Here they come. While the media focuses on the spectacle of Donald Trump’s implosion, what Jane Sanders calls the “next chapter” of the Sanders political revolution is already beginning.
Last week, Pramila Jayapal, one of the rising stars of the Bernie Sanders movement, won a decisive victory in the primary race for Washington’s 7th Congressional District. She will advance to the November general election, where she is favored to win. She is not alone. Jamie Raskin, a progressive state legislator and leading constitutional authority on civil rights and voting rights, won his primary to fill an open Democratic seat in Maryland. Zephyr Teachout, who literally wrote the book on political corruption and challenged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in the gubernatorial race two years ago, is running a brilliant campaign in an uphill battle for a Republican-held seat in New York.
These are not corporate or Blue Dog Democrats. These are “small d” democrats running movement campaigns. They aren’t running for power’s sake; they are running to change America.
“The vision has to be to fundamentally change the system,” Jayapal says, carrying the Sanders message that “corporations and special interests have their voice in Congress, and they have too many members scared of their power. What Congress needs is a progressive voice who is unafraid to take on these powerful interests — who is willing to fight for all Americans, not just the wealthiest 1 percent.”
Added Sanders: “When you think of the political revolution, I want you to think about Pramila.”
Jayapal is a true organizer. An immigrant from India, she has been a leader in Seattle’s progressive community for more than a decade. After 9/11, she started what became the civil rights advocacy group OneAmerica, organizing in immigrant communities for basic rights, while helping to lead Seattle’s “fight for $15” hike in the minimum wage, building coalitions to empower workers and holding corporations accountable. Jayapal and Raskin will lead a progressive surge in Congress as the Sanders movement becomes a challenge to reactionary Republicans and corporate Democrats.
Sanders and his supporters are intent on giving these efforts institutional backing. The Vermont senator has announced the formation of Our Revolution, which will support progressive candidates up and down the ticket. Organizers from the Sanders campaign have launched Brand New Congress, an ambitious effort to run 400-plus populist candidates for Congress — including independents and Republicans as well as Democrats — in 2018, with “a single, unified campaign with a single plan,” and centralized crowd-sourced financing — small donors contributing to a national pool in a historic effort to transform a Congress that is corrupt and dysfunctional. These new efforts will augment progressive groups like the Working Families Party, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and People’s Action, all of whom are growing in energy and ambition in the wake of the Sanders campaign.
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Berniecrats.net, a website listing all active candidates at every level who endorsed Sanders in the primary, already has some 480 entries. Most of these are long shots running shoestring campaigns. But if the more than 2 million individual Sanders campaign supporters do move in large numbers to support Our Revolution and other offshoots in 2016, these challenges will get more serious in 2018 and 2020.
One example of the potential is Tim Canova’s upstart challenge to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, in Florida. Wasserman Schultz, the epitome of a corporate Democrat —pro-Trans-Pacific Partnership, pro-Wall Street, pro-big-money politics— has never had a primary challenge in her previous six races. Canova got into the race to expose her traditional money politics: “She has been taking millions of dollars from the biggest Wall Street banks and corporations and I started looking at her voting record and it is lined up with these corporate interests,” he said.
With Sanders’s support, Canova now has raised a stunning $2.8 million, largely in small donations, just shy of Wasserman Schultz’s $3 million. The district voted for Clinton by more than 2 to 1 in the Democratic presidential primary, so Wasserman Schultz is still the overwhelming favorite. But she is feeling the Bern, and other Democrats in the Wall Street wing of the party are likely to get the message as well.
What is clear is that the Sanders revolution is only beginning. His campaign forced Democrats to have a real debate about ideas. He mobilized volunteers and inspired enthusiasm, particularly among the young. He raised unprecedented sums in small donations. Now he and his supporters are moving to build the political revolution that too many in the media mocked at the beginning of this year.
This won’t be easy. Big-money interests still dominate. Political participation remains low. Elected officials who are not scandal-ridden are hard to displace without massive mobilizations that change opinion and turnout.
Vice President Biden commented recently that “Bernie did more to change the party than the party did to change him.” That remains to be seen. What is clear is that Sanders and his supporters are moving to prove just that.