Bernie Grassroots: What Is To Be Done?

Anyone paying attention can see that portions of the Bernie grassroots are shifting their attention to the post-primary season and post-election landscape. That’s why we’re seeing conference calls about protests at the DNC, petitions asking Bernie to launch a post-campaign organization, and even a public letter asking Bernie to affirm that a future organization be founded on small-d democratic principles.

It wouldn’t surprise us to discover that large well-established organizations are lobbying Bernie Sanders in hopes of benefitting from his now massive email list in the future, or that conversations have started about who gets to staff a post election entity. And of course, the usual suspects are clamoring for a third party or suggesting that they be Plan B if Bernie somehow didn’t win the nomination.

People for Bernie is an online crew that has been active since April 2015. Many of were active in Occupy Wall Street and Ready for Warren. This is our take:

Nothing in Bernie Sanders’ history suggests that he cares deeply about organizations or parties, or that he would subject himself to organizational discipline — not even one he is leading.

There is no great big new idea out there for organizing on the left. It’s just all of us, the ones newly politicized and those active for decades, temporarily united under the banner of a candidate. There are no shortcuts in American politics. Don’t be fooled. But we can always do better if we build stronger relationships, learn more skills, and move with the movement.

The most important and influential voices are currently silent about the post election landscape. If they openly pronounce on the topic, it would divert attention away from the campaign’s priorities. So no official surrogates or brand name organizations are going to say very much, even though their thoughts and actions matter a great deal.

The vast majority of Bernie supporters aren’t in the market to be ‘recruited’. People for Bernie is invested in supporting the whole rainbow of local, creative, and constituency based organizing efforts that sprouted around the campaign. Don’t support us; we support you.

Efforts made up of early adopters and ‘whoever shows up’ are likely to fail the great test of prioritizing racial justice and coalition work. In so much of politics, it’s not your policy positions that matter most, but who you are accountable to and in relationship with.

Based on these ideas, our plan is to focus on an event that will bring the Bernie grassroots together, from across all 50 states, for face to face conversation. Instead of telling the movement what to do, we need to gather the movement and listen to it’s collective voice — especially those who struggle to be heard, aren’t online, and/or need our support most.

With our allies, we’ll be part of convening The People’s Summit in Chicago, June 17–19. Full details and registration links aren’t available yet, but we’ve started the process of reaching out to local and constituency based Bernie groups across the country. As we proceed, we’ll be thinking about how to include and incorporate all of your voices, including those who can’t be present.

If anyone is interested in how they can make this event as powerful and meaningful as possible, let us know. Our table is set — for you.

The People’s Summit registration will launch on April 12th. Anyone can join the Facebook event here:

Thoughts? Comments? We’d love to hear them.

People for Bernie Statement on Trump Protests

On Friday night, thousands of committed activists from across Chicago’s many diverse communities came together to protest the bigotry of a Trump campaign rally. Because some of these protestors support Bernie Sanders, a number of journalists and movement leaders have come to us seeking clarifications of our role, as a prominent grassroots collective that stands for Bernie.

  1. People for Bernie is a set of social media accounts and volunteers who use the power of the internet to amplify the voices of front-line organizers. Many of them work with the Bernie Sanders campaign, many do not. Either way, our mission is to support them, not tell them what to do.
  2. Our origins are with one of the largest grassroots efforts in US history — the Occupy Wall Street movement. That phenomenon linked thousands together in a decentralized manner. What we do flows directly from the lessons learned in that movement.
  3. The people most likely to pay the price for Donald Trump’s toxic brew of anti-immigrant hysteria, anti-Musim prejudice, and coded racism, are young people of color and undocumented immigrants. We are not the leaders of their efforts, and it’s troubling if the credit of the efforts to protest Trump are somehow assigned to us, Bernie Sanders, or the voting base of Bernie Sanders. We strongly advise all supporters of Bernie to follow our lead and just support this movement, without trying to own it or use it to advance a candidate that SOME of us support.

We will not be speaking to the press about this topic any further, but we are happy to connect journalists to the actual leaders of this movement.

