For the past months, the Democratic Party, particularly corporate Democrats, clamored for Bernie Sanders to quit the presidential race or endorse Hillary Clinton. He continued his campaign and competed in all 50 states. He challenged the inevitability of Clinton as a nominee, forcing her to stave off his “political revolution.” But now, Sanders has endorsed Clinton, and the Democratic Party can breathe a sigh of relief going into the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
The critical question of the moment is what the endorsement means for the “political revolution.” To paraphrase what Socialist Seattle City council member Kshama Sawant said at the People’s Summit nearly one month ago, how can the “political revolution” move forward if tens of millions of people, who are angry at the corporate establishment and both the Republican and Democratic Parties, are urged to support a corporate establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton?
There are divergent histories, which can be told about the past seven months. One history is tremendously inspiring. It spotlights an insurgent political campaign, which made inroads with grassroots movements on the ground, and won 22 state caucuses and primaries. It celebrates the fact that nearly 1,900 pledged delegates were won, even though the Democratic establishment—particularly superdelegates—aligned against Sanders before the Iowa caucus kicked off the primary.
This same history lifts marginalized communities, including Arab Americans and Native Americans, which typically have no pull in presidential politics. It acknowledges the 1.4 million Americans who stood in line for hours and attended rallies where they were turned on to socialist ideas. It amplifies the contributions of left-wing luminaries, like Dr. Cornel West, who Sanders embraced and empowered to contest the Democratic Party platform so it was not merely a product of establishment politics. And it recognizes, by not giving up, the Sanders campaign was able to force Clinton Democrats to support some of their goals, particularly on climate change and the fight for a living wage.
On the other hand, despite what progressive commentators, like Joan Walsh, may claim, the Democratic primary was rigged to enable a Clinton win. Hundreds of superdelegates pledged their allegiance to Clinton before votes were cast in Iowa. A limited number of debates were scheduled to ensure voters had the least amount of exposure to Clinton opponents. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign falsely accused the Sanders campaign of “stealing” voter file data. The Hillary Victory Fund funneled millions of dollars through state parties to the DNC in what looked very much like a money laundering scheme. Democratic women supporting Sanders faced forms of retaliation.
As documented at Shadowproof during the primary, the Clinton campaign deployed numerous dishonest attacks against Sanders to kneecap his campaign. A few of the most pernicious attacks involved the claim that his plan for single-payer healthcare would “dismantle Obamacare,” that Sanders allowed and even encouraged “Bernie Bros” to spread “vicious lies and sexism” against Clinton, that he was somehow a friend of the National Rifle Association, that he thought President Barack Obama was a “weak” president, and that he sided with right-wing Republicans against immigration reform and supported Minutemen vigilantes, who sought to murder undocumented immigrants.
During the drafting of the Democratic platform in St. Louis, as well as the larger meeting in Orlando, Clinton Democrats worked to thwart the “political revolution” on climate change, a fracking ban, healthcare, living wage, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Gaza, and Israel. Clinton Democrats voted against outlawing racial gerrymandering, public banking, ending corporate welfare for companies which ship jobs overseas, regulating the revolving door in government, and expanding Social Security.
During a meeting with House Democrats earlier this month, Sanders was booed and jeered for wanting to talk about how to transform America for the working class of this country. All they cared about was whether he would endorse Clinton and enable “party unity.” Plus, in June, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad said Sanders had to ask himself: “Are you a team player and do you have the larger picture in mind or are you just focused on yourself?”
At the event in New Hampshire, where he endorsed Clinton, he was a “team player.” He did exactly what corporate Democrats wanted, and as the New York Times put it, he “dropped his portrayal of Mrs. Clinton as a captive of Wall Street billionaires and big-money interests.”
Sanders lent legitimacy to her campaign by nullifying many of his fiercest critiques of her during the campaign. He championed her as a candidate, who would challenge the rigged economy if elected president. He claimed she would prioritize raising the minimum wage to a living wage. He lauded her for her proposals for health care, even as she remains opposed to Medicare for All. He suggested she somehow has a problem with the culture created by lobbyists in Washington, even though her campaign opposed explicitly addressing the government revolving door in the party platform.
He maintained she is “listening to the scientists, who tell us that if we do not act boldly in the very near future, there will be more drought, more floods, more acidification of the oceans, and more rising sea levels.” Yet, his most fervent supporters recently witnessed Clinton Democrats deploy neoliberal rationalizations for corporate power to justify opposition to goals of the environmental movement. Their actions showed she remains beholden to the natural gas lobby, and though she favors oil drilling prohibitions in the Arctic Ocean, she avoided the issue of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico entirely because she has no intent to oppose companies currently wrecking the Gulf.
