Bernie Sanders supporters met in Chicago last week to plan for a post-2016 world.
One of the Nevada attendees, Nevada Sanders leader Carol Cizauskas, attended the “People’s Summit” and said it “went a long way to soothe my soul so troubled since last month’s state convention in Las Vegas, which violated our spirits and reputations.”
The message from the Chicago meeting to the Democratic Party was that the Sanders people intend to put their newly developed organizing skills to work pulling the party—and the nation—away from corporate domination.
National Nurses United, the most prominent union among Sanders’s labor union supporters, sponsored the gathering.
Cizauskas first decided to work in the Sanders campaign after his Aug. 18, 2015 speech at the University of Nevada, Reno resonated for her.
“He told us that no matter who would win the White House—he or any other— no one person could do it alone, could fix this system broken to its very core, could reinstate kindness and social justice and unity of love.”
Once she volunteered, she quickly became an organizer and one of the first paid staffers in the state. She is now one of his Nevada delegates to the Democratic National Convention next month in Philadelphia.
In Chicago, she said, there was considerable discussion of “how to come together instead of going back into our own silos.” She said she spoke with another Nevadan, Marissa Morningstaur, and that they are going to meet after they get back to Reno and decide how to keep the movement going without a presidential campaign to build interest. She called the Chicago gathering “a start but a really small start. … It’s probably a really good idea to start organizing locally and regionally. We did not come away with a national plan, and I was kind of disappointed about that.”
That will mean that the movement is decentralized, at least for the time being, There are issues in each state that relate to the issues the campaign has raised. In Nevada, that would include the use of fracking and a tax structure that soaks the working poor.
Cizauskas, who is membership coordinator of the Reno chapter of Progressive Democrats of America, wants to approach that group in hopes of addressing the membership about the Chicago meeting.
There was talk in Chicago of a third party.
“At our table, we shared how we liked this idea but the feasibility of forming a strong third party where so many smaller third parties in the U.S. had already failed to make a big enough splash in American politics and of a long timeline to even get this off the ground gave us pause,” Cizauskas said. “Another member at our table urged us to make change from within the Democratic party to bring it back from the right of American politics, where it now stands.”
She said she would like to hold a one-day Reno version of the Chicago event and bring one or two of the speakers to Reno, particularly Labor Institute director Les Leopold.
Attendees at the Chicago gathering were outspoken that they don’t want Sanders to withdraw from the race and that they want party leaders to knock off such demands. In earlier campaigns, second place finishers like Gary Hart, Edward Kennedy, Jesse Jackson and Hillary Clinton were not pressured to get out of the race before the convention. At this point, neither Clinton nor the convention’s platform committee has made any concessions to the Sanders supporters on issues.
Perhaps surprisingly, given how outspoken they are on the way the Democratic nominating apparatus is wired against insurgents, most Sanders supporters have not been demanding a fairer process or elimination of the superdelegates. Rather, they focus their demands almost entirely on public policy—better police accountability, an end to fracking, economic justice (including a $15 per hour minimum wage), free college, health care for all, climate change prevention. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an Iraq veteran, was on hand to warn that foreign policy experts are planning the next U.S. war, in Syria.
But all these issues were not ranked in Chicago, nor was anyone writing seven-point plans. That led some observers to feel the movement is unfocused, to the point that the Nation published a piece arguing that “no clear agenda” at Chicago was a good thing. And certainly the Sanders folks—there were non-Sanders activists at the meeting, too—have shown they can organize the grass roots.
The Chicago meeting did nothing to elevate journalism in the eyes of Sanders backers. Coverage of the gathering was shot through with inaccuracies and innuendo. McClatchy Newspapers called it a meeting of the “far left.” The Wall Street Journal claimed the AFL-CIO supported Sanders in the primaries. Such coverage prompted one alternative site, Common Dreams, to begin one piece about the meeting, “If you actually read Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s speech to his supporters Thursday—rather than the news coverage of it…”
Sanders spoke to his supporters in a live webcast the day before the Chicago meeting. He did not endorse Clinton, nor did he withdraw from the race. Among other things, he said:
“The major political task that together we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated, and defeated badly. And I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time. But defeating Donald Trump cannot be our only goal. We must continue our grassroots effort to create the America that we know we can become. I look forward in the coming weeks to continue discussion between the two campaigns to make certain that your voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history, and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda. I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party, so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors, a party that has the guts to take on Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the fossil fuel industry and the other powerful special interests that dominate so much of our political and economic life.”
In a radio interview, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro wondered whether the party can be reformed. She said, “So when Sen. Sanders says that we have to transform the Democratic Party, we all kind of turn and look at each other and wonder, ’With Wall Street’s money invested in that party, is that possible any longer?’ ”
But Cizauskas said she is still willing to make an approach to the county Democratic Party.
Sustaining a movement after a campaign has been attempted before. In 1968 in the aftermath of the police riot and the defeat of antiwar forces at the Democratic National Convention, the New Democratic Coalition was formed, headed by Paul Schrade (who had been shot in the head in the same fusillade that hit Robert Kennedy) and Donald Peterson, head of the Wisconsin delegation at the convention. It lasted into the 1970s, then faded away.
After their reelection defeats at the hands of rightist political action committees, former U.S. senators George McGovern and Thomas McIntyre each formed organizations to try to combat the New Right. The groups did not last.