Bernie Sanders ran a good campaign during the 2016 primaries that resulted in him posing a serious challenge to the party establishment’s preferred candidate Hillary Clinton. But there were problems, particularly with Sanders’s lack of explicit attention to the specific issues facing minorities and women and the poor. It is not that he does not care about those issues. Those have dominated his thinking from his days as a high school student activist. But he is an old-style socialist who sees discrimination in any form as an outgrowth of mercenary capitalism that seeks to pit marginalized and exploited groups against one another in order to keep them divided and unable to join forces on the things they agree on, because if they do, that would challenge big business and the oligarchy.
In this way of thinking, instituting a democratic socialist political and economic system will go a long way towards ameliorating many of those problems. Hence his relentless focus on talking about the 1% and the need to wrest control of government from the billionaire class. While that may well be true, that kind of economics-based analysis is insufficient to really rally the troops. One also needs to directly and explicitly address the immediate issues that are at the forefront of people’s minds, such as police brutality, gender inequality in the workplace, and LGBT rights. Discussions of these have to be elevated to prominence. While Sanders did get wide support among minorities and other marginalized groups, he may have been able to do better.
Ryan Grim writes that this time around, the Sanders campaign has stumbled on a groundbreaking organizing movement, including having volunteers from the Sanders campaign actively joining in workers movements and picket lines.
It’s common for a politician to make a brief appearance on a picket line to show solidarity with a cause, but it’s practically unheard for a campaign to divert its own volunteers away from the mission of electing its candidate. This act of activism flows directly from the bottom-up approach taken by the 2020 Sanders campaign, which is not just in stark contrast to every other presidential campaign: It’s also a sharp reversal from the approach taken by the leadership of the 2016 Sanders campaign.
For all its revolutionary sensibility, the 2016 campaign was organized around a traditional strategic approach: Raise money to put ads on television and fund a field operation in key early states.
But outside of the watch of the campaign’s top brass, a collection of activists working in the bowels of the campaign tested out a variety of experimental approaches to organizing, eventually producing a breakthrough that has been copied by organizers in Spain and the U.K.; helped elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Congress; and is now guiding Sanders’s 2020 campaign. Sanders built this movement, however, largely by accident.
Grim goes on to describe how this came about and the group of diverse young people who were behind this development, how they butted heads with the more traditional-minded campaign leadership like Jeff Weaver (and that also includes Jane Sanders) who disagreed with their grassroots efforts, and what they are doing now
Today, Rojas is the executive director of Justice Democrats, where Shahid is the communications director. Chakrabarti is Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, and Trent is her spokesperson. Exley co-founded New Consensus, the policy muscle behind the Green New Deal. Bond took the distributed organizing model, along with Sanders aide Zack Malitz, to Texas, running Beto O’Rourke’s groundbreaking field program during his 2018 Senate campaign. She and Malitz stayed on for his presidential run but were pushed out by former Obama operatives.
Sandberg, meanwhile, spent time in Spain and the U.K., training Podemos and Momentum, the leftist movements in each, on the art of the barnstorm. Weaver, rather than running the campaign, is a senior adviser, and he and Sandberg have reconciled. She’s now the national organizing director for the 2020 Sanders campaign.
One of the things that Sanders has achieved is changing the nature of political campaigns from just targeting presidential campaigns (like Barack Obama and the Clintons did) to also building more permanent structures that can be used to achieve change over a long time and also be applied to down-ballot races, all the way to local elections. These movements are also breeding grounds to train a new generation of political activists.
Whether Sanders becomes president or not, that may be his most lasting legacy.