BERNIE SANDERS IS DONE. It’s been coming for a while, but it was clinched last night when Bernie lost the primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The Sanders campaign suggested last night that it knew Bernie had lost his last good chance at receiving the nomination, but that he would keep going until the convention in order to push Hillary to the left. This is a smart political move, but it’s still disheartening for Bernie supporters: One of the most surprising, effective, and energetic underdog campaigns in American history is over.
But progressives still desperately need the Bernie fans to show up at the polls in November. And no, I’m not saying they should vote for Hillary: every candidate should have to earn every single vote, and if she hasn’t earned theirs, they shouldn’t allow themselves to be bullied into voting for her just because she’ll be facing Donald Trump.
No, the reason we need Bernie supporters is because we need them to carry on his political revolution.
A political revolution has to be bigger than one man.
The most valid criticism of Bernie was that his political revolution wasn’t particularly well planned. Once in office, Bernie would have had trouble passing a lot of the measures he wanted unless he had a Democratic Congress. And it wasn’t clear that he was going to get that, or even that, if he did, all Democrats would have supported him. What the Sanders political revolution really needed was something similar to the Tea Party political revolution that pushed Republicans to the far right. It would have needed to push the entire Democratic Party — indeed, the entire country — to the left.
How would it do this? By running progressives against establishment candidates, and by throwing the weight of the Bernie campaign behind them. But Bernie didn’t put much of his energy into these Congressional fights, and now we’re left without Bernie.
The good news is this: there are progressive candidates running against Democratic establishment candidates. The magazine In These Times did a profile on a few of the progressives running for office, and they all look pretty promising. But they need votes. Only when Democratic incumbents start getting bumped out of office will the establishment start to get scared, and start to seriously listen to progressives. This is what the Tea Party did back in 2010, and look at them now: six years later, the frontrunners for the GOP nomination are just as batshit insane as they are. With a lot of hard work and some really solid organizing, we could have a Bernie-like candidate in the Presidency in four to eight years.
Vote local, and vote every election.
Barney Frank recently told Slate: “I’m particularly unimpressed with people who sat out the Congressional elections of 2010 and 2014 and then are angry at Democrats because we haven’t been able to produce public policies they like. They contributed to the public policy problems and now they are blaming other people for their own failure to vote, and then it’s like, “Oh look at this terrible system,” but it was their voting behavior that brought it about.”
Regardless of what you think about Barney Frank, he’s not wrong. Congressional, state, and local elections are just as important as the Presidency. The feeling of “my vote doesn’t count” also drops away at the local level. My wife and I voted last November in our State Assembly elections for a pair of Democrats looking to oust the conservative incumbents. The Democrats won by a margin of 200 votes. We accounted for 1/100th of the votes needed to edge out the conservatives. It felt amazing, and, unlike in the Presidential elections, it felt like our votes truly mattered.
The Presidential election is much sexier than state and local elections. But it’s by no means more important. The government of your town, city, or state might have a greater impact on your day-to-day life than anything happening at the federal level. And the states are great laboratories for progressive experiments, too: look at how well the pot legalization programs are going in Washington and Colorado. That would have taken much longer at the federal level. But now, legalization advocates can point to the giant piles of money made off of marijuana taxes in legalized states, and the rest of the country is hard-pressed to ignore them.
Smaller communities are quicker to change, and if we start changing a lot of the small communities around us, the nation will follow.
Please don’t go, Bernie supporters.
The truth remains that the democratic process only works for the people who actively participate in it. Businesses, corporations, and rich people have been participating in the system way more actively for years, so now the system prefers them. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By committing ourselves to the less sexy work of the political revolution, we can still have all Bernie promised to give us. Only now, it won’t be given. We’ll have taken it for ourselves.