Our Socialist Democratic Movement Will Survive Without Bernie Sanders

Amid mask and ventilator shortages and climbing death toll due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a quiet civil war simmers among U.S. Democrats. Now that Senator Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the presidential race making way for Vice President Joe Biden’s unequivocal nomination, the traditional media and all who opposed Sanders’s candidacy are painting our movement and Sanders as one and the same.

They are dead wrong. 

For the past two years, as part of a book I am writing about leveraging the collective power of the U.S. Latino, or people of Spanish-speaking descent, I have interviewed dozens of Latino and Latina leaders, including open socialists. These are young and working-class people who, through grassroots muscle, are successfully corralling other Latinos to our cause, running for office themselves, and winning

The number of future socialist Latino and Latina presidential candidates — NY Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is just one of many! — will overwhelm the Democratic stage with young, working class, and yearning people advocating for the issues near and dear to our hearts. 

As democratic socialists building a sustainable movement, we must and can lift up these leaders, and not let anyone in either political party or any kind of corporation or establishment paint our movement as just the grievances of a bunch of “Bernie bros.” We must vote for our candidates down-ballot in November so that a President Biden is relentlessly pressured to champion the causes near and dear to our hearts, such as Medicare for All and tuition-free public colleges.

We have a promising future ahead of us.

While Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in 2018 may command all of the headlines, a lesser told story is of the other young Latinos and Latinas elected to office. DSA not only claimed one of their own in New York’s 14th district, but also sent the Colombian-American Julia Salazar to the New York State Senate. In addition, open socialists won a tenth of the 50 city council seats in Chicago, “the biggest electoral victory for socialists in modern American history,” declared the Chicago Sun-Times. Latinos helped drive this trend. 

The Chicago DSA chapter has been co-chaired by a Latina, Lucie Macías. In addition, four Latino or Latina DSA members — Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Rosanna Rodríguez-Sánchez, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, and Andre Vazquez  — won Chicago city council seats in 2019. (See Democratic Left, Fall 2019)  

“It’s a testament to the fact that organized people can beat organized money,” says Kristian Hernandez, a tejana — a Mexican-American woman from Texas — and a member of the National Political Committee of DSA. “But perhaps most importantly, we’ve been able to use these wins to talk about why we don’t see more everyday people running for office. To be able to have a discussion about what the revolving door of politics looks like, from becoming a politician to becoming a lobbyist, and why undermining the big capitalist class is an overdue necessity for those of us who believe in the true meaning of democracy.”

The “revolving door of politics,” was on full display, and challenged by these Latino upstarts — an indictment on the present system, in which corporations decide who gets elected and rewards these leaders once they leave office with plum positions at private firms. In Chicago, pundits viewed DSA members’ victories as a repudiation of the neoliberalism offered by Clinton confidant and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

During his tenure as mayor of Chicago from 2011 to 2019, Emanuel “embraced a corporate-minded approach to governance, favoring privatization, austerity…over policies that would actually benefit working-class residents,” reported the Nation’s Miles Kampf-Lassin. On Emanuel’s watch, public schools and mental-health clinics were closed, unionized public workers were laid off, city services were privatized, and police abuse and gun violence continued unabated.

Prior to becoming mayor, Emanuel served as Barack Obama’s chief of staff, and when he left office went through the revolving to the Wall Street investment banking firm Centerview Partners. Ocasio-Cortez called him out for it, as well as her former opponent, Joseph Crowley, who is now a K Street corporate lobbyist with the firm Squire Patton Boggs. That firm represents numerous clients who oppose Medicare for All, worker protections, and many of the issues and values that Latinos and our movement hold dear. 

“If you are a member of Congress + leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around and leverage your service for a lobbyist check,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress. At minimum there should be a long wait period.”

In addition to unmasking neoliberal Democrats in New York and Chicago, working-class Latino upstarts interrupted the status quo in the swing state of Arizona. In the 2018 elections, two Latinos who had never held public office before, won city council seats in Phoenix over establishment Democratic Party candidates. 

Betty Guardado, who began her career as a housekeeper at a Phoenix hotel, launched her city council bid as a union organizer for Unite Here Local 11, the local hotel workers’ union. She unseated Vania Guevara, the district’s interim councilor, who’d previously worked in city hall for five years.

Carlos Garcia, who is a migrant rights activist and community organizer for the progressive organization Puente Arizona, also unseated an incumbent, Michel Johnson, a former three-term city council member and retired police officer. 

Many modern-day Latino and Latina leaders have jumpstarted their political careers by either working for the Sanders campaign or a union such as the culinary workers in Nevada who helped Sanders win the state’s Democratic caucuses. Considering the U.S. Latino community’s young age and disproportionately working-class status, it is fair to say that they will become — or continue to become — the future union leadership and face of the U.S. workers and socialist movement long after Sanders has exited the stage.

Latinos are this nation’s youngest demographic group with a median age of 28, according to the Pew Research Center. For context, the median age for white Americans is 43, followed by 36 for Asian Americans, and 34 for Black Americans. Latinos are such a young population that a third of them are not old enough to vote! 

There are 29 million eligible Latino voters, and every year close to 900,000 Latinos turn 18, which has repercussions for any social movement and the U.S. political landscape as a whole.  In Texas alone, 800,000 new Latinx voters hit the polls in 2018, outnumbering white voters in many districts across the state. Hernandez said that DSA is making significant inroads in the Lone Star State. 

“Our organization hasn’t really had issues talking to working class people because we are all working class people,” Hernandez said. “We talk about fighting wage theft or about a living wage, about paid sick time, about Medicare for All. These are demands that people want. People are angry at their bosses, their landlords, and are starting to see that the root of their problems, really, is a billionaire class who makes life hard for everyday people on an everyday basis.”

Hernandez and DSA’s Latinos think they’re on to something. For the first time in the 10 years since Gallup pollsters started asking the question, Democrats have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism. In a November 18, 2019 poll, Gallup found that 65 percent of Democrats viewed socialism positively compared to 55 percent who viewed capitalism positively. The numbers skew toward socialism  among people between the ages of 18 and 34. About 52 percent of all millennials and generation Zers view socialism positively, while less than half — 47 percent — view capitalism positively.

Among Democrats, a whopping 50 percent of these young adults view capitalism negatively.  It makes sense that millennials and Gen Zers would be attracted to such an ideology as the costs for a college degree and basic living expenses like housing and healthcare have escalated out of reach for them. Long gone are the days when young people could acquire a college degree and middle-class existence, including home ownership and starting a family without the backing of some form of inherited wealth.

Note that even support among capitalism’s champions is waning from the days of the Cold War when that economic framework was viewed as the only acceptable solution to the totalitarianism of the Soviet bloc. The very economic structure of the United States has become contested ground thanks to grassroots organizations like DSA!Perhaps the ultimate example of the impact of DSA’s and Latinos’ political engagement is the strange taxpayer-funded response from the Trump administration, a 72-page report by the Council of Economic Advisers, “The Opportunity Costs of Socialism.”  The Council sees socialism negatively, of course. This is the same Council that got it right about a threat of a potential pandemic last year and whose tone-deaf acting chair said in February of this year, “I don’t think corona is as big a threat as people make it out to be.”

The Council’s screed against socialism opens with a warning that “Coincident with the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth, socialism is making a comeback in American political discourse.”

Considering what we are living today, may it be so.