendous success of the Sanders campaign, which many people thought wouldn’t even last past December but is now going until the Democratic National Convention to push for a progressive agenda within the Democratic Party. But I believe that there is even greater cause for optimism for the Left based on one central theme of the Summit: Bernie Sanders did not create the progressive movement; rather, the progressive movement allowed for the success of Bernie Sanders. The only reason why Bernie Sanders was able to gain so much popularity was because there was already a foundation of activists organizing around the progressive issues that Bernie Sanders was able to articulate in his rhetoric against Wall Street and economic inequality. Bernie Sanders brought together organizations and individuals who were already agitating for fundamental and systemic changes to the American economic and political system, whether by calling for campaign finance reform, demanding an end to student debt, organizing against climate change or advocating for single-payer healthcare. While some activists have criticized the People’s Summit for failing to put forth a concrete agenda for the Left, the strength of the event was its ability to united diverse groups of people working on separate issues that all shared the same progressive values of rectifying inequality and creating a more sustainable and just economic system. Bernie Sanders was able to united progressives in this way, and if we are to continue our momentum after his campaign, we must continue to united, network, brainstorm and share our experiences. The People’s Summit was the first step in continuing the unity that coalesced around the Sanders campaign.
As evidenced by the People’s Summit, the progressive movement will remain long after the Bernie Sanders campaign has disbanded, and in fact, because of the Sanders campaign, they will not only continue but thrive. National Nurses United brought together an array of convening and sponsoring organizations, including Democratic Socialists of America, as well as People’s Action, Progressive Democrats of America, Labor for Bernie, United Working Families, and Citizen Action, among many others. Numerous attendees were particularly interested in Democratic Socialists of America. While tabling for DSA, I interacted with many people who wanted to know how they could get involved in or even start a chapter in their communities. Some people even signed up as DSA members on the spot! Individuals from other organizations wanted to know how they could work with DSA and coordinate with DSA chapters in their cities. DSA also hosted a panel on electing socialists to public office—a tactic that many people at the Summit were enthusiastic about in order to implement progressive policies. John Nichols, writer for The Nation, also gave a talk in which he advocated a similar strategy of advancing socialism to change America’s political landscape. He pointed to the ways in which socialist movements had influenced the creation of the New Deal, Social Security and Medicare. By continuing to put forward a socialist agenda that includes a robust social safety net, we can and will create political and economic change that will benefit ordinary Americans, not just the wealthy few.
In bringing so many activists together in one space for a weekend, the People’s Summit allowed for the communication necessary to build connections and relationships that will sustain the Left long after the Bernie Sanders campaign. The seeds for political revolution were already present before the Sanders campaign. Bernie may have watered and nurtured them, but they will continue to grow and flourish well beyond his campaign.
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