well, you know …
The Bernie Sanders message: “This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It’s about putting together a grassroots movement of Americans who stand up and say: ‘Enough is enough.’ This country and our government belong to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.”
In his closing remarks at the last Democratic Party televised debate, Sanders concluded, “Please be part of the Political Revolution!”
It was this message, and this call to action, that have galvanized 100’s of thousands of Americans across the country this past year. The surge in Sanders’s numbers was exhilarating. More volunteers were pouring in than the campaign knew what to do with. While refusing corporate contributions, grassroots fundraising was setting records. The media was taken aback — and disturbed — by the immense crowds flocking to Sanders at every stop, including “Red State” locales like Arizona.
Socialism was back on the American agenda. Sanders was redefining the political dialogue in the media and in the streets.
Thou shalt not use the word “Revolution” in vain!
Two questions immediately come to the fore:
(1) what exactly is the Political Revolution? and
(2) how is it to be brought about?
The classical definition is:
“an upheaval in which the government is replaced, or the form of government altered, but in which property relations are predominantly left intact.”
So as Sanders stated in his November 19 speech at Georgetown University:
“I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families of this country who produce the wealth of this country deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up and not down.”
At the risk of splitting hairs, in that light Sanders is not a Socialist (means of production and all that, but rather a Social Democrat (a reformer of capitalism). Okay, the sanctimonious pillars of left purity can now howl “aha! Got you now! You even admit it!” Sufficient repetition may earn them a cloud in Commie Heaven (where the “politically correct” go to shuffle off into the dustbin of history). But I don’t really care. Sanders has the best message that is possible in today’s political mainstream. Could he be a stronger anti-imperialist? He could be a lot of things.
We his supporters operate under no such constraints. We must actually take seriously Sanders’s own words, “This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders.” Failure to define the meanings of “movement” and the “political revolution” is on our own heads. Early on in Florida, we were informed that we were not part of the national campaign organization at all. This meant no money from national, no signs and buttons that we didn’t buy on our own. This was applauded with a straight face. We could organize as we saw fit. Real grassroots politics.
But as they say, with freedom comes responsibility. So Sanders has pledged to endorse the Democratic nominee, whomever that may be — even (especially) Hillary Clinton. That’s the price for his admission ticket. Yet CBS News writes:
“Just under half of Democratic primary voters nationwide say they would enthusiastically support Clinton if she became the party’s nominee. Twenty-seven percent would support her with some reservations and another 11 percent would only back her because she is the nominee. Fourteen percent would not support her in a general election.”
Socialist vs. neoliberal hawk? Take your pick.
Fourteen percent! Those are some heavy numbers. In 2008, the Obama/Clinton race was perceived (wrongly) as one between two liberals. Which would push the liberal agenda best? But this time it’s different. Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist, with the media trying to explain that the “S” word is the kiss of death. Except that it isn’t.
Critics on the left have a point in criticizing some of Sanders’s military and foreign policy votes. But Hillary, as Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, has been a major architect of her administration’s murderous neoliberal policies in the Middle East. In a November 4 love letter, she writes:
“As secretary of state, I requested more assistance for Israel every year, and supported the lifesaving Iron Dome rocket defense system. I defended Israel from isolation and attacks at the United Nations and other international settings, including opposing the biased Goldstone report. … I will do everything I can to enhance our strategic partnership and strengthen America’s security commitment to Israel, ensuring that it always has the qualitative military edge to defend itself. … For me, fighting for Israel isn’t just about policy — it’s a personal commitment to the friendship between our peoples and our vision for peace and security.”
Likewise, Hillary is a Wall Street tool down the line. Wall Street engineered the world economic collapse in 2008. Her administration then brought in the wolves of Goldman Sachs and the rest of Wall Street to manage the chicken coop and make sure that the banks got bailed out while remaining safe from criminal prosecution. Hillary’s answer to Wall Street regulation is “Hey guys, take it easy!” Hillary’s net worth is estimated at $32,015,000.”
Socialist vs. neoliberal?
Go away, son, ya bother me.
If it’s about building a movement, about a Political Revolution, well, what about that? The default position is that it’s too early to talk about that “abstract” stuff, we have to see whether Sanders wins the nomination or not. In other words, “Go away son, ya bother me.” However, several questions are still immediately relevant:
(1) Will Sanders actually win the Democratic nomination?
