uilding a movement for social change is a lot more important than electing a President. That’s what Bernie Sanders has said his entire life.
Imagine if Bernie won in November. He would have almost every one of the 535 members of Congress arrayed against him. He challenges the Democrats almost as much as the Republicans. That’s good! But you see the problem.
I was working in an antiwar group not long ago – Barney Frank called for a 25% reduction in the military budget. We counted the members of Congress who would support such a bill – our count added up to about 30. And Barney Frank is a big-time Hillary supporter.
Bernie said some big words standing with the Palestinians at the Brooklyn debate. It was a major break from politics as usual. But when the Senate took a vote about the latest Israel-Palestine conflict, all 100 members stood with Israel. Even Bernie recognizes what’s possible in politics.
Bernie said he was running for President in order to build the movement for social change. He didn’t think his run would turn out as well as it has. What I’m saying is that Bernie can’t forget that he’s trying to do something a lot tougher than running for President.
The Democratic Party has traditionally been the graveyard of social movements. Can Bernie change that? Not unless he changes his focus. “Not me, us” has to be more than rhetoric.
It’s great that he joins the picket lines – fights for $15 – and calls out the names of those shot by police. What’s not great is the difficulty he has connecting with the African American community – Spike Lee and Cornell West notwithstanding. He’s got the intellectuals. He needs the base.
Can you imagine a movement being built by the current Bernie campaign model – with the most progressive population in the United States basically in Hillary’s corner? It’s a nightmare.
Bernie is slowly turning it around. He is finally even-steven with Hillary in the Latino community. In the African American community he’s still got “a ways to go.”
What Bernie needs to move toward is some movement-building. After all, he has promised that all along. His campaign needs to turn to the social movements and ask, “Where should we stand and fight?” Yes, he needs to aggressively support movement organizers to run for office. But, more importantly, he needs to remind people of the importance of being active where you are: Active at work. Active at school. Active while on public transport. Active while in public places. Building stronger social networks. Rejuvenating the fight for workers’ rights. Making the cops stand back.
As unlikely allies – the “libertarians for Bernie” – have said, it can’t be just about giving away free stuff. There has to be social space for people to come together – physically, not just on the internet. If Bernie folds up his tent after the election season is over, it will be a major tragedy.
We don’t need Bernie as a leader. We need Bernie as a role model on how to build power from below. Win or lose, the movement for social change in America needs to toughen up.
Nine hundred terrific people were arrested in Democracy Spring this week to get money out of politics. Can you imagine if it was 90,000 people surrounding the Capitol? That’s when America’s rulers will feel the bern.
Or 90,000 people telling Mitch McConnell to get out of the way for Medicare for All or the movement will come to Kentucky and end his career?
Or the power of the people to break open like a mighty stream and ensure that no one in this country goes hungry or without work?
And then spreading that spirit around the world – which means working for peace, not war.
American elections are not the place to have that discussion. American elections usually crush the idealistic spirit.
Wouldn’t it be something to use an election as a stage for something more?