Bernie or Bust? No, It’s Justice or Bust

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Bernie or Bust? No, It’s Justice or Bust

Can we actually achieve a more just America as one of the outcomes of this political revolution? Yes. I believe we can.

Bernie Sanders delivering a speech at Grandview College in Des Moines on the eve of the Iowa caucus. (Photo: National Nurses United/flickr)

Oh brothers and sisters, what an odd time.  I hear great energy going into whether or not Bernie should now concede or how the next few weeks look if he stays in the race as he proclaimed he would late Tuesday night.  Will Bernie delegates or supporters disrupt the DNC convention?  That’s another point to consider for pundits and others.  Bernie or bust is one group’s battle cry, while others call for Party unity.  I think all of these issues are missing the point and the moment at hand.

Bernie repeated the theme during his speech that this campaign, this political revolution, is about changing this country and addressing the issues he has framed so well over the last year. To the extent that we can exert pressure on the Democratic Party or even on the American public to support those changes, staying in the fight is critical for Bernie. 

While the Washington Post and others say that Hillary’s wins yesterday mean that Bernie has less leverage to demand concessions, I do not believe that will be true unless we allow that to be true.  If we give up or give in, this political revolution has really been a cult of personality that will fade even as Bernie sits in the White House chatting with President Obama.  We have to intensify our resolve, not wallow in disappointment.

"It’s not Bernie or bust. His campaign has been about us – all of us.  It’s about justice through revolution."

During Bernie’s Tuesday, he repeatedly referenced achieving justice in the policy areas he has articulated during this campaign.  From climate justice, economic justice, healthcare justice and beyond, that is what Bernie’s campaign and this political revolution is about.  It’s not up to Bernie alone to decide the next steps – it is also up to those of us who support this political revolution as much today as we did yesterday and not nearly as much as we will tomorrow.

It’s not Bernie or bust. His campaign has been about us – all of us.  It’s about justice through revolution.  While Bernie adds the term “political” to his pitch, what we don’t talk about enough is the growing unrest among those with nothing to lose – people like me who have tried to work within and through the political system only to be excluded and discounted – even by the best of "friends."

I watched Hillary’s speech because I wondered how I would feel.  And I can honestly say I felt less equal than I ever have in my life.  I heard the soaring words about history and watched the video packed with heroic women, yet I was not moved.  It felt so staged and so well-timed for prime time viewing that it felt phony to me.  I did not see myself at all. 

It isn’t as though I fall into the "I hate Hillary" camp, because I do not.  I don’t agree with her policies, and I far prefer Bernie’s.  What I was feeling was that old familiar sense of exclusion – Hillary is a very wealthy woman who cares little about people like me.  Her commitment to build an inclusive society fell flat with me because I know how far on the outside people like me are now and always will be unless there are fundamental changes like those envisioned by Bernie.  And I am not foolish.  I know my value or lack thereof within our society is mostly determined by my economic status even within very progressive circles. 

Reality is that most of us are outsiders to any of the campaigns at the presidential level.  Most of us do not have the money or power to be heard, and that’s what has driven millions to Bernie’s campaign and to the huge rallies.  Bernie’s political revolution embraces all of us, and it is not over unless we throw in the towel.  No matter what happens leading up to or during the DNC convention in Philadelphia, the revolution has been ignited, it is growing and the will of the people will not be denied.

Right now, large progressive groups that support Bernie are jockeying for position coming out of this campaign.  Many groups want Bernie’s fundraising list, his database and his direct endorsement of their brand.  And to a large degree, those with access to make their case will be those who have had the most money to invest in Bernie’s campaign or the most fundraising capacity over the past several months.  Even for this Democratic Socialist candidate, money talks.  I like to think Bernie thinks about the broader movement and that he will not play the same money and power games that seem to be the bedrock of our political system, but there is almost no way he can avoid doing so.  Some groups have anointed themselves as the new revolutionary leaders while others have been completely left out.  It is difficult for justice to prevail when money is used as the measure of commitment to this sort of political revolution.

There is a good chance at the People’s Summit in Chicago next weekend we will find among the other thousands of political revolutionaries gathered together a common commitment to advancing this movement toward justice. But that chance will only become reality if enough voices and enough groups attend and participate fully. 

Can we actually achieve a more just America as one of the outcomes of this political revolution? Yes. I believe we can. No other candidate has spoken favorably about improved Medicare for all. For me, that is unacceptable. It would have helped my trust levels immensely if the DNC had accepted my former boss and labor leader, RoseAnn DeMoro as one of Bernie’s choices for the platform committee. DeMoro is a warrior for single-payer and workers’ rights, and if she wasn’t right for the platform committee, then I am gravely concerned about the course ahead. Shame on the DNC. 

And if no candidate other than Bernie and no Party steps up to address the injustice, the people are becoming angry enough and disillusioned enough to make actual revolution – difficult, dangerous, unpredictable and perhaps even violent revolution – more probable in our future. Before anyone accuses me of favoring that path, I am not alone in my view. John F. Kennedy once said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

It seems that the DNC expects that everyone will fall in line behind Hillary without having real assurances that the pain and struggle and injustice of our economic policy will be addressed forcefully. It is not enough for Hillary to give broad, calming "I feel your pain" statements like her husband used so frequently during his presidency.  We are not fooled by that.  

Injustice in the health care system makes me mad.  Really mad.  I may die before improved 'Medicare for All' becomes the law of the land, but I will be damned if I will give up trying to achieve what I know to be a more just system.  I need to hear how healthcare justice will be achieved – and I will fight on.  So far, Hillary has assured me we will "never, ever" have single-payer, and I cannot see how we achieve any real healthcare justice without 'Medicare for All.'  Others who are engaged with other issues feel that same intensity around their causes.  While no candidate can solve all injustice, any candidate who dismisses the energy, the passion and the resolve that has formed around Bernie’s clear articulation of the major issues risks not only losing an election but also pushing the nation towards unimaginable strife and struggle.  It’s not Bernie or bust – it’s justice or bust.  The Party or candidate that embraces that fact and puts forward real plans to achieve a more just society holds the only real balm for the anger that threatens us all. 

Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.  PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party.

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