Can We and Bernie Build a Left in the U.S.?

Sanders.jpeg

By Harold Meyerson

Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign is different. He has refused to establish a super PAC. He shuns personal attacks. And, not incidentally, he proclaims himself a democratic socialist.

But there’s one further way in which his campaign fundamentally differs not just from those of the other candidates but also from any in many years: While striving to win votes, it also has to morph into an enduring left-wing movement.

When Sanders says — as he does in every speech — that he’s seeking to build “a revolution,” that’s not just rhetoric. What Sanders understands in his bones is that every period of progressive reform in U.S. history has come as a result of massive street heat, of energized movements that push policymaking elites to the left. Abolitionists pressured the Lincoln Republicans toward a policy of emancipation. Militant workers and a socialist left, whose general strikes shut down several major cities in 1934, prompted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Democrats to legalize collective bargaining and create Social Security in 1935. The civil rights movement enabled the Kennedy-Johnson Democrats to pass the landmark legislation of the ’60s. Progressive reform doesn’t happen absent a large and vibrant left.

A large and vibrant left, however, has been missing from the American political landscape since the ’60s. Precisely because Sanders has staked out the most distinctly leftist terrain of any major candidate in decades, and because so many Americans (young Americans in particular) have rallied to his cause, his campaign holds the promise of recreating that missing left.

Well, maybe.

Problem is, progressive presidential candidacies seldom have consequential afterlives. Robert LaFollette’s 1924 independent campaign failed to create an ongoing institution. The Rainbow Coalition that emerged from Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in the ’80s never had the autonomy it needed to move beyond Jackson’s narrow post-campaign agendas. The millions of volunteers who helped make Barack Obama president were a loosely liberal group, not one of the left; never won any autonomy once Obama was elected; were called to action by the administration only for the safest of causes; and, unsurprisingly, didn’t turn out in significant numbers when called upon.

Movements are built from the bottom up, not the top down. Nonetheless, Sanders’s campaign is the largest specifically left mobilization — and by “specifically left,” I mean it demands major changes in the distribution of income and wealth and major reforms to U.S. capitalism — that the nation has seen in at least a half-century. The question that looms before the campaign is less whether it can win Sanders the Democratic nomination, much less the presidency — goals that look, to put it mildly, daunting. Rather, it is whether its volunteers can help form an enduring left movement without which a future Democratic president and Congress won’t be able to enact even minor changes to income distribution or minor reforms to a capitalism that erodes the middle class.

The programmatic substance of such a movement isn’t hard to arrive at. Steeply progressive taxation that could make college and retirement more affordable and rebuild our now second-rate infrastructure, legislation mandating more worker voice and power in their companies, a faster shift away from fossil fuels, greater protection for reproductive rights, reforming police practices, granting legal status to undocumented immigrants, regulating drug prices, reining in the banks — the causes are already there. But forging a movement from a campaign, and building it in tandem with the many progressive constituencies that for any number of reasons have not flocked to Sanders’s standard and are not likely to — that’s the hard part. Devilishly hard.

This formidable task requires, first, that Sanders’s legions understand the unique historic opportunity that their coming together presents: That their victory in all probability won’t be putting Bernie in the White House, but creating a surging and enduring left. That, in turn, requires them to give as much thought to forming or joining autonomous post-campaign organizations, and envisioning post-campaign mobilizations, as they now do to advancing Sanders’s candidacy. Indeed, they need to start forming such organizations today, while they are together campaigning for Sanders, and in the process even reach out to other progressives who may not be for Sanders. These endeavors can’t and shouldn’t be undertaken by the Sanders campaign itself. They fall exclusively to the volunteers.

Tough stuff, to be sure — but, really, the only way to build on what Sanders hath wrought. That’s asking a lot of the Sanderistas, more than politics normally asks of campaign volunteers, who see their mission as getting their guy or gal into office. But signing on for Sanders, if his volunteers are serious, isn’t like signing on for any other candidate. It should mean they’re signing on for rebuilding the long-gone American left.

Is this difficult? And how. Is this necessary? Totally.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/you-say-you-want-a-revolution/2015/10/28/7ed69cfa-7da4-11e5-beba-927fd8634498_story.html

Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect and a Washington Post columnist. He is a vice chair of DSA.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

Paid for by Democratic Socialists of America www.dsausa.org. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

 

 

 

 

Grassroots Fundraising: Paying for the Revolution (9pm Eastern)

June 23, 2017
· 46 rsvps

Are you new to socialist organizing? Or after many years do you still struggle, raising money from members when you need it but without a steady flow of income or budget to plan ahead? Are you afraid to tackle fundraising because it seems so daunting or you are uncomfortable asking people for money?

In this webinar, you will learn why fundraising is organizing, and how to do it – face to face, through fundraising events, and other ideas.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. Participation requires that you register at least 21 hours in advance -- by midnight Thursday for Friday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5 pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

June 27, 2017
· 68 rsvps

Join DSA activist Judith Gardiner to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT, 7 pm MT, 6 pm PT.

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 8 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.