When Bernie Sanders entered the race last year, many people who work in any way with politics looked at the landscape, especially in red states, and we saw a move for something we’ve campaigned on for years: bold messaging that was willing to throw that punch that so many have been waiting to see land.
All over the country, for the last 8 years, Democratic party members have often taken the punch to the face, and watched as candidates ran for office on a fairly weak messaging strategy that could best be called “don’t offend Republicans”, where Democratic issues went off and disappeared.
Several of us have argued, for years, that this is the wrong strategy; that many Democratic voters — especially low propensity voters — stay home and don't vote because of it, and in many states, we need a way to motivate them.
Bernie Sander’s came into the race with a bold, progressive message that motivated a lot of us to say: this is the kind of messaging strategy we want to see the party give shelter to — if he wins, great, but if he doesn’t, he inspires candidates everywhere.
This message was also picked up in his campaign, which urged a “revolution”, and a revolution isn’t generally about one person or a single office — that isn’t much of a revolution, it is about a change of ideas, and winning back 900 seats nationwide.
This was something I strongly support.
Over the months, working with Bernie supporters and staff in many states, I came to meet some people who were truly new to politics — they had never done it before, they were often former non-voters, but they were excited about the process. I was excited to see more people get involved and interested.
The more we’d talk about local issues and their local candidates and who was running for their state house, US house, and other races, the more excited people were about tangible change they could see, not just for Bernie, but to make positive improvements in Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, and elsewhere that I went. This kind of excitement was great; and getting people to recognize the importance of bottom up strategy was fantastic.
In many states we were able to motivate people to sign up to be precinct committee persons; to connect them with local campaigns, to get them working on races that are local.. and in some cases, we recruited candidates: we have several Bernie delegates who chose to run for the Kansas, Missouri and other state houses thanks to their experience.
Those are successes I believe fulfill the vision of what I thought of when I began to work on behalf of the Sanders revolution: a broad plan to bring new energy to the party, to convert it into people who could or would serve in office, or who would help power the campaigns that could change the lives of fellow residents.
To that end, a lot of people in these states — who worked far harder than I do — poured their life into this project, identifying people, matching them with their state reps, finding ways for them to get involved and out there.
I had joked with some that county party meetings often teetered on “cancer clubs” groups of much older individuals (at 43, I was often easily the youngest person in the room) where there was no effort to really reach out and bring new people in. When I would attend a newly formulated group that began with some Bernie/Hillary urging they were younger than I am, motivated, interested. More than that, they were willing to put in real work. Shoe leather or raise money; things that are the true tests for an organization, and they were itching to recruit candidates.
Tonight, I’ll travel back out west because one of those young, dynamic groups is ready to try and grab two candidates, and we have limited time to do it — but rather than give up, they realized the revolution and they have worked hard to make it happen in their community.
For my part, I continued to train caucus goers on how many caucus practices work, the basic rules and guidelines, and, when I was asked, I met with or called party leaders in order to secure endorsements for Senator Sanders. Compared to the shoe leather and hard nights that a lot of the Bernie supporters, young women who poured their heart into it in Kansas & Missouri put in, making phone calls, arranging connections, it was nothing.. they put in all of the effort that kept them up at night; but they still had more energy to work on state races.
Over the last few weeks, though, many of the revolutionary ideals of direct change in our districts — ideas that we’ve pushed in the states I work with — are often overshadowed by conspiracies, online information that is wrong or just… well, silly, and in some cases advice that runs counter to the goal of what I view as a real revolution.
In the fight for a real race (not in Kansas or Missouri), I had asked a state senate candidate to embrace a solid Bernie organizer in hopes that he could help change the turnout model in a rough for Democratic district and maybe move the needle a bit. Two weeks ago, I received the first phone call that made me worry: my bet on someone to work with a local candidate hadn’t worked out; which happens. Why? Because they basically recruited their volunteers to continue phone banking for Bernie into other states.
I thanked him, said, let's see if we can make this work. We had a call and we all talked. I explained: it's important we try to get Candidate A elected. You were very interested in this, we put a lot of faith in you, if this is something you are committed to, let me know.. beating his opponent would be great for this state.. and it would help many.
The organizers response was the first time I ever felt honestly bad about a recommendation like that, when in a phone call “none of this matters if that b*(& Hillary gets the nomination.”
My heart sank. I knew that the candidate he was working for was likely a Hillary supporter. But more importantly, the candidate he was supposed to be working for opposed a Republican who had been a major mover on bathroom bills, promoted anti-women legislation, and was a complete ass. If there was a remote chance to take out this candidate, the state would benefit.
