If you actually read Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speech to his supporters Thursday – rather than the news coverage of it – you will immediately grasp the importance of this weekend’s gathering in Chicago of about 3,000 progressive leaders and grassroots activists.
Sanders is not expected to appear at the People’s Summit, which starts Friday night and concludes Sunday morning, but his speech Thursday was a manifesto for what that summit, and the progressive movement generally, should be devoted to in the months and years ahead.
“Election days come and go,” Sanders said at the very beginning of his address. “But political and social revolutions that attempt to transform our society never end. They continue every day, every week and every month in the fight to create a nation of social and economic justice. … And that’s what this campaign has been about over the past year.”
Change, he went on to say, does not take place from the top, such as in the White House or in “the living rooms of wealthy contributors,” but from the millions of people at the bottom “who say ‘enough is enough’ and become engaged in the fight for justice.”
Rallying a core group of Sanders supporters and allies and stepping up their engagement in the “political revolution” that Sanders stoked is the stated goal of the People’s Summit.
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“Sen. Sanders has electrified the nation, inspiring millions to stand up for a bolder and better future,” said George Goehl, co-executive director of People’s Action, a new national grassroots organization. “At the People’s Summit, people from across the country are gathering to plan how they can continue to fight big campaigns around bold ideas, elect progressive champions to office up and down the ballot and build new people’s organizations across the country.”
People’s Action is one of the organizations that has affiliates in states around the country that will be represented at the summit. The summit will feature a number of high-profile speakers – among them Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, (D-Hawaii); RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United; CNN commentator and Dream Corps founder Van Jones, and Rev. William Barber, architect of the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina. But there will be workshops, training sessions and networking opportunities.
Much of the news media will be looking for tensions between the “Bernie or Bust” faction of the progressive movement that is not prepared to support Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party nominee, and those who see a Clinton victory in November as a necessary step toward the more important, long-term objective of transforming our political and economic structures. But those tensions should not be the story. Something transformative could potentially happen in our political system, in which the fading of a presidential campaign gives birth to a political force that could have far more impact than a single presidency. This will be worth watching.