Build, Bernie, Build!

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Build, Bernie, Build!

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders basks in the enthusiasm of supporters at a Sunday rally at KeyArena. (Photo: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

The Sanders campaign compiled an email list with 130 million names, a donor list that produced over $200 million in contributions, and a volunteer army of millions of enthusiastic supporters. The Democratic Party wants these lists, that money and those supporters. Good luck.

The establishment Democrats still don’t get it. Bernie’s passionate supporters actually believe in his agenda, and they view the Democrat Party as deeply entangled with Wall Street and the top 1 percent. They are not going to volunteer for Hillary no matter what Sanders says.

Rather than parsing words in the party platform (that Hillary and the rest of the establishment Democrats can and will ignore at will) Sanders should concentrate on launching a new movement organization right now — one that would mobilize for his democratic socialist agenda. We need an organization dedicated to reversing runaway inequality that can serve as a home for the incredible energy and idealism of his supporters.

Immediately, this new organization would have two goals: 1) defeat Trump; and 2) organize a million people to come to the Washington mall shortly after the inauguration to press for free higher education and a Wall Street speculation tax.

Why a new organization?

This is the perfect time to launch a large-scale progressive alliance with an organizational presence in every state. We need organization not just spontaneous eruptions that flower and wilt. We can’t just tweet an end to runaway inequality. We’ll need to systematically fight for it over a long period of time. We need an organizational structure that brings us together and connects our many issue and organizational silos. We should be able to go to Patterson, Pensacola or Pasadena to attend a meeting of a common organization that fights to reverse runaway inequality.

Bernie’s army of volunteers and small donors would likely support such a formation in large numbers if they thought it would really carry on the fight for the Sanders agenda.

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Defeating Trump

The first task of this new movement would be to dump Trump. Instead of making a “lesser-of-two-evils” argument, we should make a positive claim that the “political revolution” Bernie has ignited would flourish more if Trump were not president.

Not only would Trump be a colossal disaster for this country, but his victory would make it much harder to fight for a progressive agenda. Instead of pressing for free higher education and single-payer health care, we would be fighting rear-guard actions against Muslim profiling and the building of the wall.

We don’t need to develop amnesia about Hillary’s Wall Street ties to understand that her election would provide a better organizing terrain on which to build a more powerful progressive movement. This is our positive reason to defeat Trump.

Bring a Million to the Mall

Defeating Trump is not enough. We need to plan right now for bold actions to prove to Congress that the Sanders agenda has massive grassroots support. Can we bring a million people to Washington right after the inauguration to demand that Congress pass a financial speculation tax to fund free higher education? Could a Bernie-led progressive alliance raise the money for outreach and transportation? It’s doable but only if we plan for it starting now.

Imagine the signal this would send to Bernie’s young supporters. Here would be an opportunity to attack the debt shackles that enslave millions of students and their families. Young people are likely to come running from all directions.

But, wouldn’t this be a white movement?

Pundits like Paul Krugman still claim that Sanders cares only about individual inequality and fails to address inequality between ethnic and racial groups. Krugman asserts that Hillary gets racism and Bernie, with his universal programs, does not, and that’s why Hillary got so many more votes from people of color.

It’s time to put this canard to rest. The Sanders campaign overwhelmingly won the votes of those under-thirty including the majority of black, Latino and Asian young voters. Hillary received strong support from older voters of color. What does this say about race and voting? It says that race doesn’t explain very much. Age, not race, created the major differences in these voting patterns. There is every reason to expect that an ongoing Bernie-led movement would draw young people of all shades and ethnicities.

Can we really build a mass movement for economic and social justice?

Before the Sanders campaign, that question was not even on the table. But who would have predicted that Sanders, an avowed socialist, would nearly bring the Clinton machine to a grinding halt? Who would ever have predicted twenty plus primary victories and the raising of more money than any other candidate? It tells us something important: This is not the time to think small..

Runaway inequality will not fix itself. Reversing it requires a mass movement with staying power to bring the political revolution to fruition.

Bernie has field tested a new social democratic agenda. We now have a mass constituency for a financial transaction tax, free higher education, Medicare for All and an end to a corrupt campaign finance system. Americans are ready to break up the big banks and undermine the power of Wall Street.

But none of this will happen without resources, organization, and structured activities. It requires money, messaging and the ironclad will to build for the long run.

Of all these activities, the most difficult challenge may lie within ourselves. We cannot build if we don’t believe. Occupy Wall Street believed and it changed the dialogue of this country from austerity to inequality. Bernie believed and he put democratic socialism on the American agenda. But Occupy faded because it lacked sustainable organizational structures. And the Bernie moment could be just that if no organization follows.

This is the time.

Les Leopold

Les Leopold

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute in New York is working with unions, worker centers and community organization to build a national economics educational campaign. His latest book, Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice (Oct 2015), is a text for that effort. All proceeds go to support this educational campaign. (Please like the Runaway Inequality page on Facebook.) His previous book is The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green/2009).

(Join Us! at Runaway Inequality: Resistance is breaking out all over. Millions are eager to help take back our country from the hard right. To get there, we need educators — thousands of them — to spread the word.)

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