Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press)
07 October 16
ernie Sanders did not create Americas growing progressive movement. We have been building for years. What Bernie gave us is hope, direction, a series of unexpected victories, a sense of unity, and a plan of action that continues to develop through groups like Our Revolution, Brand New Congress, and a dozen other new formations. Just as Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council brought the party ever closer to Wall Street and the multinational corporations, those of us who still feel the Bern are fighting to bring the Dems back to their earlier roots in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The struggle will absorb a large share of progressive energy over the next two to four years. The defining work, the sharp end of the stick, will be mostly at the state and local level and primarily within an increasingly divided Democratic Party.
Some of us want to move further into defining a new socialism for the twenty-first century. This will come after the November election. Sanders has opened the door to a promising future.
Not unexpectedly, a minority of comrades do not see it this way at all. They accuse Bernie of selling out, and condemn those of us who support him as weaklings and cowards, both for voting for Hillary and for centering so much of our struggle within the Democratic Party. They see the Dems as a roach motel that will forever trap us in lesser-evil politics.
Many of the same people have repeated exactly the same argument from at least as far back as the 1960s. Somehow these Johnny One Notes have never managed to deliver the ongoing organizing they promised to create a viable alternative.
We may similarly fail in our organizing. Or we may win, electing Democratic Party candidates who are greater goods rather than lesser evils. No one can say for sure, though this will hardly dissuade the naysayers from their pre-cooked ideological certainty. But one indisputable fact stands out. With his decision to run and work within the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders has in a little over a year done more to further a progressive agenda than the naysayers and their forerunners have accomplished in over half a century.
That said, in pursuing Bernie’s revolution, progressives should never limit ourselves to party politics or conventional tactics and strategies.
If students at Berkeley in 1964 had given up our organizing, marches, sit-ins, and student strike and waited for the courts to decide, we would never have achieved our overwhelming victory for free speech, which opened campuses all over the country to spearhead the movement against America’s war in Vietnam.
If the civil rights movement of the 1960s had limited ourselves to what goes on inside the Washington Beltway, we would not have won even the limited and incomplete victories that we did.
Today, we should similarly increase our use of direct action and civil disobedience to build the movement against climate change, the fight for Native American rights and Black Lives Matter, and the safeguarding of Muslims, Mexicans, migrants, and minorities.
Second, we should reach beyond the Democratic Party and include in our big tent Jill Stein and the Greens, the Working Families Party, and a whole range of other progressive groupings, in Europe as well as the US. We should build and jealously maintain the independence of progressive media, like Reader Supported News. We must remain progressives first, whatever stand we feel compelled to take on what the Democratic Party might be doing or failing to do.
Third, we must escalate our fight against the efforts of Hillary Clinton and others in the Democratic Party to continue pursuing an interventionist, liberal imperialist foreign and military policy. Most self-identified progressives long ago joined the fight against imperialism. We should continue our opposition in a principled way, whether the effort of one country to interfere in the affairs of another comes from the US, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Russia, Iran, or China.
Not everyone will agree, I know. Diehard nationalists and their partisan cheerleaders will find such restraint hard to accept, forever justifying one intervention or another with humanitarian rhetoric, historic claims, religious or racial solidarity, popular referendums, or – as in both Ukraine and Syria – by completely ignoring one side of the story or the other. Saying no to imperial and militaristic thinking on all sides is the only way American progressives will ever find the needed resources to create a society that is truly just. It is also the best path we have toward a more peaceful and sustainable world for all.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."