For the young organizer, that didn’t matter.
Fortunately, most — I say about 90% — of the Bernie people I work with in the real world listen to rational information and take it seriously. They know I don’t support Bernie because I ‘hate Hillary’, I never have. They know that I worked hard for Bernie, as they can see the endorsement and the work with his volunteers I’ve done. But for that other 10%, none of that matters.. not at all.
In the last two weeks, since that night, the following has occurred:
* Since being cited as a national committee person (Super Delegate.. but not until 2020, though they don't get that), I’ve had more than a few choice emails.. and assumptive ones that automatically assume where I would stand. Others have forwarded a few to me as well. I never figured out how someone telling me I was a “tool” or curse at me was supposed to influence me if I had a vote (which I don't)
* Working with others, we are trying to help delegates find housing and travel means to the convention. In the last two weeks, a new ask has been added: people asking to fundraise for bail money in advance of the convention, because they plan to get arrested. The moment I was drawn into a conversation about if I would pay someone’s bail at the convention I thought: what is this? How does this build a revolution?
* When I post here, and it isn’t completely anti-Hillary, I will have one or two comments that follow me with some truly nonsense negatives. I’ve been accused of being a “Hillary shill in disguise”, despite the fact that I will put up the amount of work I’ve done for the campaign against theirs every day of the week. (and that isn't a humble brag, that’s just a fact)
* I’ve had conversations with supporters and heard offensive things said about others, including good friends, who are either party members of seniority or elected officials, and I think: you don’t know these people… but let’s just insult them anyway.
It has been a rough, hard few weeks that has made me question a lot of the basic ideas we are getting at… except for the main one.
The country is in real need of a political reboot, a change of thought, and an advancement of ideas in all areas, especially in our state houses and in our congress.
So, here is my message to Sanders Supporters.
The revolution isn't a cult of personality; in middle of 2015, in a conference call nationwide, Bernie Sanders told the early adopters that this was a goal to change our political landscape, to talk about new issues and to “change our nation”. Senator Sanders spoke in that moment about encouraging people to run for office and to build “a New American Future”.
At Netroots Nation in Phoenix, Senator Sanders few surrogates at the time, and future surrogates, had also heard the message. I sat in a hallway with Egberto Willies and ate lunch with Nina Turner (FYI, this is why you should do Netroots) and we all talked about our concerns over the protest, sure, but several circled back around to the bold message of a new way forward. For Egberto looking at Texas it was exciting, that kind of energy; and Nina later agreed with both of us that too much of the Democratic party was rigid and needed shook up. If we could take this kind of fire into our state houses — something we all said — damn would we be better off.
For those of us who invested our time, blood, sweat and tears into an effort, this is what we passed on. We passed it on to coordinators who busted their tails working hard to recruit votes; we pressed on nights to work with people to show them VoteBuilder or NationBuilder or how to read the state voter file. We built, in many states, an army of young Democrats who were ready to bring a revolution they could be personally part of, and change things near them. Whether it was a better county party, county commission or state house, they were ready.
Today, I’m saying this to the Sanders campaign: do not take this away from us. Do not salt the earth and drive these young, motivated people away from change they are excited about. Don’t drive a nail into them that says ‘don’t participate, go and get arrested instead’. Don’t tell them their work for anything but a presidential race doesn’t matter. Don’t break their will and tell them their work for a state senator or a US congress candidate means nothing for the revolution.
They are the revolution. They are what Bernie and his campaign, and especially it's early goals helped build. And we should rejoice in that. If you’re a Bernie fan, or if you’re in the Sanders campaign, I want to think of the legacy you can leave behind, beyond a presidential race.
Howard Dean left us DFA — Democracy for America. The Sanders revolution can leave us candidates, hard working party members, the future of our county and state governments; schoolboard members and sheriffs. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen Sanders delegates commit to run for an office, commit to help someone else run for an office.
That’s the revolution.
If you’re in the #BernieOrBust category, or if you're sending mean email, or if you’re going to harass me or others who aren't “Bernie enough”, or if you’re inside the Bernie campaign and you read this: don’t steal from the supporters who worked hard, every day, something fantastic and beautiful they have built by telling them none of it matters if Bernie doesn’t succeed. Because that isn’t what you told us - and them — last year. It isn’t what you actually believe, either.
The people, Bernie, the people are your revolution, no matter what office they hold, what role they seek. Don’t destroy something beautiful in the quest for something else.