Article Preview: Many frustrated voters who self-identify as progressives or as democratic socialists joined Bernie Sanders’s campaign in Arlington, Virginia. Their motivations were economic as well as political. A strong DSA member and others had been organizing Northern Virginia for Bernie since last summer. This meant that there was already a regional Facebook page and Google Listserve that we could use for sharing political news and analysis as well as messaging. Northern Virginia for Bernie was being led by a democratic socialist who is a Democratic Party officer along with others having a history of working together. I took a sabbatical from DSA DC to work directly for Bernie so as not to jeopardize DSA’s tax status. I was able to join with a politically motivated woman and start the Arlington countywide group. The best way to aid Bernie’s chances was to directly aid his campaign and learn about Bernie’s campaign and platform within the Democratic Party.
The Washington Socialist: Midsummer 2016
By Daniel Adkins
Many frustrated voters who self-identify as progressives or as democratic socialists joined Bernie Sanders’s campaign in Arlington, Virginia. Their motivations were economic as well as political. A strong DSA member and others had been organizing Northern Virginia for Bernie since last summer. This meant that there was already a regional Facebook page and Google Listserve that we could use for sharing political news and analysis as well as messaging. Northern Virginia for Bernie was being led by a democratic socialist who is a Democratic Party officer along with others having a history of working together. I took a sabbatical from DSA DC to work directly for Bernie so as not to jeopardize DSA’s tax status. I was able to join with a politically motivated woman and start the Arlington countywide group. The best way to aid Bernie’s chances was to directly aid his campaign and learn about Bernie’s campaign and platform within the Democratic Party.
One of the motivations for supporting Bernie is that he talks about starting a revolution, which also means starting a political movement. Many Bernie supporters are in for the long haul. We found a national democratic delegate for Bernie and her partner who had a combined $300,000 in college debt. She wanted Bernie’s program NOW. The neoliberal policy of solving all problems by creating a markets and profit centers for the rich was not working for them and they saw the needed changes. We found many interested in Bernie’s ideas from several walks of life.
The Ground Game
Bernie’s software allowed volunteers to organize many events such as phone banks, canvassing, meetings, and barnstorming events. In my previous organizing we used popular PC tools that were several generations behind Bernie’s new software. We not only could organize events, but also identify the organizers and attendees, which allowed us to expand our group. Hopefully, current and future progressive movements and groups will utilize Bernie’s software.
Many of our Bernie supporters saw the merit of phone banking and canvassing. The most ardent Bernie supporters each organized more than six phone banks and the Bernie headquarters saw the results via their software. We deferred to the regional Bernie organizers almost always except for one instance. In the final days of canvassing before the primary, a Bernie operative wanted us to lead canvassing from a far northern part of Arlington that was only accessible by car. We said OK but informed them that we were also opening two other staging areas to better cover the county. One site was in the Metro corridor where many Bernie supporters do not have cars. The other site was in the south where there are more minorities. Coming from Vermont, the organizer could not know the terrain or our capabilities.
Our organizing meetings were able to share information and get into discussions of Bernie’s politics. A few self-identified democratic socialists joined us including DSA members. Sometimes democratic socialists would lecture minorities about the political challenges we faced. The links between ideas and process were limited. Knowing the “right idea” does not make you an empathetic communicator. It is clear we missed chances linking up with minorities. We hope to do better as we become more mature politically.
Our local Democrats, members of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC), are well organized, so we were able to list coming events on Bernie’s calendar and also on the local ACDC calendar. This allowed new people to find us. Bernie’s software did not provide a database that we could use to organize our county group. Facebook was fine as a catalogue for notes, articles, news, and education. We were stuck with using Excel as a database and entering names from event sign-in sheets.
The ACDC analyzed the primary results carefully and it became clear that some Arlingtonians gamed the system. Others call it “voting strategically.” The result was that many Democrats voted Republican in order to minimize Trump who came in third in Arlington. Bernie got a third of the Virginia Democratic votes. We were disappointed in the Bernie vote but did not have time to sit around and mope as we now had a regional and state convention to organize. We did not know it at the time but our organizing efforts in Northern Virginia may have led the national Bernie people to allot us a generous share of national delegates.
There needs to be structure when you are electing convention delegates, who impact convention process, the party platform, and the national presidential choice. The frustration for us Bernie supporters was our new and the somewhat opaque structures. The committees we faced are for rules, resolutions, and credentials. To be on the committees you needed to be in the Democratic Party for years and play an active role in the Democratic Party.
Having lived in Arlington for 23 years and having attended ACDC events allowed me to identify ACDC leaders and coordinators. They volunteered to help Bernie supporters get educated on the primary, the delegate selection process, and the resolutions committees. They offered help even though most were Hillary supporters.
I was surprised that less than 50% of the elected delegates were involved in the ground game of getting votes for Bernie. The rest were activists interested in politics and active elsewhere. One delegate was a retired diplomat who was a knowledgeable Bernie supporter. My hope for him was that he could defuse potential conflicts. It turned out that none of our national delegates played a major role in the ground game, but contributed elsewhere.
The conventions at the congressional and state level were new to us. As delegates at the regional and state level we could vote for the delegates going to the national convention as well as influence the state party platform. The “Berniecrats” got heavily involved in the resolutions process. The Hilary / Bernie difference created a crisis at the congressional district convention between the convention chair’s aides and Bernie supporters on resolutions. The Congressional District chair played a significant role in making a compromise that avoided exacerbating the protest by Bernie supporters.
The state convention included many speeches and several elections. The state resolution committee needed to combine resolutions from all congressional districts. Bernie supporters had a bigger impact than their numbers. At the state convention Bernie had only 35% of the elected delegate seats. However Bernie supporters were more motivated and more of us showed up thus making up 42% of the convention delegates in attendance. Arlington ended up having three national delegates to the Philadelphia convention and one member of the Democratic National Committee. The Bernie caucus ended the state convention with the goal of getting involved in politics at all levels and having helped pass the most progressive Democratic platform in Virginia’s history.
Bernie is just starting a revolution and it will take time for his supporters to run for office, support candidates, and move into Democratic Party structures. Trump has shown that a major party can be taken over. Bernie has shown that you do not need the one percent’s money. Bernie supporters are getting involved in ACDC and a Virginia state senator thinks we have important positions on issues and has volunteered to mentor our future candidates.
If you think that Bernie will be the last democratic socialist for president, just remember that Elizabeth Warren is in the wings and may have her own plans. We now have the group Brand New Congress organizing to get Berniecrats elected. Neoliberalism will not die without a fight but must die if we are to be a democracy. We are in a new era where the old lies are not believed and much of the population realizes they are being victimized. At least, we are headed at least for a new New Deal.
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