(2) Can Sanders win the support of his natural constituencies, i.e., organized labor and the Black community?
(3) If not, will he take the fight all the way to the Convention, or pull up stakes once it becomes obvious that he will not win? Sanders himself has stated, “A campaign has got to be much more than just getting votes and getting elected. It has got to be helping to educate people, organize people.” I’m right with ya, Bernie! It’s why I’m here. And yes, “This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders.” But at some point, the pressure on him will be tremendous. Get out “for the good of the party.” Should the money start drying up, will his campaign staff start shopping around for their next gig? Are they revolutionaries, or job-seekers? Just what are his millions of supporters to do? Will there be a clear call to action other than to support Hillary? The aforementioned 14%, what will they do? Write-in Sanders? vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party? Drop away in despair?
(4) Can we afford to wait until everything shakes out before making future plans with so many variables hanging in the air? Actually, we do already know some stuff.
This isn’t “Home on the Range,” and if I were a betting man …
Just off the top, while Sanders edges Hillary in New Hampshire 50% to 44%, other polls are more ominous:
Latest Huffington Post Pollster Trends for 10 different polls:
Hillary Clinton 58.3%
Bernie Sanders 31.3%
Politico South Carolina:
CNN South Carolina Black vote:
Discouraging words. While Sanders was surging forward last Spring and Summer, one could point to his growing momentum as cause for hope. The Sanders campaign is still building across the country, still generating excitement, but in terms of the polls, it has at best stalled out. If nothing else, that impacts campaign morale. Conceivably Hillary could be thrown in jail because of her e-mail scandal, or the revelations about the Innocent Milk Maid and the Lusty Shepherd Boy finally come out, but it would be folly to bet the farm based on such slender reeds.
The politicians are even now scurrying for cover:
38 Hillary (out of 44)
00 Sanders (Reps. Grijalva and Ellison)
120 Hillary (out of 188)
Hundreds of state legislators have endorsed Hillary.
The Beltway is overwhelmingly supporting Hillary.
“[We] have not yet begun to fight!” John Paul Jones
Sanders has significant labor support, including probably the majority of the union rank-and-file. But the union leadership is playing a deadly insider game.
Labor endorsements include:
National Education Association (3 million members)
American Federation of Teachers (1.6 million)
AFSCME (1.3 million)
SEIU (1.5 million)
Sanders, meanwhile, has so far locked down only two major endorsements from major unions:
National Nurses United (190,000)
American Postal Workers (200,000)
Despite major support from the rank-and-file, the money, phone banks, mailings and door-to-door Get Out the Vote (always at the major unions’ disposal) carry tremendous weight. Does this cause me despair? Not one bit. Contradictions between the labor bureaucracy and their ranks have been simmering for decades and more. Now, in Sanders, the rank-and-file can unite around a national standard bearer. If they can get it together. Pulling this together into an effective truly pro-labor force at least becomes a possibility — in the longer term.
This fight for the soul of Organized Labor will be a long one. It is a critical fight. If one is completely fixated on the immediate election, depression might be understandable. But if our goal is to build a movement, to build long-term progressive organization outside the grasp of the billionaires and their hired politicians of either political party, this is cause to rejoice. Indeed, we have not yet begun to fight.
This “building a movement” stuff isn’t just some cool leftist rhetoric. But no revolution was ever won in the first round.
“Calculus of fear”
CNN South Carolina Black vote:
This is deadly, both to Sanders’s chances in 2015, AND in terms of building an ongoing movement. Let alone political revolution.
First allow me to quote at length Glen Ford, executive editor of the respected Black Agenda Report, on Sanders and the Black vote.