Undoubtedly, Sanders and many of his supporters see the endorsement as an end of one phase of the “political revolution” and the beginning of a new phase, but just as many probably felt dejection and sorrow when they watched Sanders endorse Clinton.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who made numerous overtures to Sanders during the primary, released a statement with some hard truths about the Democratic Party. Her remarks were born from the Democratic Party’s history of co-opting social movements and insurgent political campaigns to protect the capitalist status quo from being significantly altered.
“Sanders, a life-long independent who has advocated for building an independent democratic socialist party similar to Canada’s New Democratic Party, has said that his decision to run as a Democrat was based on pragmatism, but there is nothing pragmatic about supporting a party that for decades has consistently sold out the progressive majority to the billionaire class,” Stein declared. “This false pragmatism is not the path to revolutionary change but rather an incrementalism that keeps us trapped, voting for lesser evil again and again.
“Each time a progressive challenger like Sanders, Dennis Kucinich or Jesse Jackson has inspired hope for real change, the Democratic Party has sabotaged them while marching to the right, becoming more corporatist and militarist with each election cycle,” Stein added. “Millions are realizing that if we want to fix the rigged economy, the rigged racial injustice system, the rigged health care system, toxic fossil fuel energy and all the other systems failing us, we must fix the rigged political system, and that will not happen through the rigged Democratic Party.”
Numerous campaigns and projects are about to be launched or escalated to keep up the movement energy, which has fueled a “political revolution.” There are thousands of individuals, who are considering whether to run for office. Some of them are convinced they can transform the Democratic Party into a party of the working class, however, they should not let political amnesia erase the dark memories of how Sanders was handled. This is what will happen to anyone who poses a threat to the ruling class of the Democratic Party.
The “political revolution” can expect “the ‘party of the people’ will pursue policies that may produce some minimal reforms for workers and the oppressed, but only as a byproduct of its historic role: to save the capitalist system from its own excesses in order to preserve the political status quo,” as Lance Selfa, author of “The Democrats: A Critical History,” wrote.
Sharp antagonism lies ahead for any progressive or self-described “Berniecrat,” who fights for radical change within the Democratic Party. That is why considering the question of building independent political power outside the two-party system is crucial. The hundreds who step forward to run for local and state offices could take a meaningful step toward ensuring movements have representation in bodies of government—the kind of representation, which the Democrats cannot undermine by demanding loyalty or unity.
In this regard, the example of Kshama Sawant is instructive. She ran a campaign that was a referendum on the neoliberal politics of Democrats and won. She “rejected cuts to education, mass transit and social services, while calling for taxes on the rich and a $15 minimum wage.”
Sawant recounted her success defying the Democratic establishment in an article for The Nation in April 2015. Not only did movements in Seattle force the city council to pass a $15 minimum wage ordinance, they also:
…[O]rganized a “People’s Budget” coalition and won increased funding for social services, including year-round homeless shelters for women and basic services for homeless encampments. We also won $1.6 million in raises for low-paid city workers and strengthened the enforcement of labor laws. We fought alongside tenants and community organizations to defeat an Orwellian attack on low-income housing called “Stepping Forward,” forcing the Seattle Housing Authority to back off from plans to begin 400 percent increases on rental rates over five years. Organizing with indigenous activists, we established Indigenous People’s Day (on the day celebrated federally as Columbus Day), putting a spotlight on the brutality and genocide unleashed under colonialism, and on the need to fight against the continued poverty and marginalization of indigenous communities. We have also helped publicize and support campaigns against regressive taxation, rising rents, climate change and the school-to-prison pipeline.
Let’s return to the critical question of the moment: How do movements view the constant battle with cold-blooded politicians devoted to serving wealthy campaign contributors and corporations? What do citizens want to do so uprisings for radical change are not constantly funneled into a political party, which co-opts their achievements to reconstitute a neoliberal capitalist status quo? What has to happen before resources are finally invested in building an alternative, which can grow and prosper?
Has the “political revolution” finally brought us to a breaking point, where enough people are no longer willing to tolerate the two-party system? Have we reached a point where bold movement politics will give rise to equally inspiring electoral politics, which will give the poor and working class the hope of true political representation?