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The Revolution that Never Was


After this past Tuesday’s primary results, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ chances of winning of the Democratic Presidential nomination went from longshot to pipe dream. What’s next?

All along, Sanders has said he’s leading a revolution. His supporters, who have grown significantly in number over the past year, took up that call arms and made it their own. Though he didn’t win, Sanders pulled off a minor miracle in doing as well as he did. This is worth lauding.

But it’s unclear at this point just how many of Sanders’ supporters are interested in supporting the Democratic Party more generally. Many Sanders boosters are not fans of Hillary Clinton, for reasons I think are perfectly understandable–they are quite different candidates, and Clinton has been deeply ensconced in Washington politics for decades, while Sanders–despite his long tenure in Congress–has remained more of an outsider. A large swath of Americans are dissatisfied with their political options, and I can’t say I am all too happy with mine, either. A platform like Sanders’ is more or less what I’d want to see get accomplished, but our political system is in no shape to bring it about. There was no way Sanders could ever get it done on his own, either, and this is where I’ve been frustrated with the trajectory of his campaign and the attitudes of many of his supporters.

Revolutions might begin with the action of a single person, but they must expand far beyond that one individual to effect real change. The Sanders campaign could have raised money for other Democratic races, to put other progressives into office across the country. Instead, the campaign focused on media ad buys to move Sanders’ poll numbers to help him win primaries, with mixed results. For as much as Clinton’s critics deride her as egomaniacal and self-serving, she does a tremendous amount of fundraising for the Democratic Party, which is a necessity for the party to have downticket success. The party is often accused of conspiring to help Clinton and damage Sanders, but it’s more accurate to say that the Democratic leadership has been supporting the candidate who is actually serving the best interests of the party.

Sanders rarely showed interest in helping downticket races at all. Former campaign volunteers had gathered data on hundreds of races across the country–candidates Sanders could network with, lend support to, and actually try to build his political movement out of more than just one man and his legion of voters. There are progressive candidates out there, running for positions all over the country. The Sanders campaign had the information it needed to help them. It also had money–more than Clinton, at times. But it wasn’t used to actually generate a bottom-to-top political movement that could truly implement all the worthwhile things Sanders promised.

When you get right down to it, the Presidency is important but it is, at best, a backstop against the worst impulses of the Republican Party. The President’s duties are also important in terms of appointing Supreme Court justices and carrying out our foreign policy–the latter being a persistent weak spot of Sanders’. Other than that, though, the President’s job consists of signing or vetoing legislation and giving marching orders to the various federal agencies who carry out those laws. You still need people to write those laws, fight for them in Congress, and get them to the President’s desk. You still need good mayors, councilors, sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, governors, and state-level representatives and senators. These positions are incredibly important, and in fact tend to have more of an impact on our daily lives than anything that’s done in Washington.

I would implore anyone who is a Sanders supporter or considers themselves in any way progressive not to stay home for the rest of this year’s elections. There are elections happening throughout the year, many of them local or state-level, leading up to November. They matter. Vote for progressive candidates. Get them into office. Even if you don’t, call and write whoever does end up in office. Make yourself heard. The process of change doesn’t begin and end on a single day of voting in November. It is a daily struggle, one to be fought year after year. We must even fight for what we’ve already accomplished: GOP assaults on the basic rights of women and minorities continue unabated, and have even intensified in some cases.

It took over 15 years from the unveiling of the healthcare plan Hillary Clinton spearheaded to getting the Affordable Care Act passed. And the ACA is by no means perfect or ideal in terms of a healthcare reform package–it’s just a lot better than what we had. With the kind of mobilization the Sanders campaign has inspired, we could have possibly accomplished more, and that’s the whole point. The right people need to be elected to office, then petitioned to do what’s needed. Politicians are risk-averse by nature–they always want to see which way the wind is blowing before making a decision. Such fervor for change can look like a hurricane to the political class, if applied properly.

So, if you’re thinking of sitting this one out because Sanders didn’t make it: please, don’t. I beg you. Vote for a progressive in the primary if you haven’t had yours yet. Vote for Democrats, if you can in good conscience do so. Vote third party if you want to lodge a protest vote. Just don’t disengage and give up. Change will come, but only if it’s fought for over the long haul. Successful revolutions don’t turn on a single election day. They are ongoing, and in many ways their work is never done. So whatever you do, I hope you won’t give up. Sanders may have lost this battle, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win the war. The fight goes on.