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DNC: To Be or Not to Be? That is the Question

Former Ohio state senator and Bernie Sanders campaign surrogate Nina Turner speaking at the People's Summit in Chicago. (Photo: Steve Stearns/cc/flickr)

What a week for those of us who support Bernie.  I almost typed Senator Bernie Sanders, but then pulled back to re-type Bernie because even formalizing his title and his name seems somehow a concession.  Bernie was not defeated.  The movement for climate, economic and social justice was not defeated. And I was certainly not defeated.

Many of us began this week gathered at the People’s Summit in Chicago where Bernie supporters were plentiful and empowered even as we grieved the apparent loss in the California primary and, in all likelihood, the nomination itself.  There was broad agreement that even if Bernie’s presidential campaign was coming to a close, the movement to achieve the policy agenda advanced through the Bernie campaign was gearing up for a longer struggle.

As the People’s Summit convened, we learned of a personnel shuffle at the DNC.  Was Debbie dumped?  Nope. Shuffled.  Was it fairly routine for the DNC chair to change when a new nominee/party leader emerges?  Yes. The changing of the guard might have been accelerated by widespread dissatisfaction with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, but she was by no means dumped.  Call me cynical, but I saw a rather poorly veiled attempt to appear to be responsive to Bernie.

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I’ve said it hundreds of times in the last few months.  Bernie is not foolish.  He understands that movements matter.  As a 74-year-old man and a United States Senator, Bernie knows that no matter who sits in the Oval Office, the deeply populist and progressive agenda he championed on the campaign trail will require sustained and powerful, bottom-up movements to be achieved.  Does it matter who is in the White House?  Of course.  But it matters much, much more who and how many are part of our movement.

It is too early to ask about votes being cast for HRC in November.  And it is way too early for Bernie supporters to walk away from the fight for the agenda with which Bernie inspired many millions of us.  We, the aforementioned Bernie supporters, are a force to be reckoned with, and we are a movement borne of decades of waiting to be heard and waiting to be represented. This will not be a gentle pivot from one Democratic primary candidate to another as the nominee.

So, from the energy of the People’s Summit to the Tomfoolery of the Democratic Party platform drafting committee we go last week.  We listened as that drafting committee did its dirty work on behalf of some very near and dear special interests.  $15 minimum wage?  Not without a huge fight. Medicare for all, single-payer healthcare?  Nope.  And as you might imagine, we could go on.


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We were so thrilled to hear Keith Ellison and Cornell West speak so forcefully in favor of a truly progressive agenda, and we were happy Barbara Lee joined in on single-payer too after a bit of a dust-up in Phoenix surrounding that issue.   But that is not enough, my friends at the DNC.  That is not nearly enough.  Though you are doing your best to tell us to celebrate this platform, we are not celebrating.

Earlier in the week, a wise advisor and mentor of mine said any person or group will be forever ostracized if that person or group in any way screws up the optics of the prime time HRC coronation that will be the DNC convention.  OK.  That is probably true.  But I have to say that unless the DNC starts taking a very different path forward in terms of a progressive platform that truly represents what its base – and, yes, especially the Bernie base right now – are demanding, I think achieving any even moderate level of Party unity is out of the question.  It simply is not enough to ask us to defeat Trump.

You see, coming into the DNC convention in Philadelphia will be 1,900-plus Bernie delegates – many of whom fought hard to become delegates for this candidate and his agenda.  Many of them supported his campaign with their time and their money for many months, and hundreds are on-line now raising money to be able to fully participate as Bernie delegates in Philadelphia.  We walked in the cold wind in Iowa in the deep of winter and in the sweltering heat of the Deep South in the late spring.  We rode buses for days, and sometimes for weeks.  We made phone call after phone call, and knocked on doors in our own neighborhoods where we found other like-minded voters.  We came home from volunteering and got online to fight the good fight for Bernie and for ourselves and for one another.

We did not work this hard as Bernie supporters -- though thwarted by the mainstream media in ways we wish might have been more justly and wisely applied to Donald Trump – because we thought Bernie the Jewish version of Santa.  We believe in Bernie because we believe in justice.  We believe in the policy agenda Bernie articulated.  And if the DNC thinks we will all link arms and forget the kind of America Bernie helped us envision in favor of a watered down social agenda and an intensified hawkish agenda, then the DNC is making a serious miscalculation.

The DNC platform committee will meet one more time as a whole in Orlando before the DNC convention at the end of July in Philadelphia.  That may be the last chance for the Party to demonstrate in a very concrete way that they want the 12 million votes cast for Bernie to lean strongly “D” in November.  While a platform is largely symbolic, it does not have to be so.  Bernie said he would push for the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party.  We said we are taking our cues from Bernie on this matter.  So far, the DNC is thumbing its nose at Bernie’s delegates to the DNC and to Bernie’s primary voters.  What a real shame.

If the DNC thinks the optics of the prime time convention shows from Philadelphia are their biggest worry, perhaps they might want to reconsider what happens if Bernie’s voters become disenfranchised and fail to vote now or ever as a “D”?  Is your platform symbolic?  Sure.  But between now and the end of July, DNC, only the platform and choice of HRC’s running mate offer the opportunity to prove you really want Party unity going forward.  It might be wise to stop thinking you’ve outsmarted and out-maneuvered the progressive left in your base.  What we lacked in transformational leadership was ignited by Bernie.  Our work is not done, and neither is yours.

If you want to win the presidency and win back control of Congress, you cannot do that without us.  And so far, you are not demonstrating in concrete actions that you get that.  We’d hate to have you underestimate our commitment to one another and to justice because that makes the November outcome much less certain.  That uncertainty might rock more than the pre-ordained HRC coronation in Philadelphia, it could create social and financial market unrest.  No one group supporting Bernie adheres exactly to the opinions or actions of the others, but we have joined together behind the issues.  To use the popular vernacular, we found our intersectionality, and we are finding our collective power.  We just don’t know for sure that the DNC gets that.  There is still time but it is waning. 

Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith Donna Smith is the national chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign for Progressive Democrats of America.  She was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO.

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