Charles Lenchner & Winnie Wong

Originally posted on Medium.

Political Revolution 101

“We need a political revolution of millions of people in this country who are prepared to stand up and say, ‘enough is enough,’” Sanders argued. “I want to help lead that effort.”

[The Hill, 5/3/15]

One of the more interesting themes of the Bernie Sanders campaign is his call for a political revolution. When I first heard him use this phrase, I wondered what he actually means. It’s one of those common yet amorphous words at risk of meaning anything – or nothing.

So how are supporters of Sanders’ campaign supposed to interpret the call for revolution? It could be nothing more than hyperbolic red meat for a country in an outsider-ish mood. Perhaps “revolution” is just an adjective describing the totality of policy prescriptions he supports, from Glass-Steagel to paid family leave.

A great thing about Sanders’ NOT giving a full, detailed, explicit answer is that it forces his growing community of supporters to start figuring it out for themselves. Far from being a distraction from the business of generating votes and delegates, it’s an essential component of having a revolution. Spectacular politics, the televised, digitized, firehose of polling results and gotcha moments is quite different from the business of revolution. Bernie is inviting us to have a foot in each world — so let’s take him up on that.

A revolution requires organization. All the iconic leaders, in any century, were basically spokespersons for groups that met and voted, simply trying their best to represent. Questions about what kind of organization or network is required have preoccupied would-be revolutionaries throughout our history. We should be thinking about and experimenting with kinds of organization and mass participation for one simple reason: whatever exists today hasn’t worked yet.

A century ago, the American Socialist Party had 100,000 members. That’s about .1 percent of the population; a similar number today would be 300,000. Erica Chenowith estimates that the number of people needed to bring a genuine (nonviolent) social transformation is much higher — perhaps 3.5% of the population. That’s about 11 million Americans.

Revolutionary ideas are not sets of policy proposals. They are ways of upsetting the ‘commonsense’ view of things in favor of a new one. Sanders said at a recent event that the current distribution of wealth is immoral. This is a revolutionary idea in a society where most people have been taught from a young age that wealth is the product of hard work, or that there is no alternative to the dominance of the markets over our democracy. Without explicit shifts in the mindset of large numbers of people, policy proposals that run counter to the consensus fall on deaf ears. While many fellow citizens have revolutionary ideas in their heads, we know that the number of these people, and the intensity of their convictions are less than enough to make those ideas work. So we need mechanisms to popularize our ideas and permeate popular culture with them.

The electoral arena is insufficient, on it’s own, to achieve radical change. The United States was constructed, intentionally, to allow our elites to hold firm against waves of populist sentiment and even inconvenient voting habits. These bulwarks against change include the ‘first past the post’ method of winning elections, the resulting two party system, the Electoral College (indirect elections) and an unaccountable central bank (‘The Fed’) that answers to financiers, not the people. But politicians rarely prioritize non-electoral methods for achieving change, and certainly not during elections. A multi-billion dollar industry is devoted to electoral politics, but there is no parallel infrastructure of comparable size for social movements or community organizing. A revolution requires that we need to interconnect electoral politics with grassroots movements during and between elections seasons, in an ongoing and uninterrupted way. We know this is true, because we’ve seen political candidates suck out people, money, and attention from social movements, leaving folks on the ground confused, demoralized and unprepared for the next challenge.

I’m not a revolutionary theorist and I certainly won’t try to channel whatBernie Sanders thinks about these questions. But I think the hundreds of thousands of people mobilized to help Bernie Sanders win, and the millions more eager to vote for him ought to spare a moment to think about these things. Not alone, but in communities of many shapes and sizes. Not as an alternative to the important work of winning the vote but as a necessary condition for winning that vote. Not later, by other people, but now — and by you.

This was the idea that led us to form People for Bernie — a parallel project with these goals, completely committed to aiding the Sanders campaign and spreading its message. Our eyes are on the primary, the convention, and beyond.

If you’re interested in advancing the revolutionary potential of the Bernie Sanders campaign — please sign up with People for Bernie. Political revolution, here we come.