“Bernie Sanders’ surging campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination seems destined to be shipwrecked on the shoals of the Black Belt – where primaries in South Carolina (February 27), Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia (Super Tuesday, March 1), Mississippi (March 8), and North Carolina will be decided by Black voters. In 2008, Blacks made up absolute majorities of Democratic primary voters in Alabama (51 percent), Georgia (52 percent), and South Carolina (55 percent). …
“At this point, Hillary Clinton’s most solid support comes from Black Democrats. …
“The entire history of modern polling, and every competent analysis of voting patterns, shows that African Americans are the most leftish constituency in the nation, especially on the central issues of economic redistribution, criminal justice reform, and war and peace. Yet, Black voters cannot be counted on to support the most progressive presidential candidates available at the polls,
“Generally speaking, Black voters support national parties and tickets that they perceive as the more ‘friendly’ to Blacks – and, most importantly, that they believe can win. It is a calculus of fear. … In the main, African Americans cast their votes in national elections seeking protection from the Greater Evil, rather than voting their line-item policy preferences, or even considering the platforms of parties that challenge the duopoly system. Believing they cannot take the risk of voting in accordance with the historical Black political consensus – which is significantly to the left of white Democrats, including Bernie Sanders – or of splitting the Black vote, they lock themselves in the duopoly trap, where an ossified and corrupt Black Democratic leadership keeps vigil. …
“Barack Obama, himself, was only able to tap the deep reservoirs of Black nationalism after his 2008 primary victory in lily-white Iowa signaled to Blacks that he could actually win the nomination, at which point Hillary Clinton’s rank-and-file Black support collapsed. Fear dictates that Black people withhold support from perceived losers, including Black ones, in national elections. …
“But, we are left with the quandary: Blacks are the most leftish U.S. constituency, indispensable to any progressive movement, the ethnicity in greatest need of transformational change, and the group most willing, at the rank and file level, to do physical battle with the security forces of the powers-that-be. Yet, they cannot be depended on to behave as progressives in national elections, opting instead to rely on corporate, warmongering Democrats to fend off the White Man’s Party – the Republicans. Such behavior amounts to a negation of national Black electoral power – which is the highest irony, since Black practitioners of Democratic Party politics claim to be playing a game of exquisite sophistication.”
For the record, Glen Ford does not support Sanders. But he is ruthless in pointing out the irony that the Black community is not.
If this sounds too radical, then consider Tom Hayden, a member of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) Advisory Board. He writes in the October 21 Huffington Post:
“The Democratic primaries are all about people of color: Latinos, African-Americans, Asian —Americans and women of all colors. The progressive bloc of environmentalists and peace forces are far smaller. Loyalties to Hillary Clinton are deep; for example, in 2008 she won Latinos by two-to-one against Barack Obama.
“It almost certainly won’t work for the Sanders campaign to claim that he’s the “best’ candidate for people of color or feminists. He’ll have to do what Obama did in 2008 when black voters turned away from Hillary when Obama did so well in white Iowa on his opposition to Iraq. How could Bernie switch black and brown voters away from Hillary by showing he can win the argument over Wall Street? Other than her suffering a meltdown over a scandal or gaffe, it doesn’t seem plausible.
“This is the classic dilemma of the Left dating back one hundred years — class analysis against a race and gender analysis. Echoes already are showing up in Vermont where Bernie sympathies with white gun owners while Hillary, massacre victims and black people are seething against the NRA.
“Or take South Carolina, the citadel of failed populism, where the black primary electorate might be fifty-five percent and white progressives are limited to university towns. With their right to vote on the line, will many blacks vote for Bernie? Will Rep. Jim Clyburn, the former leader of the Orangeburg State student movement and now the third-ranking Democrat in the House, jump to Bernie? Impossible.”
It should be no surprise that back in September, Sanders had planned to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. Of its 46 members, only 6 showed up. As one CBC member explained, “I forgot about it” (whoops!).
“There must be a plan B (for Bernie), starting now through the primaries, through the platform debates and through what might be another very close national election. Bernie and his new history-making force must be looking hard at all their moves down the road.”
Months ago, the Sanders campaign in St. Petersburg Florida tried to come up with a Plan B, trying to focus on St. Pete’s largely Black South Side. Campaign volunteers heartily approved, setting up a committee to go directly into the Black community and sign people up. Some very good people signed up for this work. But our current base of 700 (on paper) volunteers, early enthusiasts, was largely white.
We immediately ran into trouble. Some felt that we couldn’t just have “an army of white people” go “invading” the South Side. (Of course we didn’t have an army, nor could we do any invading even if we had wanted to.) The correct course, said many, was to go to the Black ministers and heads of community agencies. For a month, we pursued that exercise in futility before resolving to go in directly, white faces and all, stressing Bernie’s support for the $15 minimum wage, support of Black Lives Matter and opposing mass incarceration, and creating jobs.
