It’s been six days since Bernie Sanders disbanded his campaign for presidency, planning to remain on the ballot to push the Democratic Party platform further left. People are already painting broad strokes about the campaign’s failures, even though it was partially done in by bad luck, including a literal pandemic.
With the rise of the novel coronavirus, reality has endorsed Sanders and his policies, as Keeanga Yahmatta-Taylor put it. Now we wait to see if the Democratic Party will accept reality during its convention this summer.
Sanders’s “Not Me, Us” message has already taken root, both in movement spaces and electorally.
As Sanders said during his announcement, “While this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not.” Sanders has evidently taken that message to heart, jumping right into pushing the same progressive agenda he advocated for in his presidential campaign.
On Friday, Sanders—now fully back in his role as a Vermont Senator—announced an emergency Medicare for All bill with Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington. This was within forty-eight hours of his campaign suspension.
Already, there have been countless think pieces on the impact of his campaign, what he should or should not have done, and where the progressive movement will go from here. Days after Sanders suspended his campaign, Jacobin published the piece “Mass Politics, Not Movementism, Is the Future of the Left,” which said Sanders’s defeat “has the potential to be one of the most productive defeats the left has endured in decades, if we learn the right lessons from it.”
If the “lesson” of Sanders’s dropout is that socialists need to place more stock in the presidential election as a way to broaden the left coalition, I think we have a lot more disappointment coming.
Before we get left unity under a presidential candidate, we might want to ensure everyone has access to voting, considering our country’s constant racist voter suppression, most recently seen in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party’s answer to Trump’s win in 2016 was to turn their primary into a circus.
When the party’s main response to us has been to tell us we’re “too dumb to see the truth,” and the mainstream media makes no attempts to hide their bias against Sanders, it’s hard to expect people to keep believing their vote matters.
There has to be a middle ground where we can acknowledge the necessity of pushing for electoral gains, while also acknowledging that people power will ultimately be more significant in the long run.
As Astra Taylor recently wrote for In These Times, “Leftists have long talked about inside and outside strategies as though they were in opposition, but the Sanders campaign made the argument that they can and must be united, difficult though this process may be. The energy and radicalism of the streets needs to be brought to bear on electoral politics and into the halls of power. That remains the needle the left has to thread.”
Sanders’s mantra “Not Me, Us” was a legitimate attempt to disrupt politics as usual. Before and after his late 2019 heart attack, Buzzfeed News’s Ruby Cramer followed the Sanders campaign, which showed that Sanders had doubts all along about its ability to win. His real goal was for us to stop believing in candidates and start believing in ourselves.
Just think of the movements that have begun or grown since 2016: the Sunrise Movement, student debt forgiveness, the immigrant justice movement with groups like Cosecha, the push for Medicare For All, the Me Too Movement, the teacher labor movement . . . the list goes on.
It would be impossible to claim that these movements could have grown without three things: Occupy Wall Street’s mass mobilization of people worldwide and mainstream introduction to many of the ideas that become cornerstones of Sanders’s platform; the template of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the first half of the 2010s, showing what can be accomplished by taking to the streets and changing society; and the Sanders campaign, which was an incubator for some of the same people now working full time on these movements.
Leaving our hopes for the 2020 election with Joe Biden shows how much work there is to do to further these movements, considering Biden’s platform and track record, which includes allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.
There is still plenty of reason to be optimistic about the ability of social movements to bring about real change, especially given the opportunities created by the disruption of the pandemic.
After Sanders suspended his campaign, some groups—including the U.S. Youth Climate Strike—announced that they would not endorse Biden, but on April 13, Sanders himself announced his endorsement of Biden. Sanders had already committed to endorsing the eventual nominee, but his official endorsement hasn’t automatically translated to some of his followers. Briahna Joy Gray, who up until last week served as Sanders’s press secretary, announced she would not endorse Biden until his platform moved further left.
Sanders’s “Not Me, Us” message has already taken root, both in movement spaces and electorally. Hundreds of people who have historically been left out of politics—people of color, queer and trans folks, immigrants—are now running and successfully winning campaigns at local, state, and federal levels. And there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic about the ability of social movements to bring about real change, especially given the opportunities created by the disruption of the pandemic.
You know what has given me hope? On an unseasonably warm day this past January, I wrote about a group of youth climate organizers in New Hampshire. They invited me to have dinner with them at a raucous house that hosted some of the young activists, who had traveled from as far as California and as close as Rhode Island, to knock doors for the Sunrise Movement, and ultimately for Sanders.
They played games and invited me in. They sang songs around a table until nearly 1 a.m. It was one of the few progressive spaces I’ve been in since 2016 where the dominant mood was hope, not exhaustion or fear.
That’s our future. We just have to keep fighting. Bernie Sanders certainly will.