Originally published in New Ground 168, September — October, 2016.
by Bob Roman
On Wednesday, August 24, Bernie Sanders launched his post-primary organization, Our Revolution, with a livestream webcast around which over 2000 viewing parties were organized. Two of the parties belonged to Chicago DSA. The City of Chicago branch hosted one at the Chicago DSA office at Diversey, Kimball and Milwaukee in Chicago. The Greater Oak Park branch sponsored the other at the home of Bill Barclay and Peg Strobel in Oak Park.
Each CDSA viewing party drew over a dozen participants. The City of Chicago party had sixteen. For the Chicago DSA office, this is standing room only but not quite a full house. The Greater Oak Park party was notable for being organized just a few days prior to the launch and drawing about as many as the City party. Attendance was boosted by a few referrals from other Oak Park viewing parties that had reached capacity. Both events were publicized via the web / internet exclusively; if, as a Chicago DSA member, you didn’t hear about them, it’s likely because we don’t have your email address. At both parties, we collected names and addresses for both DSA and Our Revolution. At the Chicago party, attendees spontaneously made donations toward our expenses.
The launch was accompanied by some controversy as a substantial portion of the Our Revolution staff had quit over disagreements on organizational development strategies. Nonetheless, Our Revolution already has a list of several dozen local, state and federal candidates to support, several ballot initiatives, and position papers on over a dozen problem areas with proposed solutions. It’s worth noting that while many items on the list are of concern to the labor movement with solutions that would be congenial to the labor movement, there is none specifically dealing with labor, labor organizing, or collective bargaining. (The “A Living Wage” paper is the closest.) There is also nothing on socialism although arguably some of the proposals are subversive to capitalism. In fact, neither of the words “socialist” nor “socialism” can be found at ourrevolution.com, according to a site search through Google.
It also requires a certain degree of faith in Sanders to, on one hand, agree with him that change comes from the bottom up while, on the other hand, accepting a prefabricated agenda handed down from above by Our Revolution. One can only say it is a start. Given the large number of elected offices in our country, supporting 60 to 100 candidates is a very modest start, indeed.
The webcast was basically an extended infomercial, and Sanders’ presentation drew heavily from his campaign stump speeches. For the curious, the video record is available via YouTube. Most of it was applause worthy, though one assertion was risible. Sanders is fond of claiming that we succeeded in making the 2016 Democratic Party Platform “the strongest, most progressive Democratic Party Platform in the history of the United States.” This simply is not true. Some other years are perhaps as good as 2016 given the context of their times. One at least, the 1972 platform, is superior. The 1972 platform called for an end to the Vietnam war; the 2016 platform does not call for an end to the current wars. The 1972 platform called for the establishment of a universal National Health Insurance program as well as an impressive list of related programs; the 2016 platform essentially says: Isn’t Obamacare Nice? Both platforms advocate for expanded labor rights and standards, but the 1972 platform provides a fairly detailed list of reforms. The 2016 platform advocates a $15 an hour minimum wage; the 1972 platform advocates a $2.50 an hour minimum wage – $14.13 an hour in 2015 dollars. In fact, the 2016 Platform Committee could have simply amended the 1972 platform and had a much better document.
And yet, what of it? Who actually pays attention to such documents? Not the candidates running their campaigns. Not the legislative caucuses even before the election is over. We will, assured Senator Sanders. The movement will make it happen.
One reason for claiming a platform victory was perhaps the biggest failure of the Sanders campaign: the Democratic National Convention itself. Once beyond the Potemkin democracy of the platform committee, the event reverted to type: A staged rally for the presumptive nominee with no role for the delegates but to cheer. This was very nearly inevitable given Sanders’ prior commitment to support Clinton, but it hardly makes for a political revolution.
It may be a further disappointment to some sanderistas, but nothing thus far indicates that Our Revolution will be much different than a somewhat more radical version of Moveon.org or Democracy for America. Even if it’s only that modest, anything that mobilizes the left of center electorate is to the good, and if it can contribute to mobilizing around politics outside of elections, even better.
Yet for all the ways the Sanders campaign has fallen short, Sanders’ claims that we have “changed the national conversation” and mobilized millions, especially the young, are absolutely true. And this has manifested itself in the creation of national lefty organizations like Our Revolution and A Brand New Congress, new local organizations, as well as growth among a galaxy of already established organizations, including DSA. Most DSA chapters have seen some growth and an increased level of activism, but DSA’s greatest increase has been in the number of new chapters and organizing committees.
In Chicago, DSA has been organizing follow-ups to the Sanders campaign with National Nurses United, Reclaim Chicago and other groups. We are currently helping to plan a local follow-up to last June’s Peoples Summit (which we also participated in planning). Details to follow, stay tuned.