Millennial death culture.
We couldn’t do it. I mean, in the most mundane sense. The campaign’s modus operandi was to do everything on Facebook, create “events,” have people find them on their own, and do work if they were so inspired. Mundane things like e-mails and telephones were obsolete. If people didn’t recognize the number showing up on their phone, they wouldn’t pick up. Too many people feel no obligation to answer their phones, having been spammed out. Likewise for e-mail. The mass of e-mail everyone is subjected to guarantees that critical communications goes unanswered. This is understandable among the general public. But for campaign volunteers, well, it was paralyzing. And unacceptable. Depending on people to have to track you down on Facebook just for them to do work is no substitute for direct contact. This “do your thing” culture made it exceedingly difficult to get 2 people to the same place at the same time. I showed up for one Saturday morning flyering on the South Side, and my wife and I were the only ones to arrive, the person whose house we were meeting at hadn’t been told about it, and even the event’s organizer didn’t show up. Nor would he return a call about what had happened.
Efforts were made in piecemeal fashion, but organizing the Black community is not a “piecemeal” project. Printing any flyers had to be self-financed, the local (forget national) campaign proper chipped in not a penny. In discussions with campaign leaders, it was admitted that the campaign could make a strategic decision to commit 20% of its resources to the South Side, what with the Black vote being a strategic necessity, but there was no chance in hell of being able to do that. White people did what came natural, i.e., talk to other white people. This was not even recognized as a problem. In fact it was valorized.
The Facebook culture does not allow the creation of any sense of collectivity, a precondition for any revolutionary activity, political or otherwise. Political discussion is not possible in anything but individual encounters.
Beyond the South Side project, this bodes ill for any capacity to be able to maneuver, to respond to events, to DO POLITICS.
Thus the main organizing now comes from the national campaign. But Florida is not their priority, and building Florida infrastructure is not a priority.
The campaign posits itself as embodying the American people versus the billionaires. That is true, as far as it goes. But consider the analysis above. Sanders is opposed by:
“progressive” politicians such as even the Congressional Progressive Caucus
Black leadership, as embodied in the Black Congressional Caucus.
labor leaders of many of the country’s largest unions.
all sorts of Democratic constituency groups.
the “liberal” media.
As each domino falls, the campaign winces, but assures itself that the rank-and-file (and the masses) are with us.
And they are correct as far as that goes. Sanders’s positions are in synch with the needs and desires of the American people. Hillary’s are in synch with Wall Street and the Beltway. But the short-term issue is posed as winning the nomination of the Democratic Party. Of the Democratic National Convention’s 5,083 delegates 747 are superdelegates. Hillary has already racked up 359 of them, versus 8 for Sanders.
Additionally, in primaries, organization matters most. The Get Out the Vote Hillary commands is overwhelming. Too many states up for grabs, too little time. But the matters of Political Revolution and building a movement are getting dropped by the wayside. Sanders does what Sanders has to do. Hillary has already begun shifting to the right, gearing up for the general election.
The fight is not over. In fact, it’s only beginning!
As I stated above, Sanders operates within certain constraints in running to win in the Democratic primaries. I am not unreasonable about such tactical considerations. But as I said before, we his supporters operate under no such constraints. So Sanders frames the fight as one of the American people versus the billionaire class. That is hardly to be denied. But just as Glen Ford often refers to the Black Misleadership Class keeping the Black Community from supporting true progressives such as Sanders, the American people more broadly and immediately are up against a Democratic “Misleadership Class” that operates at the behest of that billionaire class.
As mentioned above, there are many internal struggles to be had. These have been going on for years. What the Sanders campaign provides is a single banner to pull them together even beyond the primary process. That would be revolutionary.
Things are tough all over
Of course if the campaign is just about Bernie Sanders, then pursuing the ever more ephemeral goal of his winning the nomination is quite reasonable. And if Hillary wins the primaries and the nomination, then by all means call it off. One could reasonably argue that to maximize the Sanders vote in Florida, it is best to continue to focus on white people. Black organizing is just too tough. Yes, it’s tough. Counting on (but not getting) major labor endorsements is easy. Organizing an independent rank-and-file of labor is tough. Building independent infrastructure across America — one that doesn’t close up shop after the primaries —is very, very tough. But as they used to say back in the 30’s, “Things are tough all over.”