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Bernie Sanders Is the Movement Candidate We Need

It is time we acknowledge the political realities before us, and align on the candidate who will not only win, but build the kind of multicultural, multiracial and working class movement that will enable the next President to take on corporate power and deliver justice for all. 

We must lay to rest the notion that Bernie Sanders can’t win, as the truth is he very well may be the best hope. (Photo: Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket?Getty Images)

We must lay to rest the notion that Bernie Sanders can’t win, as the truth is he very well may be the best hope. (Photo: Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket?Getty Images)

As the executive director of Rights & Democracy (RAD) in Vermont and an organizer based in our state for more than two decades, I have had many opportunities  to work closely with U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

I know what drives him, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right when she says, he is “the real deal.

As someone who once wrote off the whole political system as corrupt and broken beyond repair, my  experience with Bernie has been transformative. The Senator has demonstrated time and again the importance of electing leaders who emerge from and work with people’s movements. He has been a steadfast champion for working people, and electing Bernie as  mayor of Burlington then U.S. Congressman then U.S. Senator has resulted in key policy victories that directly improve the lives of the people of Vermont and people across this country. Electing Sanders as president will undoubtedly generate even more transformational change. 

Many share my positive feelings about Bernie. So it came as no surprise to me when Rights & Democracy members from New Hampshire and Vermont voted overwhelmingly to endorse his candidacy for president, with Bernie winning over 63% of the first-place votes in our ranked choice vote.  Our members’ second choice (who a majority said they would support if she were the nominee) was Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While Elizabeth Warren is a strong, progressive voice in the Democratic primary, I believe Senator Bernie Sanders should be the candidate to support for president. For anyone struggling with who to choose, I offer three key reasons why:

1. Bernie is the best candidate to beat Trump and to begin transforming this country

Bernie Sanders is uniquely positioned to defeat Trump in 2020 and  build a broad multiracial working-class movement to advance a transformative people’s agenda in this country. 

Over my career I have been incredibly impressed by Bernie’s ability to get broad support from working people, including many Republicans, Independents, and those who had checked out of the political process entirely. In the 2016 Democratic primary, Bernie won 22 states and over 13 million votes. He also smashed Obama’s 2008 fundraising records. Consider the magnitude of this achievement, given the fact that he took no corporate campaign bribes from Wall Street, Big Pharma, fossil fuels, or weapons manufacturers and that he started the race with a 1% name recognition nationally.

The 2020 Sanders campaign is similarly a fundraising juggernaut. He has already received over 4 million individual donations (a record amount) and his email list is one of the largest in the country. His social media prowess is also far and away the strongest of all 2020 Democratic candidates and he has mobilizied a “grassroots army” of a million volunteers.

In Vermont and across the nation, he has also galvanized young people in record numbers to support his past campaigns and current run for president. Contrary to the corporate media’s baseless narrative, Bernie also commands significant support—second only to Joe Biden—among black voters, particularly young black voters.  

I believe Bernie has been able to build this diverse base of support  because unlike the vast majority of politicians—he is not beholden to a small number of corporate and wealthy donors. He has been consistently fighting for the interests of his constituents his entire life.  Bernie is unabashedly authentic and even people who may disagree with his politics trust him and respect the fact his message has stayed the same for over four decades. His commitment to economic, social, and racial justice is unwavering and enduring—and voters across the country know it.  

Finally, when we hear the corporate media pundits go on about how only a centrist has the best chance to beat Donald Trump,  we must remember that they got it wrong in 2016, when they paid no attention to the depth of anti-establishment sentiment in this country. It is not hard to imagine many potential Democratic nominees being tagged as elitists, à la Hillary Clinton 2016. That is a label they will never be able to credibly lay on Bernie.

We must lay to rest the notion that Bernie Sanders can’t win, as the truth is he very well may be the best hope. For more on this, check out the Salon Novemeber 24, 2019 article “Quit Saying Bernie Sanders Can’t Win - He May Be The Most Elected Democract in 2020.

2. Bernie has always understood the need to build people’s movements

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What has always stood out for me about Bernie Sanders is that consistently, throughout his 45-year political career, he has always stood up for the struggles of the working class and has never been afraid to take on large powerful corporate interests. And he has always believed in the power of organizing and understands that real change comes from the bottom up—not the top down—through mass mobilization. 

I cannot even count the number of times in Vermont that I was involved in a community struggle—be it to organize a union, a local strike or fighting for health care as a human right—that Bernie would lend his active support and help us fight and win.

As mayor of Burlington in the 1980s, he took on the city’s old political establishment. He built a strong coalition made up of community organizing groups, unions, tenant activists, women’s groups, and environmentalists to challenge the old-guard obstructionists, and fundamentally transformed the city of Burlington.

"His candidacy is more than a campaign, it is a call for building  the political revolution we need in this moment in our country's history."

In Burlington, Bernie showed that when you can make government work for average folks, they turn out to vote. In his re-election race in 1983, voter turnout in the city doubled. 

But the most important lesson we can draw from Bernie’s tenure as Mayor of Burlington, which applies to our situation now, is that the establishment never thought he could win. Through this grassroots engagement, Bernie was able to move major citywide policies because enough of the councilors either changed their positions, or the constituents changed their city councilors to ones that supported the policies they—and Bernie—did. 

As Vermont’s lone congressman from 1991 through 2006, and now as U.S. Senator, Bernie has held many hundreds of town-hall-style meetings and engaged average citizens—low-income and working-class folks—in discussions of the most important issues of the time. Bernie’s town halls always include a broad cross section of Vermonters. 

He organized bus trips of working-class Vermonters suffering from breast cancer to Canada to buy low-cost prescription drugs, highlighting the need for prescription drug pricing reform. He organized the largest rally against NAFTA on the State House lawn. He organized a meeting of 900 IBM workers to take on that company’s effort to change their pension plans. The list goes on and on.

This is exactly what a Sanders Presidency would look like. In districts where Senators stand in the way of programs like Medicare For All and a Green New Deal that are supported by a vast  majority of the population—he would be working with people’s movements to hold massive rallies to push them through.

3. We don’t need to just win this election, we need a political revolution

These first two points lead me to what I think is the core reason to support Bernie: his candidacy is more than a campaign, it is a call for building  the political revolution we need in this moment in our country’s history. 

We all know there is now near consensus among scientists that the life support systems of our planet will be destroyed—possibly within the next decade—if we do not take bold action now to transform our economic and energy systems, including halting oil and gas drilling and production.  If we want to save humanity, we will need to be able to not only overcome the enormous political and economic power of the fossil-fuel industry, but really the entire corporate establishment and elites that control both political parties, the military-industrial complex, the corporate media and the billionaire class.  As writer Naomi Klein recently wrote given the context of the climate crisis and the power of oil and gas companies, “The world is on fire and our most credible hope of beating the arsonists is #Bernie2020 #NotMeUs”.

The 2020 presidential election is going to be the struggle of our lives. Everything is on the line, and we have to beat Trump and then move bold policies through Congress. Along with grassroots outside groups, progressive leaders like Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib are gaining momentum. In turn, establishment forces are doing everything they can to stop us.

It is time we acknowledge the political realities before us, and align on the candidate who will not only win, but build the kind of multicultural, multiracial, and working class movement that will enable the next president to take on corporate power and deliver justice—economic, environmental, racial, and gender justice—for all people across the board.

James Haslam

James Haslam is the founding executive director of the Rights & Democracy in New Hampshire and Vermont. Follow him on Twitter:  @JamesHaslamVT

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